Critically acclaimed screenwriter and director Charles Burnett spoke to a small crowd at a special screening of one of his movies, “To Sleep with Anger,” on Saturday at the George Eastman House in downtown Rochester. The movie focuses on a middle-class, urban, black family struggling with family problems and an unwanted guest from the past, played by Danny Glover. Burnett also wrote the screenplay.Burnett hopes to enlighten audiences about the lifestyles of blacks. “[My goal is] to change the public perception of how [blacks] live,” he said. His films intentionally do not include guns, drugs, rap or gang violence. He witnesses different perceptions of blacks everywhere he goes. “There’s this history here that people can’t get over,” he said. “Somebody came up to me after a screening of this movie and said, ‘I didn’t know black people had washing machines.’ Another person asked, ‘Where’s the drugs?’ You have to do your part in history and storytelling to make the world a better place.””To Sleep with Anger” received positive reviews when it was first released. “Charles Burnett’s studied tale of magical realism never found the audience it deserved,” BBC reviewer Jamie Russell said. The film was only shown in 18 theatres in the United States when it came out in 1990. On Saturday, the theatre was less than half-full. Even though the event was free to UR students, few attended. Those in attendance Saturday appreciated his dedication. “It was a really good story,” Rochester resident John Compton said. “It has this interesting element of the supernatural and superstition.”For Robert Gray, it was his second time seeing the movie in theatres. “I saw it at the Little [Theatre],” he said. “It’s a great film. It was interesting to hear [Burnett] speak.” Burnett struggled to maintain artistic control over his film. “It took years to find the money for it,” he said. Burnett refused to change the film’s title even after the film company threatened not to distribute the film. His adherence to his vision was at the expense of wider distribution.”We got into film-making not to make films commercially, but just when we can,” Burnett said of himself and other independent filmmakers who share his interest in art rather than profit.Despite the lack of distribution, Burnett is revered by many reviewers. Armond White of Film Comment called Burnett, “The least well-known great American filmmaker.””When it Rains,” a short written and directed by Burnett, preceded the film. The film presented a slice-of-life in the community of Watts, where a woman is struggling to pay her rent on New Year’s Day. Jonathan Rosenbaum of Sight and Sound chose “When it Rains” as one of the 10 best films of all time in 2002.The George Eastman house holds similar events and discussions often, so Burnett is one of many directors who have come to talk about their films there. On April 24, John Landis will appear at the George Eastman House to speak about his body of work, including “Animal House,” and present his new documentary, “Slasher.”Farrell can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.
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