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Nationtime (aka Nationtime - Gary)
In 1973, between March 10th and the 13th, the first (and last) National Black Political Convention was held in Gary, Indiana. Over 10,000 people attended from all over the country, many representing their home states. All sorts of important Black political and cultural figures appeared, including Jesse Jackson, Amiri Baraka, Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory Richard Roundtree, Isaac Hayes, and both Dr. Betty Shabazz and Coretta Scott King. Filmmaker William Greaves, best-known for the 1968 film Symbiopsychotaxiplasm and its 2005 "sequel," was there documenting the event on his own dime. The resulting film, known initially as Nationtime - Gary is a political powder keg, a rousing and culturally significant portrait of a watershed moment in time -- so, of course, it is only now, with this 2020 restoration, completed seven years after Greaves' death, that the film can be seen in its full glory.
Watching Nationtime (the Gary subtitle dropped to distinguish this restored 80-minute version from the shorter 58-minute version) in 2021, after a year of Black Lives Matter protests against the police, is a polarizing experience. On one hand, the political energy of the two back-to-back opening speeches, by Gary's then-mayor Richard Hatcher, and Jackson, is inspiring and invigorating, a reminder that through solidarity there is the possibility of creating a better America. On the other hand, those present-day protests, and the scenes in the latter half showing the struggle for the various coalitions (or "tribes," per Jackson) to agree on a united agenda, are a reminder that the things that the speakers and activists were fighting for 49 years ago have yet to be achieved.
From a directorial standpoint, Greaves seems to understand that the most valuable aspect of Nationtime is simply capturing that the convention actually happened (a theory borne out by the fact that Nationtime is now one of the most meaningful and thorough documents of the event). After allowing Hatcher and Jackson's speeches (which should be seen, not summarized) to play out with minimal interference, narration by Sidney Poitier and some poetry readings by Belafonte come in, helping to contextualize the moment. Even then, Nationtime is not supported by on-camera interviews with either the speakers or the attendees; Greaves and his fellow cameramen, David Greaves (his son) and Doug Harris, stick to a fly-on-the-wall approach taking in the vibe in the room. It is incredibly energizing just to see the crowd responding to the speakers and figures on-stage, including musicians like Hayes, who appear to perform at the end of the day once the political discussions are finished. Occasionally, the camera trails out into the lobby to catch other bits of activism occurring around the fringes, but most of the movie stays centered on the main stage.
If there is a weakness to the film, it feels in tune with the event itself: Greaves, focused on the broader strokes of the event, does not capture very much in the way of detail as to the issues or particular political points led to the convention concluding without completing the national agenda that the organizers had hoped to settle on. On the other hand, the case could be made that obscuring the details of the discussion helps Nationtime remain timely, as a general portrait of the obstacles that tend to get in the way of political revolution. Despite the invigorating calls for unity that Jackson puts into his speech, there is a bittersweet sympathy to the objective way that Greaves captures the struggle to turn that philosophy into reality.
As America emerges from one politically tumultuous period and moves right into another one, the political power -- and struggles -- captured in Nationtime feel like an incredibly valuable document for the progressive political movements of 2021. It is hard to overestimate the impact that Nationtime has simply by showing that the event existed, the people and voices that were assembled for it, and the issues facing the Black community that were being discussed, all of which remain devastatingly relevant today. This new IndieCollect restoration, funded by Jane Fonda and the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, is a knockout of a historical document, that deserves to be seen and shared as far and wide as possible.
Nationtime was restored and released in virtual theaters in October of 2020, a rollout also handled by Kino Lorber. Since the film was never released in its proper form, their new theatrical poster is also the cover of this Blu-ray, featuring a photo collage of the film's various speakers and subjects. The one-disc release comes in a Vortex Blu-ray case, and there is a booklet inside the case featuring an essay by American history scholar and author Leonard N. Moore, PhD, as well as a note on the restoration by Sandra Schulberg.
The Video and Audio
Nationtime is presented on Blu-ray with 1.37:1 1080p AVC video and DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound. As mentioned, over 20 minutes of the film have been restored for this version of the movie, taken from the 16mm reversal, which was recovered from a destroyed film lab, where it had been improperly stored. When the restoration premiered in January 2020 at the Museum of Modern Art, it was presented in black and white, to help lower the amount of inconsistency in color from shot to shot; this Blu-ray offers a color version painstakingly restored by Oskar Miarka. Between the softer look of 16mm film and the rough condition of the original negative, there is no real depth or dimension to the picture, and fine detail is essentially non-existent -- none of which is a complaint, only a statement of fact. In some ways, the aesthetic adds to the impact of Nationtime as a snapshot of a moment in time, with the greener, yellower look of a Polaroid photograph. Significant fluctuations in light and softness occur between shots, and shadow levels can vary wildly. Still, I am sure that anyone watching the movie is far more interested in the fact that Nationtime has been preserved at all than the limitations of the picture, especially given they are all understandable. The 2.0 mono track is extremely clear and free of any significant issues, capturing the speeches, conversation, and music with ease. English captions for the deaf and hard of hearing are also included.
There are three extras on the disc. First, there is an audio commentary by editor and camera operator David Greaves, son of the late William Greaves, with an uncredited moderator. Greaves does a good job of providing screen-specific comments, helping to identify which footage he shot as opposed to his father or Doug Harris, recollections of what it was like watching the speakers and performers invited, trying to figure out the lighting (with unfortunate, but now-corrected results), and a little bit of insight into what was cut (which he hopes will be seen, but are not on this disc). The moderator also asks historical contextual questions about the convention itself (how the convention was put together, the types of figures who were invited, the police presence at the event, the logistics of the location, and more), background details about things going on that are glimpsed but not directly covered in the documentary, as well details about David himself at the time of filming. A very good track.
Video extras consist of two interviews, one with filmmaker Louise Greaves (14:39), William Greaves' widow, and another with David (15:29). Louise's interview is accompanied by a wonderful slideshow of photos featuring both William and herself, and she has a wealth of interesting insights into how they first met and started working together, his love of editing, his pathway to documentary filmmaking, working on Nationtime, and his philosophy on the films as documents with generational, historical value. David is interviewed on camera, and speaks about how he started working with his father, the value of being both an editor and a cameraman, recounts a great story about his father from the filming of Nationtime, and the value of the film for today's audiences.
An original theatrical trailer for the 2020 release of Nationtime is also included.
Nationtime is an incredible historical document, simultaneously rousing in its sense of solidarity and revolutionary ideas and tragic in that the battles the film's speakers are prepared to tackle are still being fought today. This is a film that should be shown in classrooms across America, especially now that viewers can enjoy it at its intended length. A great supplementary package is just icing on the cake -- the film itself earns Nationtime a place in the DVDTalk Collector's Series.
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