On Saturday, the Landmark Center in downtown St. Paul will launch the “Cinema Choice Series: In the Footsteps of Gordon Parks” in honor of the famous civil rights-era photographer and director who hails from St. Paul. The series will include screenings of three park-related films. The first, the Emmy-nominated HBO documentary Half Last Fall, documents his life and work.
Then on Sunday and May 13th, two of Parkes’ films, “The Learning Tree” and “Leadbelly”, will be shown.
The film series will feature notes from black filmmakers and artists, including producer Kokai Amba, who was supervised by Parks, “Leadbelly” actor Art Evans, “Learning Tree” actor Kyle Johnson, “Half Best Ortag” documentaries Craig Rice and Robin Heckman-Winfield, She is the niece of Parks.
Parks attended a separate elementary school in Kansas where he and other black students were discouraged from pursuing higher education. After witnessing the death of his mother at the age of 15, he moved to Saint Paul to live with other family members. There, he began his photography career working for St. Paul Recorder and spokesperson for Minneapolis.
Many of Parkes’ early photographs centered on fashion and he shot for magazines such as Glamor, Vogue, and Essence.
He later began creating government-commissioned photographs to produce many of his most famous works. He became the first African-American to write a major film in Hollywood and the first African-American photographer for Life magazine, portraying notable personalities including Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali.
His work explored themes of racism, poverty, civil rights, and urban life. The Gordon Parks Foundation describes him as “a humanitarian with a deep commitment to social justice.”
On University Street in St. Paul, Gordon Parks High School, an alternative education center, is a testament to Parks’ legacy within the St. Paul community. The school’s website reads, “Gordon Parks’ life and work as a photographer, filmmaker, writer, and civil rights activist provides us with a model for the kind of thoughtful, active, and successful citizens we are dedicated to helping our students become.”
The Landmark Center described the upcoming film series as a way to engage with the racial justice movement that has become closely associated with the Twin Cities.
“Following a devastating health and racial epidemic, the world sees a new Minnesota story: Black men and a tragic death…” CHOICE MOVIE SERIES: In the Footsteps of Gordon Parks “will engage audiences in the power of Parks’ cinematic narrative of courage and resilience, black men as visionaries of possibility and humanity.” Parks died in March 2006.
The series begins at 1 p.m. Saturday at the FK Weyerhaeuser Auditorium at the Landmark Center, 75 Fifth Street W in downtown St. Paul. Tickets for each show are $5 and can be purchased at bit.ly/choicecinema.
Meanwhile, “The Learning Tree” actor Kyle Kyle Johnson will visit Gordon Parks High School on Monday to give a presentation to students.