South Loop's black comedy

Tale of influential clubís rise and fall highlights Siskel Centerís Black Harvest Film Festival

08/24/2011 10:00 PM

By PHIL MOREHART
Contributing Writer

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Raymond Lambert

The Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video has been rolling full strength at the Gene Siskel Film Center all month. Now in its 17th year, the festival has grown into one of the countryís premiere showcases for independent feature-length films, shorts and documentaries that celebrate and illuminate the black experience.

Though itís definitely an international festival with films from points from Great Britain, Angola, Congo, France and Belgium, Black Harvestís roots in the Chicago community are deep. Forty percent of this yearís features have Chicago ties. Though the fest concludes next week, thereís still time to catch many of these Chicago-centric films.

Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of The Spook Who Sat by the Door, directed by Christine Acham and Clifford Ward, looks at the story behind the 1973 cult classic film The Spook Who Sat by the Door, which was set in Chicago and based on the novel by Chicagoan Sam Greenlee. And movie-making is further explored in Chicagoan Darryl Pittsí doc Kiss and Tell: Black Romance in Film.

Chicago-based documentarian Daniel Kraus adds another installation to his acclaimed Work series with Preacher. Like the films Sheriff, Musician and Professor before it, Preacher profiles a single individual and his chosen profession ó in this case a Pentecostal preacher living in rural Virginia. And seven Chicago filmmakers get their time in the spotlight during Shorts Programs: The Chicago Connection.

The Black Harvestís closing night film is a highlight amongst this yearís Chicago-related features.

Documentary Phunny Business: A Black Comedy examines the rise and fall of All Jokes Aside, the influential South Loop comedy club that launched the careers of a whoís who of contemporary black comedians: Jamie Foxx, Steve Harvey, Chris Rock, MoNique, Bernie Mac, D.L. Hughley, Mike Epps, J.B. Smoove, Cedric the Entertainer, Carlos Mencia, George Willborn, Craig Robinson, Tommy Davidson, Adele Givens and hundreds more.

Many of the comedians who found their big break on the All Jokes Aside stage appear in the doc to tout its influence on both their careers and the world of comedy as a whole. The footage of them at work and their reminiscences are hilarious.

The film is more than a simple collection of stand-up clips, however. Phunny Business is also the story of a man with a vision.

Raymond Lambert was a young rising star in the world of high finance when he abandoned his day job to open a comedy club that featured only minority acts. It was a venture that found incredible success, but also ran straight into local political, economic and racial troubles until its closure in 2000 after a near-decade run.

Lambert, who also served as one of the filmís producers, details the ups-and-downs he experienced, and his story is fascinating. He ventures into self-congratulation at times, but itís well deserved. His clubís impact stretches far beyond local and national comedy scenes, but itís far from a recognized name like The Second City or The Improv. Hopefully, Phunny Business will help remedy this injustice.

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