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Ashes and Embers

Haile Gerima

Directed by Haile Gerima
1982, 120 min

The story of a Vietnam veteran who almost one decade after the war comes to terms with his role in the war and his role as a Black person in America. His transformation from a bitter ex-soldier to a strong and confident man is encouraged and provoked by the love and chastisement of his grandmother and friends.

“Gerima is a master. That more people who love cinema don’t know his work, and the work of his contemporaries like Julie Dash and Charles Burnett, is a true shame. This film is a robust, restless, wonderful collision of ideas and images and music. It’s a story about shifting identity and consciousness as it unfolds in the return of a Vietnam vet searching for his place under the sun. I occasionally see the face of one of the characters — the protagonist’s grandmother — in my own dreams at night.” Ava DuVernay

“Ashes and Embers establishes Gerima as among the most interesting and original narrative filmmakers on the current scene.” – Village Voice

“Non-linear and possessing an improvisational rhythm, moving between past and present, between newsreel and fictional footage, Ashes and Embers taps into Ned Charles’s angry, explosive, and highly unstable headspace as he makes the difficult transition from war to civilian life. This is a film that exteriorizes the heavy brooding, inner turmoil of a black man who fought in a white war and who must go back to an oppressive white society. Listening to his grandmother’s experiences with slavery is Ned Charles’s only solace. As Gerima has said in interviews, Ashes and Embers pinpoints the moment when one stops, takes charge, and learns from past generations.” Tanner Tafelski, Brooklyn Magazine

‘“Ashes & Embers” is agitprop. It does not seek to entertain. It does not want you to sit down, settle in, shut off your brain and have fun. Haile Gerima’s film announces its contempt for such fanciful Hollywood confection in its first scene which features an aspiring actor named Randolph and the protagonist Nay Charles (played with effective intensity by John Anderson) cruising down Sunset Boulevard. Randolph’s dream of seeing his name in lights is rudely interrupted by the red and blue flashing lights of an LAPD cruiser. Soon our hero and his friend are being arrested at gunpoint.

The point of this introduction is crystal clear. Gerima’s film is a challenging non-linear endeavor; half experimental, half narrative, and above all a call to arms. In the film, in an almost Resnais-like fashion, Nay Charles shifts through time and space with the ease and anarchy of memory. This is deeply appropriate as Nay Charles is a figure of above all dislocation.”‘ – Brandon Wilson, IndieWire

Winner of the FIPRESSCI Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival 1983

Special Thanks to SANKOFA Video Books & Cafe:

Named after the internationally acclaimed film called SANKOFA (produced by the founders) , Sankofa Video, Books & Café carries with it an expectation of quality and discovery. Founded in 1997 by filmmaking couple, Haile and Shirikiana Gerima, Sankofa Video and Books specializes in videos and books about people of African descent around the world.

Sankofa Video, Books & Cafe is nestled in the college campus corridor of Georgia Ave, in Washington, DC, across from Howard University, two blocks from Benjamin Banneker Sr. High School.


Born in Gondar, Ethiopia, Haile Gerima is a writer, producer and director, perhaps best known for his acclaimed film SANKOFA (1993). The dramatic tale of African resistance to slavery won international acclaim, awarded first prize at the African Film Festival in Milan, Italy, as well as Best Cinematography at Africa’s premier Festival of Pan African Countries.

His most recent film, TEZA, was another personal drama, set in Ethiopia and Germany. The film chronicled the return of an African intellectual to his country of birth, during the repressive Marxist regime of Haile Mariam Mengistu.

TEZA was awarded Best Screenplay and the Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival in 2008, and also received the Grand Prize at the Ouagadougou Panafrican Film and Television Festival in 2009, among other international commendations.

Throughout his career, Haile Gerima has used his work as a critical lens for personal growth and creative development. His concern for people of African descent is evident, especially, where the representation of their image is concerned. His belief is that independent cinematic expression should counter the superficial and stereotype-laden films of Hollywood and, instead, engage socially relevant issues. Toward this end, many of Gerima’s films have been produced with grassroots, community support and/or financing from arts institutions, outside of the United States.

The concepts of identity and independence are, perhaps, the most pervasive in all of Gerima’s films. He sees filmmaking as a conduit for telling his personal stories, a means to honor the struggles of his ancestors and add their names to the map of history, and for future generations to have a blueprint for their own survival.

An alumnus of the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Film and Television, Gerima has spent over 40 year making high value, low budget films outside of commercial institutions. Gerima has been a distinguished professor of film at Howard University since 1975.


  • 2/25 | 7:00PM
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