Sog., Scen.: Francesco Zippel. Prod.: Quoiat Films, Sky. DCP. Bn e Col.
Oscar Micheaux: The Great and Only was published in the US in 2007. The author was Patrick McGilligan, the biographer of many icons of Hollywood cinema and an illustrious historian of McCarthyism in the cinema. For me, reading the book proved to be a journey into marvellous and unknown territories. The narrative was so unfamiliar and incredible in its various nuances that I could believe that it was partly fictionalised. I contacted McGilligan who confirmed that it was the result of in-depth work over a period of years that aimed to rediscover one of the most extraordinary figures in American film, the real father of African-American cinema. To understand better these incredible events, I began meeting African-American scholars and directors and then travelling to the places where Micheaux’s personal story began, the rural south of Illinois and South Dakota. It was several years before I could put together the material and resources to illustrate his story.
This documentary reconstructs the Oscar Micheaux’s extraordinary achievements and scrutinises his contemporary legacy, venturing into the places in which he lived: rural Illinois and lively Chicago at the beginning of the last century, the plains of South Dakota and also the jazz-infused artistic renaissance of Harlem. Micheaux’s incredible challenges are recounted by esteemed scholars and the heirs of his cinema, including John Singleton and Kevin Willmott, as well as icons of popular African-American music and culture such as Chuck D., the legendary rapper and Public Enemy frontman.
Only four photographs of Micheaux himself and about ten of the more than 40 films that he directed have been preserved, but the moment has come to rediscover his uniqueness.
The project is made even more incredible by the way the documentary was made: realised entirely by remote connection via Zoom with an itinerant crew in the US. An adventure within an adventure. A method that would, perhaps, have pleased Micheaux, who undertook even greater endeavours throughout his whole life. I am therefore pleased that this ‘rediscovered’ director and his Murder in Harlem, which have also been saved from obscurity, are being hosted by Il Cinema Ritrovato.