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film Film: ‘Daughters of the Dust,’ a Seeming Inspiration for ‘Lemonade,’ Is Restored

In his praise of Julie Dash's “Daughters of the Dust” during its initial theatrical release in 1992 critic Stephen Holden called it “a film of spellbinding visual beauty.” Now restoration of the film aims to bring more of that beauty to the forefront. The Cohen Film Collection announced that it has completed a digital restoration of “Daughters of the Dust” and plans to release that version theatrically this fall.

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From top, Trula Hoosier, Barbara-O, right, and Alva Rogers in Julie Dash’s “Daughters of the Dust.”, Cohen Film Collection

In its debut the new Beyoncé visual album mixed “Lemonade” with a little “Dust.” The film “Daughters of the Dust,” written and directed by Julie Dash, about a family of Gullah women living on the Sea Islands and their decision to migrate to the American mainland in the early 1900s, looked to be inspiration for some of the lyrical, historical imagery in Beyoncé’s latest project, "Lemonade.” Now, the film, which is on DVD only in an out-of-print version, will get new life on the big screen.

The Cohen Film Collection, which maintains a library of classic films, announced on Wednesday that it has completed a digital restoration of “Daughters of the Dust” and plans to release that version theatrically this fall as part of the reopening of the New York art house venue the Quad Cinema. A national rollout and a new Blu-ray version of the film will follow.

In his praise of “Daughters of the Dust” during its initial theatrical release, the New York Times critic Stephen Holden called it “a film of spellbinding visual beauty.”* (See Holden's entire review below.) This restoration aims to bring more of that beauty to the forefront. Tim Lanza, the archivist for Cohen Film Collection, acquired the original film print, which had been rescued from a lab by the University of California, Los Angeles Film and Television Archive.

“The film had not been properly color graded when it was originally released,” Mr. Lanza said in a phone interview. “We worked with the cinematographer A.J.” — that is, Arthur Jafa — “to approve the color grade we had done.” He continued, “The big issue for Julie and A.J. was capturing the variety of African-American skin tones. That was not something presented in the first version available.”

Mr. Lanza and his team worked to ensure a color richness, stabilized the image, cleaned it up digitally and enhanced the sound.

The restored version is set to screen at the Cannes film market, an industry event that runs alongside the festival in May, and will probably appear at film festivals later in the year. The restored version is set to screen at the Cannes film market, an industry event that runs alongside the festival  this month and will probably appear at film festivals later in the year.

Review Film; 'Daughters Of the Dust': The Demise Of a Tradition
By Stephen Holden
Published: January 16, 1992  - New York Times

Julie Dash's "Daughters of the Dust" is a film of spellbinding visual beauty about the Gullah people living on the Sea Islands off the South Carolina-Georgia coast at the turn of the century. More than any other group of Americans descended from West Africans, the Gullahs, through their isolation, were able to maintain African customs and rituals. Cut off from the mainland, except by boat, they had their own patois: predominantly English but with a strong West African intonation. Most of the film's dialogue is spoken in that dialect, called Geechee, with occasional subtitles in English.

"Daughters of the Dust," which opened yesterday at Film Forum 1, focuses on the psychic and spiritual conflicts among the women of the Peazant family, a Gullah clan that makes the painful decision to migrate to the American mainland. Set on a summer day in 1902, on the eve of their departure, the film depicts an extended family picnic that is also a ritual farewell celebration attended by a photographer.

Each of the principal characters represents a different view of a family heritage that, once the Peazants have dispersed throughout the North, may not survive. Nana Peazant (Cora Lee Day), the group's 88-year-old great-grandmother and the clan's closest link to its Yoruba roots, still practices ritual magic and grieves over the demise of that tradition. Viola Peazant (Cherly Lynn Bruce) is a devout Baptist who has rejected Nana's spiritualism but who brings to her Christianity a similar fervency. Haagar (Kaycee Moore), who married into the family, disparages its African heritage as "hoodoo" and eagerly anticipates assimilation into America's middle class. Yellow Mary (Barbara-O), who has returned for the celebration, is the family pariah, shunned by the other women for being a prostitute.

The most volatile conflict is between Nana's granddaughter, Eula (Alva Rogers), who is pregnant, and her husband, Eli (Adisa Anderson), who believes the father of the child she is carrying is a white rapist. Through a ritual conducted by Nana, Eli eventually realizes that he is the father of the unborn daughter who serves as the film's occasional offscreen narrator.

Because the characters and their stories are not defined in conventional film-making terms, they are not always easy to follow. The stories, instead of being related in bite-size dramatic chunks, gradually emerge out of a broad weave in which the fabric of daily life, from food preparation to ritualized remembrance, is ultimately more significant than any of the psychological conflicts that surface.

With a running time of nearly two hours, "Daughters of the Dust" is a very languidly paced film that frequently stops in its tracks simply to contemplate the wild beauty of the Sea Island landscape. Even though the heat, insects and threat of yellow fever made the islands inhospitable to white settlement, the movie still portrays that environment, drenched in sea mist and strewn with palms, as a semi-tropical paradise and the Peazants as a blessed tribe whose independence and harmony with nature partly offsets the scars of having been slaves.

"Daughters of the Dust," which was made in association with the public broadcasting series "American Playhouse," is the feature film debut of Ms. Dash, who emerges as a strikingly original film maker. For all its harsh allusions to slavery and hardship, the film is an extended, wildly lyrical meditation on the power of African cultural iconography and the spiritual resilience of the generations of women who have been its custodians. Daughters of the Dust Written and directed by Julie Dash; director of photography, Arthur Jafa; edited by Amy Carey and Joseph Burton; music by John Barnes; production designer, Kerry Marshall; produced by Ms. Dash and Mr. Jafa; released by Kino International. At Film Forum 1, 209 West Houston Street. Running time: 113 minutes. This film has no rating. Nana Peazant . . . Cora Lee Day Haagar Peazant . . . Kaycee Moore Eula Peazant . . . Alva Rogers Eli Peazant . . . Adisa Anderson Yellow Mary . . . Barbara-O Viola . . . Cherly Lynn Bruce