The cult of Fanaka - Page 2

AFRO-SURREAL: A filmmaker reflects on his groundbreaking career

The next grant cycle, he got the money to help make Emma Mae; the following cycle, he served on the committee. "That goes to show you how the squeaking wheel gets the oil," he remembers, proudly.

In less-tenacious hands, there'd certainly be no Welcome Home Brother Charles. "White slave owners used to tell white women horror stories about the size of the black males' sexual equipment," Fanaka explains. "But rather than frightening the white females, it intrigued them. I wanted to make a film that took that myth and exaggerated it to show how ridiculous it was, and I chose to do it in a very surreal, powerful scene."

(Note to readers who haven't seen the film: uh, think 1997's Anaconda. The entire Penitentiary series is also a gold mine of surreal moments, particularly part three, which features a prison-dwelling, crack-smoking, snarling killer dwarf. Fanaka sums up that film in one word: "feral.")

Now in his late 60s, Fanaka has been slowed in his efforts to make Penitentiary IV by complications from diabetes. He's also been working for the last decade on a music documentary, Hip Hop Hope. It's an apt title for a film by Fanaka, who calls himself "a very optimistic person." He's enjoyed the resurgence of interest in his work, with screenings at places like San Francisco's Dead Channels Film Festival and Austin's Alamo Drafthouse, and frequent airings of the Penitentiary films on cable.

"My most artistic film, in my estimation, was Welcome Home Brother Charles, because I had no axes to grind but to try and use the medium of cinema to attack that myth, and attack it in a way that was quote-unquote artistic. Of course, very few people took that from it because that one scene kind of colors the whole film," he chuckles. "But I think as time goes by, people are gonna realize the value of these films I've made and begin to understand them."

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