by TONY BINNS
The Gene Siskel Film Centers celebrates the 25th Anniversary of its Black Harvest Film Festival, which will showcase 17 feature films and over 40 shorts films by some of the most talented filmmakers in the business. Among the honorees, Sergio Mims will be recognized for his tireless contributions to the BHFF. One of the showcased films, Thee Debauchery Ball, directed by David Weathersby, documents Chicago’s thriving house music community, a phenomenon that blossomed from a well-known underground event.
How did you learn about Thee Debauchery Ball?
When I was a videographer, my earliest clients were poets. Khari B, the founder of Thee Debauchery Ball, has always been a prominent figure on the poetry scene. One day one of my friends asked me to come along to one of the balls. I wasn’t able to stay long so I only got a brief look … A few years later, Khari asked me to shoot one … and that’s where I saw it in all of its glory. I knew that this was something unique and special.
How did that introduction evolve into making a film of the event?
At the time, I was kicking around the idea of transitioning from videography to producing documentary projects. Thee Debauchery Ball was on the top of my list as far as topics to cover, but I assumed that the event had already been documented. So I didn’t mention it for a least a year. I asked [Khari B] if anyone had documented the event, and when he said “no,” I was still a little reluctant to ask him if he would be interested in me producing a documentary about the event. I realized that this was a very important story in regards to Black sexuality, freedom, and expression, and I was extremely nervous about being able to capture the true essence of the event and the community. Despite that, I asked, he said “yes,” and I got to work immediately.
When is the ball and can you share where it is held?
There are two balls per year — one during the summer in July and one in the winter. Both have a similar structure, but different themes. The summer one is a mix of Afrocentrism, Afrofuturism, and erotica, while the winter one has an all-black dress code along with the erotic theme. There is an element of BDSM present as well at the winter ball. One thing that makes the ball different is that the location changes every year by design. No one knows where it will be until an email is sent out to ticket holders on the day of the event. Some think this is to increase the mystery around the event, but it’s actually a safety precaution. They realize that this a safe space for the expression of mature Black sexuality, community, art, and freedom.
The 25th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival runs Aug. 3 through 29, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State Street. For more information contact www.siskelfilmcenter.org