A String of Pearls: Camille Billops Family Trilogy - Films and Panel Discussion

A String of Pearls

March 29, 2023

Trailblazing artist and polymath Camille Billops (1933–2019) and her partner in life and work, James Hatch (1928–2020), left behind invaluable legacies as archivists who worked tirelessly to preserve records of Black cultural life and as filmmakers who turned their unflinching camera on Billops’s own, often painful personal experiences. The films they made together, while grounded in documentary, use a range of techniques including reenactments, dramatization, and satire to illuminate the ways in which race, gender, and class shape everyday life.

In their Family Trilogy—Suzanne, Suzanne; Finding Christa; and A String of Pearls—the pair cover more than 30 years of troubling truths from Billops’s own family, tackling issues of drug addiction, abuse, unwanted pregnancy, and motherhood with fearless honesty.

6:00–9:00pm at LANGSTON
Tickets: $14 ($10 SIFF members)

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Suzanne, Suzanne

Suzanne, Suzanne (1982) - 25 min.

This poignant documentary profiles a young Black woman—Billops’ niece Suzanne Browning—as she confronts a legacy of physical abuse and its role in her descent into substance abuse. Family remembrances reveal the truth behind her addiction: Suzanne and her mother were victims of domestic abuse at the hands of the family patriarch. Suzanne is compelled to understand her father's violence and her mother's passive complicity, who suffered at her husband's hands as well, as the keys to her own self-destruction. After years of silence, Suzanne and her mother are finally able to share their painful experiences with each other in an intensely moving moment of truth.

Finding Christa

Finding Christa (1991) - 59 min.

This startlingly personal documentary presents a moving yet unsentimental view of motherhood and adoption. It explores the feelings surrounding the reunion of a young woman with her birth mother twenty years after being given up for adoption. The reunion is between filmmaker Camille Billops and her own daughter, Christa. Facing the re-encounter with mixed emotions, Billops interrogates her family and friends as well as her own motivations. The result is an original and daring work that challenges social biases about adoption and offers new insight into mother-daughter relationships.

A String of Pearls

A String of Pearls (2002) - 56 min.

In the final installment of her acclaimed Family Trilogy (which also includes Suzanne, Suzanne and Finding Christa), Camille Billops turns the camera on four generations of men in her family and considers the ways in which urban violence, unemployment, and the early deaths of their own fathers have shaped their lives.