Euzhan Palcy’s Sugar Cane Alley, which has enjoyed a 4K restoration, will screen at the 62nd BFI London Festival on Friday October 19 at BFI Southbank. Palcy and author Joseph Zobel’s daughter Jenny Zobel will be in attendance.
It’s 35 years since Euzhan Palcy’s Sugar Cane Alley achieved significant firsts at the Venice Film Festival. It was at this venerated event that the Silver Lion (for best film) and Volpi Cup (for best actress) were bestowed upon a black director and black actor. A first in both cases.
It wasn’t the only festival where Sugar Cane Alley received recognition. It became one of the most honoured and globally distributed films of the year, winning 17 international awards. And Palcy broke further ground the following year when she became the first black director to be the recipient of the Cesar Award for Best First Film.
Palcy’s ground-breaking work continued. She was the first black female director, with 1989’s A Dry White Season, to be produced by a major Hollywood studio (MGM). The film was notable also for bringing Marlon Brando out of a nine-year retirement and being the only film in his career to be directed by a woman.
Unsurprisingly, she’s been a huge influence on young black female filmmakers, notably, 13th director Ava DuVernay, who said: “People talk about me and firsts? I say: You clearly don’t know the goddess Euzhan Palcy.” That says a lot about what Palcy achieved and the significance of Sugar Cane Alley which has been digitally restored in readiness for its screening at the BFI London Film Festival this year.
Palcy’s film is set in Martinique in 1930. José (Garry Cadenat), a bright mischievous 11-year-old, may have few opportunities ahead of him other than to work on a plantation. But his grandmother (Darling Légitimus), an illiterate yet tough and wise woman, is determined to save him from the hard life she has known. When Jose wins a scholarship, she is ready to sacrifice everything for his chance at an education and an escape from the fields.
In 2011, the Cannes Film Festival honoured Euzhan Palcy by inducting Sugar Cane Alley in the Cannes Classics and mostly recently it was chosen to open the Le Cinémathèque Québécoise’s Women, “Women: 100 Female Directors, 100 Films” retrospective series.
Sugar Cane Alley will be screened at the 62nd BFI London Festival on Friday October 19 at the BFI Southbank.