HOMEGOINGS: FILM about renowned Harlem funeral director Isaiah Owens and African-American funeral traditions

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Christine Turner


What: Harlem premiere of New York filmmaker Christine Turner's debut feature documentary, Homegoings, about renowned Harlem funeral director Isaiah Owens and African-American funeral traditions. The event is presented by Firelight Media, POV and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone (UMEZ) in association with the Apollo Theater, in partnership with The Futuro Media Group, ImageNation Cinema Foundation, Manhattan Neighborhood Network, the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC), WNET and WNYC. The event is free to the public.

When: Friday, June 21, 2013. Red Carpet: 7:00 p.m. Screening: 7:30 p.m. Q&A with filmmaker, film subjects: 9:00 p.m.

Where: The Apollo Theater, 253 W. 125th Street (Between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard (7th Avenue) and Frederick Douglass Boulevard (8th Avenue), New York, NY 10027

Who: Program will include introductions by Firelight, POV and UMEZ; a discussion with Christine Turner and Isaiah Owens;  a live performance by the film’s composer, violinist Daniel Roumain, featuring members of The Harlem Chamber Players (violinists Ashley Horne and Monica Davis, viola player Adam Hill and cellist Lawrence Zoernig); and appearances by Owens family members and people in the film. Legendary New York filmmakers Stanley Nelson (Freedom Riders, The Murder of Emmett Till); co-founder of Firelight Media and Albert Maysles (Grey Gardens, Muhammad and Larry) to attend.

Public RSVP: Advance RSVPs are recommended. Visit www.homegoingsharlem.eventbrite.com/ to register online. First come, first served. Registration does not guarantee admission.

About the Film: Through the eyes of renowned funeral director Isaiah Owens, the beauty and grace of African-American funerals are brought to life. Filmed at Owens Funeral Home in New York City’s historic Harlem neighborhood, Homegoings takes an up-close look at the rarely seen world of undertaking in the black community, where funeral rites draw on a rich palette of tradition, history and celebration. Combining cinéma vérité with intimate interviews and archival photographs, the film paints a portrait of the dearly departed, their grieving families and a man who sends loved ones “home.” (2013. USA. Directed by Christine Turner. 58 min.)

Homegoings will have its national broadcast premiere on Monday, June 24, 2013 at 10 p.m. on PBS’ POV series (check local listings). Find out more: www.pbs.org/pov/homegoings/.

The film is a co-production of POV’s Diverse Voices Project, with funding provided by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. It is a co-presentation with ITVS and the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC).

“The Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone, along with its partners, is proud to present the Harlem premiere of Homegoings,” said Kenneth J. Knuckles, President and CEO. “The film features the Owens Funeral Home, one of the many small businesses in Upper Manhattan that has received loan financing from UMEZ. Homegoings was directed and produced by Christine Turner, a participant in Firelight Media’s Producer's Lab, an initiative funded in part by UMEZ's Cultural Industry Investment Fund. This unique intersection of UMEZ funding has created the opportunity to showcase the organization’s work in action.”

“Firelight Media is honored to join partners POV and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone to present Christine Turner’s moving film, Homegoings,” said Stanley Nelson, Executive Director, Firelight Media. “Christine is a sterling example of the high caliber of filmmakers that we mentor and support through our Producer’s Lab. As a Harlem-based media organization, we are committed to developing emerging producers of color like Christine and sharing their films with our local community. And what better place than at the legendary Apollo Theater”

“POV is thrilled to team with these exceptional partners for our first event at New York’s one and only Apollo Theater,” said Cynthia López, Co-Executive Producer, POV. “We chose Homegoings to kick off our 26th season on PBS because it is a beautiful look at a man with an extraordinary passion for his work and community. The Apollo event promises to be an uplifting evening—at the perfect venue.”

“In addition to its rich legacy as one of the nation’s premier cultural institutions, the Apollo Theater has always been a beacon for the community and a supporter of Harlem based artists and arts organizations and local businesses," said Mikki Shepard, The Apollo’s Executive Producer. “We are so proud to host the Harlem premiere of Homegoings as we feel it is important to celebrate everyday heroes like Isaiah Owens as well as provide a platform for emerging filmmakers such as Christine Turner.”

Major funding for this event was provided by the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone and POV in association with the Apollo Theater.

The Filmmaker: Christine Turner is an independent filmmaker based in New York. As a researcher and producer, she hascontributed to numerous documentaries for PBS, HBO and OWN, working with Bill Moyers, Lisa Ling, Stanley Nelson and others. Her short fiction films have screened at the Tribeca Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival and on PBS. She was born and raised in San Francisco and received a bachelor of fine arts degree in film and television from the Tisch School of the Arts, part of New York University, in New York.

The daughter of a Chinese-American mother and an African-American father, Turner experienced two different sets of funeral customs when both of her grandmothers passed away within two weeks of one another. Though just a child at the time, she remained curious about the different ways that cultures mourned death. Many years later, when she came across an article about Harlem undertaker Isaiah Owens, who has a reputation for beautifying the dead, she was immediately intrigued.

Isaiah Owens: Originally from South Carolina, Isaiah Owens moved to New York in 1968 to train as a mortician at age 17. In addition to being recognized as a superb embalmer and restorative artist, he has since earned a number of awards for his contributions to the community. Along with his wife, Lillie, he runs Owens Funeral Home, “where beauty softens your grief.”

Daniel Roumain: Haitian-American artist Daniel Bernard Roumain, who wrote original music for Homegoings, is a classically trained composer, performer, violinist and band leader noted for blending funk, rock, hip-hop and classical music. His compositions have been performed by chamber ensembles and full orchestras, and have inspired the work of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company and tap dancer Savion Glover. Roumain has worked with Philip Glass, Cassandra Wilson, DJ Spooky and Lady Gaga, and his work has been commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music, among other organizations.

Harlem Chamber Players: The Harlem Chamber Players is an ethnically diverse collective of professional musicians dedicated to bringing affordable andaccessible live classical music to people in the Harlem community and beyond, through community and educational outreach and collaborations with Harlem’s arts organizations, schools and cultural institutions. 

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