Sunday, September 22, 2013

Cane River - an Ultra-Orphan Film

During my work surveying the films held at DuArt, I came across an intriguing title I'd never heard of (one among many in the DuArt vaults) called CANE RIVER. My initial research turned up nothing, but eventually I found that the film's director, Horace B. Jenkins, died of a heart attack in December 1982 at just 42 years of age, a mere three months shy of the film's scheduled New York release. That release never happened, and the film was only seen briefly in New Orleans in December of 1983 (IMDB lists a release in Germany in October of 1982, but I question the authenticity of this citation). The only other screening I could find was at New Orleans Film Festival in the 90s, which notes that CANE RIVER was critically acclaimed (I guess in New Orleans, anyway.)

Jenkins was a very successful television producer and documentary filmmaker, and had won Emmys for his work in television, as a producer of SESAME STREET and TONY BROWN'S JOURNAL. It's certainly sad that he died so short of the release of his first fiction feature. This was obviously a very independent film, a labor of love, funded by a notable New Orleans mortuary. It's too bad the film never had a chance to find an audience. I wonder what might have happened had Jenkins lived - CANE RIVER would have opened in New York and perhaps around the country, and who knows? If the film succeeded, would Jenkins made other films?

Is CANE RIVER a lost masterpiece, a mediocre curiosity, or a forgettable misfire? Right now, I have no way of knowing. Though we received the original A&B negative rolls and a 35mm blowup internegative and track, we've got no film print or video copy, so I currently have no way of seeing the film. I have read that the film is a romance, filmed in New Orleans, and is one of the first features to deal with color prejudice within the African Americans community (one of the lead characters is  Creole).  We in the Film Archive are going to make a new 35mm print from the internegative, and have a look at what very few have seen.

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