News from the Locarno Festival
 

Harry Belafonte

Harry Belafonte

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Mr Belafonte, congratulations on your Pardo alla carriera. In your career you switched from stage to screen, from music to politics. Was it a conscious choice?
People always ask me when as an artist did I become a social activist. But I put it the other way, I was an activist who became an artist. As a young man, coming back from World War II, I really felt that in the Arts I had a great opportunity. I was born in poverty, and I saw how poverty destroyed the people in my community. I knew I had to spend my life trying to change that, so I looked at the options. I didn’t have many skills but I discovered the theatre, and how it spoke of the human condition. I used it as a platform, and it helped me inspire other people.

How do you entertain and educate audiences at the same time?
I find all art entertaining. Shakespeare, Dostoyevsky, Pirandello... They are very entertaining. But I also think that all art is political, so I make no distinction. Charlie Chaplin, for instance, is one of the greatest forces in cinema. He made me laugh, he made me excited, but yet he also made you aware of things. In The Great Dictator, Limelight... there is always this little man working against the system. When we speak about entertainment and politics I use him as the greatest example.

Which are the films you made that you are most proud of?
The one that made the biggest difference for me as an actor was Kansas City by Robert Altman, and the film that put me most on the map of the World is the one I am celebrating here, Carmen Jones, by Otto Preminger.

Any memories of Preminger you want to share with us?
Too many. I was very inspired by his passion for justice. Not many people knew this side of Preminger, but he fought very hard for Carmen Jones. Until then, almost all films that showed black people portrayed us as sub-human, objects to laugh at. There was a saying in Hollywood: “If you want to guarantee losing money, make a black film”. Stormy Weather, Cabin in the Sky, they never did well at the box office.Carmen Jones was the first time the World saw an heroic male black figure, andbecame very successful. It got great acclaim, and (co-star) Dorothy Dandridge was nominated for an Academy Award. That picture did a great service for the cinema industry and for black people.

The documentary about your life which is shown in Locarno is titled Sing Your Song. Is your life a happy song, or a protest song?
It’s Banana Boat, a very powerful song. It’s the World Anthem, a joyful anthem for victory.

Massimo Benvegnu

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