Description of Looking for Langston from the British Film Institute: In this lyrical and poetic consideration of the life of revered Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes, award-winning British film-maker Isaac Julien invokes Hughes as a black gay cultural icon, against an impressionistic, atmospheric setting that parallels a Harlem speakeasy of the 1920s with an 80s London nightclub. Extracts from Hughes’ poetry are interwoven with the work of cultural figures from the 1920s and beyond, including black poets Essex Hemphill and Bruce Nugent, and photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, constructing a lyrical and multilayered narrative. Julien explores the ambiguous sexual subtexts of a period of rich artistic expression, and the enduring cultural significance of these pioneers’ work. Shot in black and white by cinematographer Nina Kellgren, the film combines archival footage with newly staged set pieces, fantasy sequences, and an imagined love story. The result is a beautiful and ultimately celebratory piece about artistic expression and the nature of black gay desire. Blaffer Art Museum screened Looking for Langston during the 2012 University of Houston Libraries conference “The Art of Death & Dying” and is now presenting the film publicly.
Isaac Julien was born in 1960 in London, where he currently lives and works. After graduating from St Martin’s School of Art in 1984, where he studied painting and fine art film, Isaac Julien founded Sankofa Film and Video Collective (1983–1992), and was a founding member of Normal Films in 1991. Julien was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2001 for his films The Long Road to Mazatlán (1999), made in collaboration with Javier de Frutos and Vagabondia (2000), choreographed by Javier de Frutos. Earlier works include Frantz Fanon: Black Skin, White Mask (1996), Young Soul Rebels (1991) which was awarded the Semaine de la critique prize at the Cannes Film Festival the same year, and the acclaimed poetic documentary Looking for Langston (1989). Julien was visiting lecturer at Harvard University’s Schools of Afro-American and Visual Environmental Studies and is currently a visiting professor at the Whitney Museum of American Arts. He was also a research fellow at Goldsmiths College, University of London and is a Trustee of the Serpentine Gallery. Julien was the recipient of both the prestigious MIT Eugene McDermott Award in the Arts (2001) and the Frameline Lifetime Achievement Award (2002). His work Paradise Omeros was presented as part of Documenta XI in Kassel (2002). In 2003 he won the Grand Jury Prize at the Kunstfilm Biennale in Cologne for his single screen version of Baltimore and the Aurora Award in 2005. Most recently, he has had solo shows at the Pompidou Centre in Paris (2005), MoCA Miami (2005) and the Kerstner Gesellschaft, Hanover (2006). Julien is represented in the Tate Modern, Centre Pompidou, Guggenheim and Hirshhorn Collections.