Daughters of the Dust

The only film in the National Registry directed by an African-American woman gets a 2k restoration.

Julie Dash’s 1991’s Daughters of the Dust is often considered one of the most important independent films of all time, and with good reason: Among other things, it’s the first film by an African-American woman to receive a wide domestic theatrical release, and is still the only film by an African-American woman to be placed in the National Registry. Now returning in shiny, new 2k restoration, the elegiac Daughters of the Dust takes place on a small island off the coast of the Southeastern United States over the course of a single day in 1902, as the Peazant family gathers for a picnic to celebrate their ancestors as some family members prepare to leave for the mainland. The dialect-heavy picture makes few concessions to mainstream storytelling and is all the stronger for it, and while what appears on the screen is still an undeniable achievement of heartfelt filmmaking, what comes out of the speakers is more jarring than ever: the compressed, Synclavier-heavy sounds of John Barnes’ very late-1980s score. For sure, far more expensive period pieces with greater resources have also been hampered by instantly dated scores — c.f. Francis Ford Coppola’s synth-heavy Apocalypse Now — but here, the music prevents Daughters of the Dust from achieving the sense of timelessness it so strives for. But it comes damn close.

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