This week at 5th Avenue Cinema—Portland’s only student-run theater—our film curators have chosen to screen a double feature, free for students! The staff of 5th Avenue Cinema usually display one film each weekend. However, two staff members chose a film to program this week: Space is the Place and The Last Angel of History.
Space is the Place is a science fiction musical film that explores the life and musical career of Sun Ra, a jazz composer known for his futuristic and cosmic music. The 1974 film follows Ra’s journey to find a new home for the Black community and his belief that space is the key to their liberation and salvation.
The film uses Afrofuturism to offer a unique perspective on the future of humanity and the role that music plays in it. Director John Coney presents an imaginative story with amazing visuals and Sun Ra’s music and teachings. The film provides a fascinating look into the life and work of this innovative and influential artist and a glimpse into the world of jazz, spirituality and science fiction.
The film was chosen for screening by 5th Avenue staff member Cadie Godula. “It’s a fantastic movie of its time,” Godula said. “We’ve been looking for it for like a year to program!” She talked about how difficult this film was to obtain for a long time, as you had to email the producer directly. “5th Ave played it back in 2009, so I was like, ‘oh great, we’ll get it the guy’—but his email didn’t work right,” she said. They were relieved when they finally procured Space is the Place through the Janus Films distributor.
Godula described the film as similar to other album-based rock films from the 1970s. She is a fan of watching real musicians play instruments in films. “There’s a scene where Sun Ra and his orchestra are playing this show, and it’s very, very cool to watch,” she said. “To see the different angles up close of him fucking jamming out with everybody!”
In Space is the Place, we watch Sun Ra play an alien trying to help Black people escape to another planet. Although the film is considered a musical directed at fans of Sun Ra, it has a deeper and more complex narrative. “Similar to The Last Angel of History, there are many issues of equality brought up throughout the film,” she said. “We wanted to spotlight Afrofuturism.”
Following Space is the Place, 5th Avenue will project The Last Angel of History. The 1996 science fiction documentary is about the influence of Afrofuturism on culture and technology. The short film features interviews with prominent Afrofuturist artists and explores how the intersection of technology and culture affects the way we see the future. The film also touches on themes such as colonialism, identity and race, and their impact on the Afrofuturist movement. Overall, The Last Angel of History provides a unique perspective on Afrofuturism and its impact and role in shaping our music, art and literature.
The Last Angel of History was chosen for screening by 5th Avenue staff member Sam Chavez-Perez. “We thought it would be a good companion to Space is the Place,” he said. “We wanted to have films that speak to the Black experience, and this one is pretty heady, but I feel like it is incredibly rewarding—especially if you don’t just watch it once.” According to him, this movie can generate significant meaning if you spend time with it.
“Space is the Place is discussed in The Last Angel of History—as well as Sun Ra,” Chavez-Perez said. “So by having viewers engage with Space is the Place first and then watch The Last Angel of History, they can kind of rework their understanding of the film and put it within a specific tradition they know the context of.” Viewers will benefit from watching both films in the order that 5th Avenue Cinema shows them. “Even though they are different films, I feel like they enhance one another when viewed together,” Chavez-Perez added.
According to Chavez-Perez, The Last Angel of History consists of a narrative structure interspersed with interviews. One of his favorite parts of the film was when someone said, “The line between social reality and science fiction is an optical illusion.” He complimented the dialogue throughout the film but highlighted this specific quote. “When I heard that, my brain was melting,” he said. “Forget my third eye—my fourth eye was opened with that one!”
This film reexamines history through Afrofuturism to acknowledge the technological and cultural advancements made by the African community. “We live in the U.S., so we have these ideas that are proliferated about Africa which are very negative and dehumanizing,” Chavez-Perez said. “The work that Afrofuturism does is incredibly restorative.” He argued that the film rewrites history to give Black people the proper credit for advances that they have made with technology.
“When I was watching this film, I felt my own opinions start to be changed,” Chavez-Perez said. During his research on Afrofuturism, Chavez-Perez learned that some Black people say they have experienced the end of the world. “Instead of that being something that is deeply pessimistic, it leads to a new understanding of our current reality from which we can then develop proper cultural and political actions,” Chavez-Perez said. “[The film] is really just for anyone who wishes to think critically about very uncomfortable truths and also has an interest in how technology and music can push culture and civilization.”
Students can watch Space is the Place and The Last Angel of History at the 5th Avenue Cinema for free. The double feature can be seen Friday or Saturday at 6 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. or Sunday at 3 p.m.