Following a spotlight presentation in January at BAMPFA as part of the museum’s annual preservation film festival To Save and Project, Bushman will have a weeklong theatrical run at New York City’s BAM Rose Cinemas beginning on Friday, February 2. That presentation will coincide with the restoration’s West Coast premiere at BAMPFA on Saturday, February 3, which will include an onstage conversation with Schickele’s family members, cast and crew, and the film archivists who worked on the restoration. The film will receive a reprise screening at BAMPFA on Saturday, February 24.
Although it has been nearly impossible to see for decades following its initial release, Bushman is widely regarded by film scholars as a major milestone of Black representation in American cinema — and as an important historical document of the West Coast counterculture from which it emerged. Blending narrative and documentary techniques, the film follows the experience of Gabriel, a Nigerian immigrant teaching in San Francisco during the 1960s who gets swept up in the tumultuous social movements of the era.
Originally conceived as a comedic drama set at what was then San Francisco State College, the project took on a more serious tone during filming, when the campus was convulsed by a monthslong series of racial justice protests led by the Black Student Union and the Third World Liberation Front.
A rare onscreen depiction of the African immigrant experience in the United States, Bushman stars the nonprofessional Nigerian actor Paul Eyam Nzie Okpokam, a close friend of Schickele’s who met the filmmaker during his service in the Peace Corps in the early 1960s. It became an experience that Schickele later chronicled in his mid-length documentary Give Me a Riddle (1966), which will accompany the Bushman screening at BAMPFA.
Director, editor and actor
Widely celebrated during his lifetime as a successful musician, Schickele (1937-1999) also amassed a distinguished body of work as a film director, editor, and actor, receiving a Guggenheim Fellowship for filmmaking in 1979.
Though it was widely celebrated during its initial release, Bushman has never been released on any home viewing format and has almost never screened theatrically outside the Bay Area over the past forty years. BAMPFA holds the original camera negative and one of the only extant 35mm prints of the film in its collection, which comprises over eighteen thousand films and videos with particularly strong holdings in West Coast independent cinema. The camera negative was the source of the new 4K restoration, which was overseen by film archivist Ross Lipman at Illuminate in partnership with BAMPFA film archivist Jon Shibata and former film collection supervisor, Antonella Bonfanti.
“It’s an honor to partner with our colleagues at The Film Foundation, Milestone Films, and Kino Lorber to bring Bushman to contemporary audiences in a pristine new 4K restoration,” said Susan Oxtoby, BAMPFA’s director of film and senior film curator. “The meticulous work done by film archivist Ross Lipman will ensure that this extraordinary example of independent cinema will remain available to scholars and the general public for decades to come.”
“We’re delighted to partner with The Film Foundation on restoring this historically important work of American independent cinema, which has a special resonance for our own community here in the Bay Area as a product of the vibrant social justice currents that have shaped our region’s history,” said BAMPFA’s executive director Julie Rodrigues Widholm. “By activating the unique holdings of our internationally distinguished film collection—and partnering with distributors like Kino and Milestone to make these holdings available to a wider audience — BAMPFA continues to shape a more expansive and inclusive film history.”
. . .
A 1958 graduate of Swarthmore, Schickele worked as a freelance professional violinist before joining the Peace Corps in 1961.
David G. Schickele first presented his retrospective view of Peace Corps Volunteer service in a speech given at Swarthmore College in 1963 that was printed in the Swarthmore College Bulletin. At the time, there was great interest on college campuses about the Peace Corps and early RPCVs were frequently asked to write or speak on their college campuses about their experiences.
After his tour in Nigeria, he would, with Roger Landrum (Nigeria 1961-63), make a documentary film on the Peace Corps in Nigeria
called Give Me A Riddle that was for Peace Corps recruitment, but was never used by the agency. The film was too honest a representation of Peace Corps Volunteers life overseas, and the agency couldn’t handle it.
However, the Peace Corps did pick up Schickele’s essay in the Swarthmore College Bulletin, and reprinted it in its first “Point of View,” a short-lived series of discussion papers that they published in the early days of the agency. This series of monographs were devoted, “to the Peace Corps experience and philosophy by members of the staff, current and former Peace Corps Volunteers and qualified observers.”
Schickele and Landrum, who were in the first group of PCVs to Nigeria, have passed away.
February 3–24, 2024
BAMPFA presents the Bay Area premiere of the recently completed restoration of Bushman (US, 1971), directed by Bay Area independent filmmaker David Schickele (1937–1999).We will be joined by special guests, including Schickele’s family, who have been instrumental to the preservation of Bushman, as well as original members of the cast and crew and the preservation team.
UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY ART MUSEUM & PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE
2155 Center Street Berkeley, CA