Black Harvest Film Festival’s Sergio Mims dies at 67, ‘staggering loss’ for Chicago cinema | Illinois

CHICAGO — No one writing, speaking, or sharing discoveries about filmmaking in Chicago has brought the breadth of experience or the enthusiastic advocacy like Sergio Mims did in his 67 years.

Mims co-founded the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Black Harvest Film Festival and its precursor, the Blacklight Festival. He was a passionate champion of classical music, opera, MGM musicals and every corner of film history. He hosted “The Bad Mutha Film Show” on WHPK-FM and taught screenwriting at the DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center.

More recently, Mims has delivered a wealth of delightful DVD commentary on a range of ‘pictures’ (his favorite word for movies), from ‘Lilies of the Field’ to ‘Watermelon Man’ and ‘Willie Dynamite’. In April, an appearance at the TCM Classic Film Festival in Hollywood gave Mims the “expected national recognition he clearly deserved,” in the words of Film Center executive director Jean de St. Aubin.

“It’s a huge loss,” said Film Center programming director Rebecca Fons.

Mims, a resident of Hyde Park, died Tuesday in Chicago. He had been in poor health for several months, according to his sister, Indianapolis doctor Lisa Mims.

At the TCM festival, Mims presented two films by Sidney Poitier alongside TCM host and Mims’ longtime friend and colleague in Chicago, Jacqueline Stewart.

“It was one of her Cinderella moments,” said Barbara Allen, longtime filmmaker and producer/engineer at WTTW-TV. She has known Mims for 40 years. “We can thank Jackie Stewart for that. She took him out. And he was looking forward to doing it again next year.

“As far back as I can remember, Sergio was a movie buff,” Lisa Mims said Thursday. “When I was a kid, he used to take me to see the latest Bruce Lee martial arts movies in downtown Chicago.” Westerns, James Bond, blaxploitation, the Mims savored it all.

Allen recalled, “He could tell you everything about cinema. All. Call him with a question about a movie, and he’d answer that question, then give you a million more answers to questions you didn’t know you had.

News of his death sparked a passionate outpouring of memories on social media. “Through our tears, let us celebrate the incomparable and indomitable Sergio Mims,” wrote Stewart, the TCM host, longtime researcher and film historian at the University of Chicago and now director and president of the Academy Museum. of Motion Pictures of Los Angeles.

“Rest, dear brother. And we will keep the work of celebrating cinema, especially black cinema, alive in your honor,” Stewart posted on Facebook Thursday.

The 28th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center, taking place November 4-27 this year, will be the first without Mims. An offshoot of the Blacklight festival co-founded by Mims in the early 1980s, Black Harvest will be dedicated this year to the memory of Mims.

“He was Black Harvest,” said of St. Aubin, who met Mims in 2003. “Other people moved out of town, for other things, but Sergio was an integral part of the film community of Chicago until the end.”

Dwayne Johnson-Cochran, his cohort on Blacklight in the early and mid-1980s, described Mims Friday as “the impresario”. Johnson-Cochran, whose “Heist 88” screenplay was filmed earlier this year in Chicago, said he likely met Mims when they both worked as production assistants in 1979 on the rowdy set of “The Blues Brothers”. In a 2018 Bill Ackerman “Supporting Characters” podcast, Mims described the experience: “Believe me, there was no safety on this movie.”

“We fought the whole time,” Johnson-Cochran said Friday, with a hearty laugh. He and Mims and Blacklight co-founder Floyd Webb locked horns the whole time, “because it was about our cinematic aesthetic. I remember that Serge and I were in the car, after a screening of “Body Double” by Brian DePalma, and we embarked: “It’s a tribute to Hitchcock! ‘Nope! It’s a scam!’ and he almost hit me, right there in the car.

In 2009, Tambay A. Obenson launched the Shadow and Act website devoted to black cinema, with Mims as a key critical and curatorial voice. “Every African American filmmaker in the world was in Shadow and Act,” Johnson-Cochran said. “We were eager to be interviewed by Shadow and Act; I couldn’t wait for Sergio to call me. They had a huge influence on all of us.

Mims was born in Chicago in January 1955. A graduate of the University of Illinois at Chicago, majoring in economics but much more drawn to movies, Mims worked on several Chicago film sets in addition to “The Blues Brothers” . He rose to the rank of second assistant director on the 1979 Los Angeles prison drama “Penitentiary.”

Also on the “Supporting Characters” podcast, Mims wryly recounted his lasting regret over turning down a production assistant job on a movie called “The Babysitter Murders.” Later it was renamed “Halloween”.

Without Mims, next month’s Black Harvest, as film critic and longtime friend Nick Digilio wrote on Facebook on Thursday, “is going to be really, really tough.”

Besides his sister Lisa Mims, Sergio Mims is survived by his mother, Gladys Mims, and his sister Judith Mims, both of Chicago. Funeral arrangements are pending. A tribute to Mims is planned for the Black Harvest Film Festival. A foundation in her name supporting black writers is also in the works, Lisa Mims said.