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Night Catches Us Director: Tanya Hamilton
Sundance Institute Screenwriters Lab 1999
Sundance Institute Directors Lab 1999
Premiere: Sundance Film Festival 2010, Dramatic Competition

From the 2010 Sundance Film Festival Catalog

In the summer of ’76, as President Jimmy Carter pledges to give government back to the people, tensions run high in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood where the Black Panthers once flourished. When Marcus returns—having bolted years earlier—his homecoming isn’t exactly met with fanfare. His former movement brothers blame him for an unspeakable betrayal. Only his best friend’s widow, Patricia, appreciates Marcus’s predicament, which both unites and paralyzes them. As Patricia’s daughter compels the two comrades to confront their past, history repeats itself in dangerous ways.

Night Catches Us masterfully reckons with the complexity of its characters’ revolutionary ideologies and internal desires. Bell-bottoms, Afros, potlucks, and Caddies set the scene as the film potently interweaves political media with an evocative soul-inspired score, summoning a vivid sense of place and time. The golden light that bathes characters’ faces seems to express the promise—and elusiveness—of the necessary change Marcus and Patricia struggle for so dearly—each by separate means.

Why She Matters

Tanya Hamilton’s first feature, Night Catches Us, offers a nuanced portrayal of the black experience during an often oversimplified and misremembered moment in history. As the personal and political collide, Night Catches Us enhances our understanding of the Civil Rights Movement and the humanity behind the revolutionaries of our past. Not to mention it features a riveting performance by Kerry Washington, before she became the legendary Olivia Pope. Tanya Hamilton has directed episodes of The Vampire Diaries, Greenleaf, American Crime and Queen Sugar, and is currently developing her second feature film.

Night Catches Us, a politically sophisticated and ethically serious film, makes no big speeches or obvious points. Though it touches deep reservoirs of anger, it is impelled more by sorrow and the desire for wisdom.”

—A.O. Scott, The New York Times, 2010

Night Catches Us fills a glaring gap, limning an experience—that of the rueful black ex-radical—conspicuously missing from the national narrative.”

—Elbert Ventura, Slate, 2011

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