Hell-Bound Train • 50m
Eloyce Gist, James Gist • United States • 1930
Arguably the most significant discovery in our Pioneers set.
Arguably the most significant rediscovery in Pioneers of African-American Cinema. The film is the work of self-taught filmmakers James and Eloyce Gist, African-American evangelists who employed cinema as a tool for their traveling ministry. Their surreal visual allegories were screened in churches and meeting halls, accompanied by a sermon and the passing of a collection plate. Rather than having a linear story, the film is instead a catalog of iniquity, a car-by-car dramatization of the sins of the Jazz Age (including gambling, dancing, alcohol, and the mistreatment of animals), presided over by a horned devil, culminating in a colossal derailment (a model train tossed into a bonfire). Admittedly, the production values are minimal—being shot with hand-held 16mm equipment with natural light, and without audio—but the surreality of it all makes for a compelling viewing experience, and shows that renegade, visionary filmmakers can be found in the most unexpected places.