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35 years of Sugar Cane Alley to be marked at BFI film fest

SUGAR CANE ALLEY: A scene from the film which has been digitally restored ahead of a 35th anniversary screening at the BFI London Film Festival

TODAY MARKS the 35th anniversary of the historical victories for Euzhan Palcy’s Sugar Cane Alley at the 40th Venice Film Festival, where the film was awarded the Silver Lion for Best First Film. Palcy’s impressive debut also earned Darling Légitimus the Volpi Cup for Best Actress – both firsts for a black director and actor at the venerated festival.

The film that put Martinique on the world cinema map and launched Palcy as a leading and influential female filmmaker, has been given a 4K digital restoration by Éclair and will premiere at the 62nd BFI London Film Festival as part of the Treasures Strand. The restored Sugar Cane Alley will be screened at the 62nd BFI London Festival on Friday October 19 at the BFI Southbank in an event attended by the trailblazer herself Palcy, 60, with Joseph Zobel’s daughter Jenny Zobel.

Released in 1983 and based on Joseph Zobel’s semi-autobiography novel, Sugar Cane Alley follows the story of José (Garry Cadenat), a bright mischievous 11-year-old who lives on a sugar cane plantation in 1930s Martinique, and his grandmother (Darling Légitimus), an illiterate yet tough and wise woman determined to save him from the hard life she has known. When José wins a scholarship, his grandmother is ready to sacrifice everything for his chance at an education and an escape from the fields.

The film went on to be one of the most honoured and globally distributed films of that year, winning 17 awards internationally. And Palcy went on to become the first black director to be awarded the Cesar Award for Best First Film the following year.

Palcy continued to break boundaries by becoming the first black female director ever to be produced by a major Hollywood studio – MGM – in 1989. The film A Dry White Season brought Marlon Brando out of a nine-year retirement and Palcy became the only woman to have ever directed the acting icon.

The groundbreaking director remains a figure of inspiration to modern black female filmmakers such as Amma Asante, Ava DuVernay and Dee Rees. Rees, who directed the critically acclaimed Mudbound recalls watching Sugar Cane Alley over and over again with her mother as a child.

In 2011, the Cannes Film Festival honoured Palcy by inducting Sugar Cane Alley in the Cannes Classics and mostly recently the film was chosen to open the Le Cinémathèque Québécoise’s “Women: 100 Female Directors, 100 Films” retrospective series.

For BFI London FILM Festival information and ticket booking, visit

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