Ganja & Hess

Ganja & Hess

The story of Ganja & Hess is just as compelling a tale as the film itself. Written and directed by Bill Gunn, and released in New York on 20 April, 1973, the black vampire movie has lost none of its power over the past 50 years. It artfully depicts a wealthy anthropologist Dr Hess Green (Duane Jones), who is stabbed by his assistant George (Gunn) with an ancient African ceremonial dagger before George kills himself. The dagger turns Hess into a vampire, and further complications ensue when George's widow Ganja (Marlene Clark) comes to Hess' home looking for her husband, and the two fall hopelessly in love.

The film defies easy classification with its hallucinatory visuals, rich metaphors for addiction, raw sexuality and lyrical dialogue that offers a wholly unique treatise on African-American identity. For the film critic and programmer Kelli Weston, who recently co-programmed the In Dreams are Monsters season at London's British Film Institute, which screened Ganja & Hess, "the story has a quite classic structure for a horror film" and is founded on "the core premise of horror cinema, that what is repressed must always return". "But Ganja & Hess is enlivened by these black characters and the tension between spirituality, addiction and the predatory nature of empire," she adds. "Hess faces a curse from another place that he's sort of tied to – there's a rupture between black Americans and Africa, but a sense of feeling always bound or even haunted by it."

Watching Ganja & Hess is like listening to an expertly conducted orchestra. Gunn pulls from the distinct talents of each member of his ensemble and across arthouse, horror, blaxploitation and beyond to create a unique sensibility that is heart-stoppingly gorgeous. From the moment when Ganja and Hess marry, their union juxtaposed with symbols of Christianity and African spirituality, to the scene when Hess lovingly curses her with the same vampiric affliction that has transformed him, each frame radiates with meaning and is carefully composed like a Baroque oil painting. Amid the haziness of the 16mm cinematography, black skin lightly shimmers and crimson blood is preternaturally vivid. It's sexy, confounding and deeply moving, and watching it, it seems to enter your bloodstream, moving gently through you and leaving you indelibly marked by all the beauty and despair Gunn sees in the world.

— Leila Latif, BBC

Ganja & Hess

Sponsored by Center for African and African American Studies (CAAAS)

Sun October 29, 2:00 PM, Muenzinger Auditorium

United States of America; 1973; in English, French; 110 min

Director: Bill Gunn, Writer: Bill Gunn, Cast: Marlene Clark, Duane Jones, Bill Gunn, Sam Waymon, Leonard Jackson



10 films for $60 with punch card
$9 general admission. $7 w/UCB student ID, $7 for senior citizens
$1 discount to anyone with a bike helmet
Free on your birthday! CU Cinema Studies students get in free.


Pay lot 360 (now only $1/hour!), across from the buffalo statue and next to the Duane Physics tower, is closest to Muenzinger. Free parking can be found after 5pm at the meters along Colorado Ave east of Folsom stadium and along University Ave west of Macky.


Park elsewhere and catch the HOP to campus

International Film Series

(Originally called The University Film Commission)
Established 1941 by James Sandoe.

First Person Cinema

(Originally called The Experimental Cinema Group)
Established 1955 by Carla Selby, Gladney Oakley, Bruce Conner and Stan Brakhage.

C.U. Film Program

(AKA The Rocky Mountain Film Center)
First offered degrees in filmmaking and critical studies in 1989 under the guidance of Virgil Grillo.

Celebrating Stan

Created by Suranjan Ganguly in 2003.

C.U. Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Established 2017 by Chair Ernesto Acevedo-Muñoz.

Thank you, sponsors!
Boulder International Film Festival
Department of Cinema Studies & Moving Image Arts

Looking for a gift for a friend?
Buy a Frequent Patron Punch Card for $60 at any IFS show. With the punch card you can see ten films (a value of $90).

Cox & Kjølseth
: Filmmaker Alex Cox & Pablo Kjølseth discuss film topics from their own unique perspectives.

: Pablo and Ana share Zoom-based briefs on what's currently playing at IFS

Search IFS schedules

Index of visiting artists

Tue Dec 5, 2023

Rare Exports

At Muenzinger Auditorium

Thu Dec 7, 2023

Princess Mononoke

At Muenzinger Auditorium

more on 35mm...