Black Film Festivals Matter
By Niquelle Porter
Supporting Black is a popular theme thanks to the Black Lives Matter movement. But the rise of Black Film Festivals has been a necessary element needed to help bolster support for filmmakers dedicated to the image of people of color on big screens worldwide. After this summer’s American Black Film Festival set the tone for black film enthusiast support, the fall is even more ripe with black movie splendor.
Returning to Newark, NJ, after last year’s impressive debut is The Newark International Film Festival (NFF). Opening at Newark’s Cityplex Movie Theater, the festival shined with movies featuring blacks from the Caribbean, Latina America and the African Diaspora. High powered political figures made appearances from the opening night VIP reception to stimulating panel conversations.
Showing support for his city’s dedication to culture, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka headed the Sway Calloway produced short film “The Cycle,” chronicling the other side of police brutality. Ending the four day fest with an awards show, NFF founder Kenneth Gilford is clear on his festival’s purpose and necessity in representing Black people on the big screen, “We play a large piece in American history and movie history,” he said. “We should have representation. Period.”
New York’s Urbanworld Film Festival stands by this representation. In its yearly, autumn, Manhattan takeover, the dynamic energy and celebrity excitement of Urbanworld vibrates throughout an entire weekend. Last year’s opening with Disney’s much buzzed about Queen of Katwe, starring actor David Oyelowo and Lupita Nyongo, received critical praise for premiering a film chronicling a poor Uganda girl’s journey to becoming an international chess player. “Intolerance is something that is at the [forefront] at the moment. Intolerance and prejudice is based on fear,” said David Oyelowo, during the film’s Q&A. “But you can relate to the journey of a black girl in Uganda, because she is going through a journey that is similar to yours.”
Continuing the support of black cinema, NYC’s yearly OcktoberFest Film Festival returns this fall after last year’s successful celebration of independent filmmakers at New York’s Symphony Space. Chosen projects represent OcktoberFest’s dedication to helping give voice and opportunity to black filmmakers showcasing their artistry and pieces of their true selves.
“We have been fortunate to be able to experience many amazing films created by African American filmmakers,” says festival founder, Emelyn Stuart. “In our experience, those projects have often been well received by our diverse audience, proving that art is what matters – not who creates it.”
Brooklyn’s Reel Sisters of The Diaspora Film Festival also returns this fall. Celebrating its 20th year, the festival is known for being packed with motivational and informative films often focused on women’s empowerment. “Black women or women of color filmmakers are even less acknowledge or recognized,” said Carolyn Butts, the film festival’s founder. “When I found that less than one percent of African American directors are women, I said, ‘Why not create a venue for us?”
Films for-us-by-us is a beautiful theme of black empowerment. It’s a movement that grows with a solid and much deserved diversified seat on the big screen thanks to the fuel of black film festivals.