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Thursday, May 01, 2008

This might be rare (& good); three fiction features by African-American directors at a "regular" film festival (Maryland)







Most mainstream (or non-ethnic focused) indie film festivals of the past few years did not program (as far as I can recall) many (maybe one or two here and there) fiction features by African-American or other minority directors (again, there could have been exceptions, but I do not recall hearing about it through the indie film news channels that I check out regularly). This could have happened due to lack of compatible product (I think the target market for most mainstream indie festivals is a "white" alternative or alternative-interested crowd), lack of submissions (maybe a lot of African-American directors submitted mostly to Black film festivals), or habit (seems like most indie films are made by "white" directors, so perhaps programmers did not see the lack of ethnic diversity in the filmmaker ranks as being odd). Anyway, whatever the reasons for the past were, I like the shape of the future, as indicated perhaps by Maryland Film Festival's (starting today) choice to include 3 fiction features directed by African-American filmmakers (two by first time fiction feature filmmakers - Barry Jenkins's Medicine for Melancholy, James Spooner's White Lies, Black Sheep; Spooner is however known to the fest scene through his debut a couple of years ago - the doc Afro-Punk, and one by the legendary Melvin Van Peebles - Confessionsofa Ex-Doofus-Itchyfooted Mutha).

I was not entirely comfortable with what I saw a few years ago: small festivals for non-"white" directors and bigger, better funded & loudly celebrated festivals that are not ethnicity focused but featuring, for the most part, work by "white" directors (and foreign films by non-"white" directors in some cases). Since the country is multi-ethnic, it would be simpler & more useful to have the biggest (or most) indie film festivals strive to offer a multi-ethnic line up of films for their customers. So, if programming similar to '08 Maryland is the way of the future, that would be an improvement. American indie film becoming a multi-ethnic thing will be good, I think, for individuals who belong to minority groups (perhaps easier access to a set of useful ideas & world-views that exist in the alternative art & media & activism world - mostly a "white" world at this point) and for festivals - new customers; Hollywood promotes, for the most part, films of questionable value (ideas & aesthetics) to and featuring minorities, and makes a lot of money from those products, and the indie world could make some of that money - except hopefully our product will be better & more useful to the customer. In the case of Medicine for Melancholy (the 1 of the 3 previously mentioned movies that I've seen so far), this is certainly the case; I do not recall seeing a recent Hollywood or indiewood movie that discussed alienation & internal struggle over assimilation in some quarters of the African-American community in a movie that was both well & very creatively made.

Segregating & limiting human intellectual & creative ability, content & heritage into "white" or "black" camps or according to race theory (a tool/weapon devised & refined to justify & enable colonialism, slavery, the caste system in India, & similar evil things) is silly & not very useful to contemporary America because the truth is that populations and individuals from different parts of the world influence those from other parts of the world; ideas are taken from one place & adopted by another place & then perhaps changed & improved & given to others to deal with, etc; ancient Egypt influenced ancient Greece, Greek philosophers & Iranian & Indian philosophy & ideas influenced Islamic philosophers and scientists, Islamic science & philosophy came to Europe after the middle ages, & then later European Enlightenment breaks with religion with the help of science and influences the world, followed later by the American revolution & democracy, influenced by the Enlightenment, goes on to influence the Haitian revolution & the French revolution, so on and so forth, the adoption & sharing of ideas from "others" made the modern world & continues to drive it (China and India adopting versions of American style capitalism, etc.) - on the stage of big ideas & events, and this is also true on a smaller, personal level - provided that individuals are given the space to sample ideas & perspectives from many different quarters & experiences of the country & the world - something indie film festivals can do for tens of thousands of people in America. And then for tens of thousands more through DVD & or theatrical distribution, because festival choices influence distributor's acquisition choices or at least purchase decisions by individual indie film customers in many cases.

That continents & ages spanning view aside, the immediate thing at hand for people near Baltimore is that this weekend's Maryland Film Festival offers 3 very interesting, & perhaps new kinds of, fiction features by African-American directors:


By Barry Jenkins

Screenings:
May 2, 7:30 PM Charles Theater 2Buy Tickets
May 3, 12:00 PM MICA Brown Center>> Buy Tickets

"Two young African-Americans wake up to the aftermath of a party, attempting to shake off the awkwardness of last night's one-night stand (and to remember each other's names). As eager-to-connect charmer Micah (Wyatt Cenac) pursues the mysterious, reluctant Jo' (Tracey Heggins), their conversation heads for some deep and unexpected places: gentrification and its race and class components; black identity in San Francisco, the city with the smallest percentage black population of any major American city; African-American history and art; and, perhaps most of all, their differing attitudes towards interracial relationships.

Over the course of twenty-four hours, the two begin to connect on a level neither suspected. But can a one-night stand lay the foundation for a meaningful relationship -- and are the racial and political issues pressing down on Micah and Jo' too heavy for love to bloom?."
More here at the MFF site.

::


By James Spooner

Screenings:
May 3, 5:30 PM Charles Theater 5Buy Tickets
May 4, 4:00 PM Charles Theater 5>> Buy Tickets

"From director James Spooner comes White Lies, Black Sheep, a fictional successor to his seminal documentary Afro-Punk, which became a rallying cry for African-Americans raised on punk rock.

The hero of White Lies is A.J. (Ayinde Howell), a smart, hip black New Yorker who has rejected anything “too black." Structured like a documentary, White Lies examines the predominantly white rock-club milieu in which A.J. moves, and collects interviews with friends, coworkers, and scenesters. Everyone seems to love A.J. -- until we begin to meet people in his life, both white and black, who feel A.J.'s actions don’t ring true. This group includes his proud, Afrocentric father, who feels rejected by A.J., and his best friend, who encourages him to read Malcolm X. After a series of setbacks trying to connect with a popular white woman, A.J. undergoes an inevitable clash of conscience -- and begins to feel the weight of all that he has rejected and the unnaturalness of other things he accepted too willingly." More here at the MFF site.

::

May 4, 7:30 PM Charles Theater 1Buy Tickets

"Melvin Van Peebles holds a unique spot in film history. Born in America, but a citizen of Europe for much of his early career, and not formally trained in any of the media he has worked in, his art has often broken molds and won acclaim. Reflexively independent, he has often turned down large amounts of money to work, choosing instead to work his own way on his own terms. Now, 40 years after his first feature-length film (the French-produced Story of a Three-Day Pass), he has created another movie completely on his own terms -- and it’s already making waves, coming to us just days after its World Premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Telling the fantastic, mystical tale of a man with few resources who joyfully becomes a merchant marine, travels far and wide, and enjoys a wide variety of romantic entanglements, the film champions independent exploration. Distilling years of cultural experience through the eyes of one lone adventurer, the film pulls us into its protagonist's world with cunning and magic." More here at the MFF site.
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- Sujewa

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