The 9th Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival boasts “80 films… 8 days… 3 venues.” And if you’re like me, you’re more than excited and maybe a little curious about which ones to check out. As an intern for the festival, I had the pleasure of shacking up with many of the film selections. Below are a few that will not only entertain, but will have you acting out and arguing over scenes on the way home from the show.
The festival opens with The Frontline directed by David Gleeson. The film provides an in-depth and powerful look into the life-changing obstacles that one African man faces after he immigrates to Ireland from the Democratic Republic of Congo, seeking asylum from his war-torn country. Fierce acting by Eriq Ebouaney caused me to tear up in parts. I also appreciated the film’s approach to the issue of racism in Europe. And if you’re looking for a total plot-twisting, suspense-filled flick without the corn factor, this is the one for you!
This year’s festival received a large number of submissions relating to the HIV/Aids epidemic in the Black community. The 20-minute short Results, directed by Eddie Boles lands in the living room of a seemingly happy couple who, over the course of one night, confront the ultimate betrayal of one partner’s risky behavior. What makes Results any different from the last melodramatic date flick that you wish you hadn’t wasted your money on? It packs elements that most mainstream movies lack: excellent acting and a believable storyline. Viewing this film, I began to feel like a part of the relationship, each revelation ripping me to the core. Results also benefits from great lighting; dark and intimate and light and soft to match the varying tones and emotions of the actors as their onscreen love affair falls apart.
Amidst the diverse range of selections, Silences stands out as one of the festival’s best documentaries. What happens when an interracial person’s identity is completely ignored by his white family and friends? Silences, directed by Octavio Warnock-Graham, explores this question during a visit to the filmmaker’s family home in Maumee, Ohio. The camera captures one family’s inner demons — one mention of Graham’s half-black parentage nearly gives his white grandmother a heart attack. Graham’s family embodied the denial found in multicultural families across the country, reminding me how the ideal of racial purity persists in America.
While not as serious in tone, the short Shantell Town is in a class of its own. Directed by British-born Paulette James, this North American premiere remixes 1970s blaxploitation flavor with elements of “Black is Beautiful” self empowerment with a British twist. Shantell is a meek woman whose full kinky hair is the object of ridicule by neighborhood divas. When she takes pride in her tresses and engages in a super bad dance battle, refereed by a passerby, I was ready to break out my platform boots!
Of the many films submitted for the festival, not all succeed. Some have a good concept, but shaky camerawork or great acting poorly lit. Even though they were lacking in some areas, two shorts are worth mentioning for their outrageous creativity. Brown Paper Bags, directed by Ephraim “Fetti” Benton takes us on a journey in the life cycle of a paper bag in one Brooklyn housing project. Each character utilizes the bag in some way — to burn, to make an old fashioned grilled cheese sandwich, to curl hair, and it is ultimately the paper bag that serves a deeper social significance.
When They Could Fly is another unique selection. No other film in this year’s festival tackles slavery, and it does so with excellent cinematography, reminiscent of Julie Dash’s Daughters of the Dust. Director Piotr Kajstura incorporates vivid overhead shots of cotton fields and authentic antebellum scenery. Though the film was slow at times, it’s one for the eye.
Columbia university student Khary Saeed Jones offers a film adaptation of Chester Himes’ short story Marihuana and a Pistol with his short Three and A Half Thoughts. Red, the main character, is rejected and dismissed by his female friend of 10-plus years. He purchases some spiked marijuana that does more than give him the munchies. In fact, it has him envisioning firecrackers, mumbling indecipherable words, and committing murder. Narrated by a woman with a thick British accent, it is her crisp, direct tone that amplifies the cleverness of the film. It is an awesome mix of unlikeliness and commonality; we all know a Red or someone like him who has a bad day and attempts to escape from reality. This short explores the extent and parameters of that escape.
The 9th Annual San Francisco Black Film Festival starts on June 7 and runs through June 10, continuing June 14-17, at three San Francisco venues: The Museum of the African Diaspora, Theater Artuad, and the African American Cultural Complex. For complete festival details, directions, ticket information, show listings, or to volunteer for the festival, visit www.sfbff.org.