Although a Hollywood writer's strike would have blasted the Southern California economy, San Franciscans might not have noticed: There's no shortage of film events in this city. Demanding movie lovers can pick from a smorgasbord of flick fests -- a little Italian appetizer, a Jewish main course, followed by a Tranny Fest side dish and a Sex Worker show for dessert. So when the San Francisco Black Film Festival started three years ago, cynics raised the question of whether we needed yet another film fest.
The simple answer is yes. Not just another drop in the cinematic bucket, the SFBFF, originally called the Juneteenth Film Festival, purports to fill a void. The festival's director, Ave Montague, established the series "to bring more black independent films into the mainstream." As with any cultural festival, the challenge is to cover an entire group's experiences. Whether the SFBFF (or any festival, for that matter) successfully lives up to such a lofty goal remains to be seen, but at least it allows the community to "air [its] dirty laundry in public," as Montague describes it.
The importance of family as a unifying force in the black community is a common theme in this year's works. The festival commences with a gala reception hosted by Billy Dee Williams, who stars in the opening night feature, The Visit. First-time director and writer Jordan Walker-Pearlman tells the tale of Alex Waters (Hill Harper), a young convicted rapist dying of AIDS, who fantasizes about his family and contemplates his estranged relationship with his father (Williams). In Honeybee, Melvin James trains his lens on father-daughter relationships in his story of a young black woman who drops out of college to pursue a career in professional boxing, much to her father's dismay.
Admission is $8 per screening, with prices ranging from $20 to $125 for workshops and special passes
The four-day event ranges from the controversial and political to the sordid and hysterical. Joy Phillips takes home the Melvin Van Peebles Maverick Award for her satirical short, Kickin' Chicken, an unswerving indictment of addiction to a substance most of us have battled -- fried chicken. In Gang Tapes, director Adam Ripp tells of growing up in South Central L.A. through the eyes of a 13-year-old boy armed with a stolen video camera. Kevin Epps reveals the real deal behind the Rap Wars of the Hunters Point Housing Projects in Straight Outta Hunters Point. The closing night feature, Raoul Peck's Lumumba, covers the brilliant African leader who ruled Congo as prime minister for a brief two months. With dozens of features, shorts, documentaries, panels, and workshops, the fest should come close to capturing the wealth of the black experience.