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Oakland's Black Cinema Café screens challenging films for African-American professionals

Wednesday, Sep 5 2001
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Jump Tomorrow Come Oct. 15, Oakland will have its own Black Cinema Cafe. The monthly, free, invitation-only event for black professionals consists of an hour or two of schmoozing followed by a screening of an indie film and a Q&A with the director. Since the Black Cinema Cafe's founding on the East Coast three years ago, the concept has expanded to a dozen locations. "We're attempting to create a way where independent filmmakers can have their film screened in several different cities," says one of the Oakland branch's founders, filmmaker David Roach (Sidney Berg: Private Eye). "It's very difficult for minority filmmakers, in part because our audience is smaller."

According to Oakland BCC co-founder Wayne Green, the affair will host 150 to 300 moviegoers with college degrees and incomes of at least $50,000 a year at stylish lounges, cafes, and restaurants in the East Bay and San Francisco on the third Monday of every month. Green, an S.F. advertising account executive, confirms that the cost of the events will be covered by Grand Marnier and other sponsors, but denies the suggestion that the Black Cinema Cafe might be perceived as simply a fresh way to deliver a desirable demographic to a liquor company. "The Cafe represents something different from a typical singles bar or party," Green responds. "It's about presenting an alternative to a professional crowd, where they can network and also share their appreciation for independent film from the African-American diaspora."

The Black Cinema Cafe may be an exclusive event (to get more info, drop an e-mail to oaklandbcc@hotmail.com), but it's certainly not serving pablum to its audience. Last year's lineup of films included the AIDS-awareness feature One Week and the Showtime original movie Bojangles, with the balance of the bill culled from the summertime Acapulco Black Film Festival. Roach, who's also one of the forces behind the Oakland Film Society (currently laying the groundwork for an Oakland International Film Festival in the fall of 2002), applauds the challenging programming. "If people just come for the drink, we don't want them to come," he declares.

Night and Fog Documentaries about Holocaust survivors are so numerous that they nearly comprise their own genre. But the snag with most of them, East Bay filmmaker Jonathan Gruber laments, is that they're set in the distant past: "When the war is over, the film is over." So Gruber was determined to tell a contemporary story when he set out to commit his grandmother Pola Susswein's tale to film. At the same time, Gruber -- a New York video production veteran who relocated to the Bay Area two years ago -- recognizes that the future might twist history. "In the digital age, where anything can be fabricated on screen, I can see revisionists claiming that archival Holocaust footage has all been digitally created," he says. His effort, Pola's March, screens Thursday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at Berkeley's Congregation Beth Israel, 1630 Bancroft (at Jefferson); call (510) 843-5246 for tickets and info.

Midnight Express S.F. documentary stars Rob Epstein and Jeffrey Friedman, who have ached for years to direct a feature, are in the process of optioning local novelist Karl Soehnlein's acclaimed debut, The World of Normal Boys. The filmmakers are in San Diego filming episodes of Trial and Error, NBC's nonfiction series slated for a 2002 broadcast, before heading to South Dakota to shoot a magazine piece for PBS's Life 360 series. ... Beneath the Borqa in Afghanistan, the shocking new short doc by Iara Lee (Synthetic Pleasures), headlines a fund-raiser on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 39 Exposure in the Presidio in support of the women and children repressed by the Taliban regime. Visit www.caipirinha. com or call 561-3123 for details. ... A tip of the fedora to Examiner-cum-Chronicle critic Wesley Morris, who junked his job, packed his bags, and moved to the film capital of New York.

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Michael Fox

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