Its not easy being a minority group and launching a film festival in a town as packed as this one is with high-profile, well-funded, identity-oriented movie showcases. Its taken the San Francisco Black Film Festival 10 years of steady, grinding effort, but based on this years program, the fest has hit its stride. Attracting quality films from abroad as well as a strong selection of features and docs from around the U.S., the fest has reached a level where its not only an essential event for its target audience but also a valuable venue for all Bay Area moviegoers.
The festival opens June 4 with Ngozi Onwurahs hard-hitting U.K. social drama Shoot the Messenger, which centers on a black teacher who has to steer his careening life back on track after he is fired. Another highlight is How 2 Build a Rapper, a tongue-in-cheek doc (screening tonight) in which a raw young man is groomed for the trappings of rapping such as handling strippers and guns. (If the music industry can manufacture and peddle boy bands, why not rappers?) Music also propels This Is the Life, Ava DeVernays documentary portrait of the influential 90s South Central coterie the Good Lifers. For a historical response to racism and injustice, check out the world premiere of Mike Kaliskis Buffalo Soldiers, which dramatizes the events surrounding the 1917 mutiny (and subsequent court martial) of African-American soldiers irate over Houstons Jim Crow laws. The festival scores a true coup with the four-part South African TV program After 9, named for the time of every day (actually, night) when its gay middle-class protagonist comes out of the closet. Rising actress Taraji P. Henson (Hustle and Flow) fulfils the glamour quotient when she receives the inaugural Phoenix Award at the annual Melvin Van Peebles Awards brunch June 14. Another new award, named for late documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne and given to the fests best doc, will be introduced at the same fete. Bourne himself is saluted with a program paying homage to his numerous profiles of great black artists such as Paul Robeson, Langston Hughes, and Gordon Parks. Finally, the fests trademark brew of entertainment and social engagement is embodied in the closing night film, Reed McCants Cuttin da Mustard, an ensemble comedy set in a Queens community theater that blends issues such as illiteracy with the requisite romantic complications.
How 2 Build a Rapper screens at 7:30 p.m. at the African American Art and Cultural Complex, 762 Fulton (at Webster). S.F. Admission is $10; visit www.sfbff.org.
June 4-8; June 11-15, 2008