PAFF: A festival of dreams for film-goers, filmmakers

Gail Choice | 2/22/2012, 5 p.m.

Hats off to the recently departed 2012 Pan African Film Festival.

To the community's delight, the film festival and art show returned to our own backyard at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, and the adjoining theater now known as The Rave Cinemas.

The festival, often referred to simply as PAFF, continues to showcase great feature-length films, such as Steve Harvey's "Think Like a Man," scripted from his best-selling book, which kicked off the festival.

A true entertainment and learning experience, PAFF continues to be a beacon of hope for aspiring filmmakers, actors and actresses and for those individuals who love the art of filmmaking.

The festival was founded in 1992 after industry movers and shakers recognized a shift in Hollywood film releases. According to a 1992 report in the Los Angeles Times, in 1991 "Boyz N the Hood" was emerging as one of the hottest films of the year; the latest in a wave of movies from African American filmmakers that included "New Jack City," "Straight Out of Brooklyn" and "Jungle Fever."

The article continued, "but if 1991 was a breakthrough year for Black-oriented movies, 1992 has been a come-down so far. Last year, about 20 major films dealing with African American themes were released out of the roughly 140 films distributed by the major film companies. This year, the number will be half that, while the overall output of the studios will be about the same."

Recognizing the changing tide, PAFF was birthed by award-winning actor Danny Glover ("The Color Purple," "Lethal Weapon"); Emmy Award-winning actress Ja'Net DuBois (best known as the lovable and level-headed neighbor Willona in the TV series, "Good Times"); executive director Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs and general counsel; and Asantewa Olatunji, who serves as the director of programming at the film festival.

This nonprofit organization is dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibit of films, art and creative expression. And over the years, it has played an essential role in introducing films, producers and directors to mainstream Hollywood.

Because PAFF is located in Los Angeles, the home of many aspiring filmmakers, it gives them the opportunity to have their work seen by a variety of people. Babu says a number of these filmmakers straddle both worlds; some already work in the industry but in other capacities, and because of PAFF they are able to pursue their filmmaking dreams.

PAFF also plays another important role by creating a proper venue where international films can be screened. Babu says PAFF played a significant role in bringing attention to the 2005 South African Oscar-winning movie "Tsotsi," an independent film about six days in the violent life of a young Johannesburg gang leader.

"Tsotsi" was PAFF's opening-night film in 2006 and gained a lot of press here in Los Angeles. Academy voters got a chance to view the film, after the press praised it for its grittiness, and honesty. "Tsotsi," the first South African-made film to win an Oscar, has put the country's movie industry firmly in the spotlight.