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Pan African Film Festival: a year-round quest for the best

Lisa Olivia Fitch | 3/6/2013, 5 p.m.

Carter G. Woodson's initial 1926 "Negro History Week" included both the birthdays of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. But even the now-expanded monthlong commemoration is too short to contain all the exciting goings-on. Case in point--the Pan African Film Festival.

If you missed it this year, the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), which has the distinction of being the largest Black History Month event in the United States, was an 11-day festival that included 154 films, representing 34 countries. It was held at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 as an official event of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's celebration of African American Heritage Month.

In addition to films, the festival included a night of tribute in collaboration with the African American Film Critics Association, honoring "people who safeguard our images and help to inspire, engage and enlighten our world community."

Then of course, each year the walkways of the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza are transformed into a marketplace--the PAFF ArtFest--which showcases an array of unique jewelry, sculpture, paintings wearable art and African artifacts.

Too bad it has come and gone so soon. But Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African affairs, notes that based on the exposure at the festival, you may be seeing these films on TVOne or in regular theaters soon.

"We've been able to prove to the distributors ... that there's an audience, a broad audience of folks who are interested in these films," Babu said during a recent radio interview. "Last year 'Think Like a Man' went on to become the best independent film of the year."

And this year, PAFF screened "Free Angela and All Political Prisoners," a documentary about activist Angela Davis, which is now set for nationwide release on April 5. Davis was a special guest at the screening after-party.

"Not many films will make a theatrical release," PAFF publicist Wyllisa Bennett said. "The reality is that some films will be bought by a studio or TV outlet, some will be distributed and some films will not find a home. But with new technology and video on demand, that is now leveling the playing field for some of these films, because now there are many digital platforms for films to be shown."

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover ("The Color Purple," "Lethal Weapon"), Emmy Award-winning actress Ja'Net DuBois (best known for her role as Willona in the TV series, "Good Times") and Babu, who serves as executive director.

Babu left the country shortly after the festival ended this year to visit Burkina Faso. The country, formerly named Upper Volta, achieved independence from France in 1960 and now hosts Festival Panafricain du Cinema (FESPACO; Panafrican Film Festival), Africa's largest film festival. It brings in stars and filmmakers from across the continent.

"We are always working on next year's festival," Bennett said. "Babu and our director of programming, Asantewa Olatunji, travel to other festivals around the world. We're trying to get the best films for the festival. It's very competitive.