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The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), underway this week at Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15, has for 22 years showcased the best produced and most overlooked stories of the Black experience from not just America, but from around the world.
Ayuko Babu, executive director of PAFF, said the festival provides a platform and “network” for young Black film professionals—whether they be in front or behind the camera—to demonstrate to the world that “Hollywood” is a varied mixture of many stories told via motion pictures, documentaries or short subjects.
PAFF has had its share of big-name performers who have performed in these small, independent productions, but the bigger news is that more young Blacks are gaining a foothold in positions such as “gaffers,” “key grip,” “foley artists,” “best boy” etc. as well as the coveted position of first assistant director.
“We provide a consistent place where people can network,” Babu said. “Very often, production persons from the major studios and production companies will come out to meet these young people because they have seen their work via PAFF. The festival provides an opportunity for these filmmakers to meet with persons who may have worked in production for 20 or 30 years; they often get tips and pointers from some of the best in the motion picture industry, and that can lead to a promising career.”
One such “breakout” star who was first showcased at PAFF was British actor Idris Elba, now seen in the popular docu-drama “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom,” who received the prestigious Canada Lee Award given to Black performers who demonstrate outstanding potential for stardom. PAFF played a large part in the popularity of “Dr. Hugo,” a 1998 short by filmmaker Kasi Lemons which went on to achieve critical acclaim. “Tsotsi” from 2006 went on to win the “Best Foreign Language” Oscar. Popular actor/director Eric LaSalle has also been recognized for his contributions to Black films, most notably his work in Spike Lee’s “Drop Squad” in 1994.
Despite the advances these young filmmakers are making, so-called “film flight” has made it even more difficult to get a foothold in the industry. Babu pointed to the familiar story of “last hired, first fired” when it comes to Black production workers who may complete a project for a production company, and be told the next week that production will move across or even out of the country. “We still don’t have a lot of seniority in these production jobs; that’s why PAFF is so vital in getting more Black persons—from around the world—into the industry,” Babu explained. “White production workers may have had a grandparent working in the industry in the 1940s or ‘50s. It has taken a generation for Blacks to enter these production jobs. We’re proud that we’ve helped open the door to these positions and we have witnessed many persons go onto work in major motion pictures.”
South Africa’s National Film and Video Foundation as well as the Chinese film industry have contributed films to PAFF and have developed a working relationship during the past few years (i.e. “The Great Kaylipi”). Representatives from each body will be in town on Feb. 15. The latter film was a joint venture with filmmakers in Angola and featured Lazaro Ramos, to date the most prominent Black actor in Brazil.