It promises to be a spectacular array of films this year at the 16th Annual Pan African Film and Arts Festival as hundreds of shorts, documentaries, and feature films, many making their U. S. debut, are set to enthrall, inspire, and entertain.
Nearly 170 films from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the South Pacific, and Canada will be featured during the 12-day festival, which regularly draws over 40,000 people each year to the Magic Johnson Theater in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Mall.
The star-studded opening night gala, to be held at the Director’s Guild of America in Hollywood on February 7 and hosted by 2008 PAFF Celebrity Host Isaiah Washington, will feature the riveting political thriller Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation. Opening night annually draws celebrity and regular festival goers to the red carpet affair where noted actors rub shoulders with elected officials, African dignitaries, civic and community leaders, and international filmmakers.
A night of tribute will be held on Saturday, February 9, with master of ceremonies Heroes star Jimmy Jean-Louis, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center. Honorees include actress and pastor Della Reese who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award; filmmaker Charles Burnett who will be awarded with the Pioneer Award; actor Idris Eldra will receive the Canada Lee Award; Taraji P. Henson will be honored with the Beah Richards Award; Councilman Bernard Parks will receive the Community Service Award; Diana Shannon-Young will be given the Featured Artist Award; Stanley Nelson will be awarded with the St. Clair Bourne Documentary Filmmaker Award; and the late Ousmane Sembene, founder of The Africa Channel, will be honored with the Creative Achievement Award.
The festival will also feature a Student Fest which will feature student films, a fashion show, a spoken word fest, and for those who want to get their laugh on, a comedy night.
With the festival just a week away, co-founder and executive director Ayuko Babu is in a whirlwind of activity as he completes last-minute preparations–screening films, fielding calls from international filmmakers and distributors, and promoting the event with a blizzard of television and print media interviews. The festival, hailed as one of the few premiere film events in the country, is recognized for showcasing and promoting emerging first-time filmmakers as well as established veterans. Many of the films echo the international political and social issues capturing global headlines around the world. Babu said he is especially urging community residents to flock to the screenings, panels, and workshops, which he promises will turn out to be an incredible cultural experience for young and old alike.
An exciting crop of new films from around the world will be available to attendees, with question-and-answer forums with the director and actors held after many of the screenings. “The content of the festival is constantly changing and new filmmakers are always emerging,” observed Babu. “We bring new films and new work to the festival each year.”
Babu views the film festival as a “cultural university” where festival goers can immerse themselves in the lives and cultures of different races and ethnicities from the African Diaspora and third world countries, an experience that he hopes builds bridges of understanding. “The philosophy of the festival is that in order for us to really understand each other and to enrich ourselves culturally, intellectually, and spiritually, we have to interact and listen to all different kinds of black folks from around the world,” said the executive director, leaning back in his chair in his colorful office filled with African artifacts. “As a result of the slave trade, black people have been spread all over the planet, so therefore, all of us have a little bit of the truth and insight into our experience,” Babu observed. “None of us has the monopoly on truth, information, and knowledge about anybody else in the world, so therefore, we have to listen to everybody’s stories in order to understand ourselves and the world better.”
Babu urged black filmgoers to attend the festival to show their support for the films. He stressed that community support, or the lack thereof, could make the difference between a film quietly fading away or attracting enough interest from the film industry to secure a distribution deal. “If distributors realize that there is an audience that is really enthusiastic about a film, it will be easier for that film to gain a wider audience,” Babu pointed out.
The executive director is certain that anyone attending the festival will walk away with a better understanding of their fellow brothers and sisters in other parts of the world. “The number one reason for people to come to the festival is to get information and knowledge that they can’t get anywhere else,” Babu pointed out. He also observed that the festival provides a chance for attendees to meet people from other parts of the globe. “You will get an enriched cultural experience that you will not get anywhere else,” he assured. “One thing the festival does is you get to sit down and meet people from the Caribbean and Africa and sit down and talk.”
With an array of stimulating and thought-provoking features, shorts, and documentaries set to enthrall and educate filmgoers during the next few weeks, Babu said this year’s fare is a refreshing alternative to the pedestrian mainstream movies that are churned out each year by Hollywood. “Hollywood feeds us a steady stream of light fluff full of murder and mayhem, but they never deal with the issues that affect our lives,” asserted Babu. “A classic example is the movie American Gangster. That movie is full of pathology and madness,” said Babu, noting that he felt that the film was historically inaccurate. “In the ’60s, the black folks were not following drug dealer Frank Lucas-people back then were more interested in following Dr. King, the Black Panthers, Malcolm X, Elijah Muhammad, or the Black Power movement.”
Babu pointed out that Hollywood needed to take heed from a movie like the inspirational The Great Debaters, about a small team of students from Wiley University in Wiley, Ohio, who triumphed in a debate contest with Harvard University in the 1930s, a movie he considered empowering. “The Great Debaters deals with positive black people trying to take control of their lives,” Babu pointed out. “That wonderful film gives us the tools to go forward.”
And like last year, Babu said the festival will offer something for young and old. A Children’s Fest will be held Saturday, Feb. 9 and Saturday, Feb. 16 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. that will feature an array of children’s films. There will be free games and activities, as well as free tickets to the Los Angeles Zoo for the first 30 children who attend.
The Senior Connection Program will offer films for seniors each weekday starting at 1 p.m. aged 62 and over. Tickets are $7.75.
A series of panel workshops will inform attendees on how to make inroads in Hollywood. Hosted by industry professionals, workshops will hold discussions on “How to Jumpstart Your Screenwriting Career,” “Women in Media,” “Shaking the Money Tree: Get the Money You Need Now,” “The Rise of Black Studios,” and “Taking on the World: Foreign Distribution for Black Films.”
There will also be over 100 artists and craftsmen who will be on hand to display and sell one-of-a-kind artwork inspired by the Caribbean and the African Diaspora.
This year’s festival kicks off with an opening night gala screening of the film Namibia: the Struggle for Liberation written by Charles Burnett and starring Carl Lumbly, Glenn Turman, Angela Bassett and Danny Glover. The film chronicles the long struggle waged by the people of Namibia for their independence that was ultimately won with the help of Cuban military volunteers fighting in Angola. The film will be shown Thursday, Feb. 7 at 7 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 18 at 6:45 p.m.
Brothers in Arms, a film from Cuba, which is making its United States debut, is the true story of Ronald Herboldt, who jumped ship during the Cuban Revolution from Salt River, Cape Town, South Africa. He joined the rebels fighting for liberation of Cuba from the Batista dictatorship. He married and raised a family in Cuba, but Herboldt never lost his love for his homeland or his desire to return to a liberated South Africa. Brothers in Arms follows Ronald’s reunion with his family and tells the story of his life in Cuba and service in Angola. Herboldt finally made it home to South Africa and passed away a few months later from a heart attack. The film will be shown Sunday, Feb. 17 at 11 a.m. and Monday, Feb. 18 at 1:50 p.m.
Two historical films that will certainly shed light on little-known African American history are Rising from the Rails, which chronicles the story of the Pullman Porters who served as caretakers on luxury trains, and depicts their battle to unionize despite innumerable obstacles. The film has one screening on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 11:30 a.m.
The 761st, an American documentary directed by Pete Chatman, depicts the story of the first African American armored unit to enter combat in World War II, as they fight for the many freedoms they did not enjoy in America. The film features exclusive interviews with 11 combat veterans of the 761st, General Colin Powell, and others. The film is narrated by Andre Braugher and will be shown on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 5:40 p.m. and Thursday, Feb. 14 at 1 p.m.
Return to Goree from Senegal, West Africa, stars legendary musicians Youssou N’Dour and Idrisssa Muhammad, and is the story of N’Dour’s epic journey as he retraces the trail left by enslaved Africans and the evolvement of jazz music they invented. N’Dour travels across the United States, America, and Europe and meets people from different cultures that enriches his travels. The film also features musician and writer Imamu Amiri Baraka. The film will be shown Friday, Feb. 15 at 9:20 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 17 at 1:05 p.m.
Poor Boys’ Game, among a crop of films making their debut at the festival from Canada, is a riveting film directed by Clement Virgo and starring Danny Glover, Tonya Lee Williams, and Flex Alexander. Poor Boys’ Game tells the tale of Donnie Rose, a young white man sent to prison for brutally beating a young black man that left him handicapped for life. Released from prison nine years later, Donnie returns to the same violent and racist neighborhood that created him. Seeking revenge, the black community is hoping that Rose will fight local pugilist Ossie Paris, a young black man known for his boxing prowess. But after Donnie meets George Carvery, the father of the young man he killed, both realize they have a desire to overcome their past. The film will be shown Saturday, Feb. 16 at 6:30 p.m. and Monday, Feb. 18 at 11:20 a.m.
The centerpiece of the festival, Of Boys and Men, directed by Carl Seaton and starring Robert Townsend, Angela Bassett, Victoria Rowell, and Dante Boens, is a heartwarming tale of a family man who loses his wife in a fatal accident. With the help of his younger sister, he is faced with raising his three children. The film will be shown on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 6:30 p.m.
Among the spate of comedies to be shown at the festival is All ABout Us, a romantic comedy directed by Christine Swanson that stars Boris Kodjoe, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Luke Swanson, Latanya Richardson-Jackson, Raven Goodwin, Ruby Dee, and a cameo appearance by Morgan Freeman. Unable to secure a distribution for their latest film, a filmmaker couple encounters the Hollywood establishment. They set out for Mississippi to find Morgan Freeman to help them navigate the treacherous Hollywood waters. The film will be shown on Saturday, Feb. 9 at 5:30 p.m. and Sunday, Feb. 10 at 3:20 p.m. A question-and-answer period will follow the film.
The closing night gala will feature the world premiere of Kings of the Evening, directed by Andrew P. Jones and starring Emmy winner and Golden Globe nominee Lynn Whitfield, Glynn Turman, Tyson Beckford, Reginald T. Dorsey, and Linara Washington. Set in the depression, five African Americans find themselves thrown together in a dilapidated boarding house. They try to survive an unusual fashion contest which reveals that that the only thing they ultimately own is their pride and self- respect. The film will premiere on Sunday, Feb. 17 at 6:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. at the AMC Magic Johnson Theater located at 4020 Marlton Avenue in Los Angeles.
“If you are tired of seeing the Soul Planes of the world and you want to influence Hollywood to change, the best way to influence Hollywood is to support film festivals like the PAFF,” said Babu.
Ticket prices for PAFF range from $7.75 to $9.75. and $6.75 for children 2 to 12. For more information, call PAFF at (323) 295-1706 or access their website at www.paff.org.