The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) celebrates its 20th anniversary starting this evening with the opening-night gala and screening of the Los Angeles premiere of “Think Like a Man.”
Based on the New York Times best-selling book by television-and-radio host and comic, Steve Harvey. The ensemble cast includes Michael Ealy, Jerry Ferrara, Meagan Good, Regina Hall, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence J, Jenifer Lewis, Romany Malco, Gary Owen, Gabrielle Union and Chris Brown.

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover (“The Color Purple,” “Lethal Weapon”), Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’Net DuBois (“Good Times”) and executive director, Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs. PAFF is a nonprofit corporation dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibition of films, art and creative expression.

PAFF, America’s largest and most prestigious international Black film festival, opens at the new Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 (formerly the AMC Magic Johnson Crenshaw 15) at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The theater is situated on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Marlton Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.

The festival has selected a total of 170 films, representing 30 countries–106 feature length films (narrative and documentaries) and 64 short films. PAFF will award the best documentary feature, best documentary short, best narrative dhort, best narrative feature, and best first feature film, as well as audience favorites at the close of the festival.

Saturday Night Special, Part 1
“Slavery by Another Name” debuts Feb. 11. Directed by Sam Pollard and developed by National Productions for PBS, the documentary is based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Wall Street Journal journalist Donald Blackmon.

It challenges one of our country’s most cherished assumptions: the belief that slavery ended with Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. The documentary recounts how in the years following the Civil War, insidious new forms of forced labor emerged in the American South, keeping hundreds of thousands of African Americans in bondage, trapping them in a brutal system that would persist until the onset of World War II.

Centerpiece Presentation
“The Under Shepherd,” Feb. 16. Directed by Russ Parr. Best friends LC and Roland are two young, ambitious ministers, climbing the ranks at the First Baptist Church. Coming up under the leadership of Dr. Ezekial Canon, the church’s elderly pastor, Roland and LC have dreams of becoming the predecessors of the aging pastor. But, the feeble Dr. Canon stubbornly refuses to step down, forcing the two young ministers to make pivotal decisions that ultimately fray the fabric of their deeply-woven friendship. “The Under Shepherd” co-stars Isaiah Washington and Lamman Rucker.

Saturday Night Special, Part 2
“We the Party,” Feb. 18. Directed by Mario Van Peebles. Set in Los Angeles, a cutting edge, Hip-Hop infused dramedy about the first generation of high schoolers to come of age during the Obama years. The film features some of the latest teenage bands and dance crews. This coming-of-age comedy stars Michael Jai White, Salli Richardson Whitfield, Tiny Lister, Orlando Brown and rappers Snoop Dogg, YG, the New Boyz and Pink Dollaz.

Closing night World Premiere
“Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day,” Feb. 19. Directed by Neema Barnette. Kari and David Ames have seemingly built the perfect life until Kari’s dark past is unveiled following the kidnapping of their 6-year-old daughter. As the couple desperately searches for their child, Kari realizes she’s not the only one who has secrets. Forced to confront the truth, life spirals out of control for both of them in this independent psychological thriller. Pastor T.D. Jakes follows up his award-winning film of the same name with a sequel, co-starring Blair Underwood, Sharon Leal, Pam Grier and of course, T.D. Jakes.

PAFF is more than just screening films. For instance, the festival will honor award-winning actress Loretta Devine with its highest honor–a Lifetime Achievement Award for her work on stage, television and film. The award will be presented during the Feb. 10 Night of Tribute at 8 p.m. at the Rave Cinemas.

Devine has appeared in some of the community’s most beloved movies, including “Jumping the Broom,” “This Christmas,” Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls” and “Madea’s Big Happy Family, and of course, “Waiting to Exhale.”

Other honorees include, Meagan Good who will receive the Beah Richards Rising Star Actress Award for her television and film work. She rose to fame in the family drama, “Eve’s Bayou” with Samuel L. Jackson. Today, she’s one of the most sought after actresses with a string of film credits, including “Jumping the Broom,” “The Unborn,” “The Love Guru,” “35 & Ticking,” “Video Girl” as well as fan favorites, “Stomp the Yard” and “You Got Served.” Good will appear in the film adaptation of “Think Like a Man.”

David Oyelowo will receive the Canada Lee Rising Star Actor Award. Named by the Los Angeles Times as one of the “faces to watch in 2012.” Oyelowo’s credits include, “The Help,” “The Rise of the Planet of Apes,” and the indie, “96 Minutes” which will be screened during the festival. Currently, he can be seen as one of the Tuskegee Airmen in George Lucas’ bio-pic, “Red Tails” currently in theaters.

Jimmy Jean-Louis will take home The Africa Channel Diaspora Award. One of the most popular and recognizable actors in Africa, he is now making his mark in television and film in Hollywood. The Haitian actor is best known to American audiences from his stint on NBC’s “Heroes” and as the romantic lead in “Phat Girlz” with Oscar-winner Mo’Nique. His Nollywood (Nigeria cinema) credits include “Toussant Louverture,” and “I Sing of a Well.”

“Toussant Louverture” will be screened during the festival.

One of Africa’s hottest movie stars and sought after Nollywood actors, Van Vicker will receive the Africa Channel Creative Achievement Award. He has appeared in more than 100 movies, including “Paparazzi: Eye in the Dark,” “Royal War,” “Broken Tears,” “Return of Beyonce” and “Princess Tyra.” He’s been nominated twice for an African Movie Academy Award. “Paparazzi: Eye in the Dark, will be screened during the festival.

The PAFF Night of Tribute will also include documentaries honoring the work and contributions of entrepreneurs and filmmakers.

Leon Garr will receive the Community Treasure Award. Garr, an entrepreneur and philanthropist, launched Garr Construction, contributing to the architectural fiber of Southern California. While semi-retired, at the age of 76, Garr purchased the failing Founders Savings and Loan, and transformed it into Founders National Bank, the only African American-owned commercial bank in Southern California.

The 88-year-old’s life story will be told in the film, “This Life of Mine,” directed by Antwone Fisher and showing during the festival.

Acclaimed Rwandan filmmaker and documentarian Eric Kabera and the Rwanda Cinema Centre, will be honored with the Africa Channel Visionary Award. Kabera’s credits include “Africa United,” “Through My Eyes,” “Keepers of Memory,” and “Kist Towards a Brighter Future.”

The film “Africa United” produced by Eric Kabera will be screened during the festival.

And for her humanitarian efforts, Jewel Thais-Williams will receive the Community Service Award. A Los Angeles nightclub owner and healthcare practitioner, Williams is celebrating 39 years in business with Jewel’s Catch One Night Club.

She founded the Village Health Foundation to offer health and hope to the un- and underinsured. But more courageously, she befriended the LGBT community–initially hit with the HIV/AIDS pandemic–providing a safe haven for those stricken with the deadly disease.

What is a film festival without ‘how to’s? PAFF will present vital information to filmmakers and ‘wanna be’ filmmakers covering just about every aspect of the business, and this year the education comes under the auspices of the PAFF Film Institute, presented by Black Enterprise.

The PAFF Film Institute will run Feb. 10-13, in the community room at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza (next to Sears).

During the day, the film institute will host various workshops and panel discussions, and end each evening with a “Conversation With” keynote discussion by key figures in the industry. For more information about the PAFF Film Institute, contact Sherri James at (323) 646-3987 or visit the website at www.PAFF.org.

Here is a sample of what you can expect:

Friday, Feb. 10, 7:30 p.m.
“A Conversation With … Jeff Clanagan,” president/CEO of Codeblack Entertainment. Clanagan has managed to remain in front of the next wave for more than two decades. In 2005, Clanagan founded Codeblack Entertainment to provide clients with a fully-integrated suite of services that span the production and branding life cycles–from idea lab to execution. Clanagan, recognized as one of Black Enterprise’s Top 50 Hollywood Power Brokers and a member of Ebony magazine’s Power 150, is responsible for the release of nearly 200 DVDs.

Saturday, Feb. 11, 7:30 p.m.
“A Conversation With … Elizabeth Hunter.” A screenwriter, Hunter began her executive career as an intern with the Walt Disney Company feature creative group and eventually rose to the position of director of development at Universal Pictures. While there, she shepherded such films through production as, “Apollo 13,” “Clockers,” “Crooklyn” and “Twelve Monkeys” Hunter left the studio executive ranks and became a writer. Paramount Pictures and MTV films produced her first screenplay, “The Fighting Temptations.”

Sunday, Feb. 12, 7:30 p.m.
“A Conversation With … Chris Spencer. It’s hard to keep a straight face when talking to writer, producer and comedian Spencer. He is one of the hottest comedic writers and producers in Hollywood. Various networks, like VH-1, Comedy Central and HBO have all used his talents to springboard many of their projects.

Monday, Feb. 13, 7:30 p.m.
“A Conversation With … Scott Aronson and Mike Regen of Melee Entertainment.” Aronson is the current CEO of Melee Entertainment as well as an attorney representing the legal and business interests of a select group of independent film financiers, producers, writers and directors. As senior vice president of marketing and acquisitions at Melee Entertainment, Regen wears multiple hats that give him a unique perspective on the process of acquiring, producing and marketing films. Melee was launched in 2002 as a joint venture with DreamWorks. It’s one of the leaders in urban-themed content, producing such films as “Friday,” “You Got Served” and “Next Day Air.”

For more information on events and screening times visit www.PAFF.org.

Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com.