The 12-year-old wears neat pigtails. Her dry, black skin seems to match the barren surroundings of her village, which is void of vegetation with the exception of a few weeds and battered corn stalks that resemble plant fossils against the backdrop of a doom-colored sky.
One would think that this is a fishing village. However, the absence of activity on the beach and a flotilla of indigenous sea vessels void of nets makes one ponder whether it is really a village or a encampment. The people all have the “thousand-yard stare”–that blank, lifeless expression of battle-weary soldiers after years of combat.
The crowing of a rooster in the background sounds as if it, too, is unsure of its survival. The worried bleating of a goat in the distance seems to agree with the rooster.
The girl’s dress is like a mere flour sack. The vibrant colors of purples and greens that once formed the many floral patterns on the fabric have been washed away. The weathered fabric absent of color seems appropriate wear to compliment the absence of laughter that also appears to have been washed away with tears of sorrow.
A rag-tag armada storms the beach with canoe loads of ragged civilians armed with AK-47s in search of children. They commandeer dugouts carved out of logs, which might at any other time be filled with a bounty of fresh fish. The militia captures and arms the children, then set them against the parents.
The little in pigtails is named Komona.
Her parents stare at her, they realize this is the last time they will see their 12-year-old daughter. Her father conceals his fear, for he knows his little girl will need his strength to carry out the execution. Her mother clutches his arm and fights back tears. Whether weeping for the future of her soon-to-be-orphaned daughter or the fear that her assassin’s bullets by way of her daughter will be all the more painful, one can only ponder. The girl is told if she does not shoot them, their execution will be at the end of a machete, slow and painful.
The girl looks down, unable to stare at her parents.
“Do it, Komona,” says her father. “Do as he says!” His stare is strong but sad.
“The War Witch” is one of 154 films from the United States, United Kingdom, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the South Pacific and Canada, in all representing 34 countries.
The 11-day offering, Feb. 7-18, is composed of 23 documentaries, 13 short documentaries, 67 narrative features, and 51 narrative shorts, all showcasing the diversity and complexity of people of African descent and estimated to draw in more than 35,000 people from across the United States and around the world, according to Aykuo Babu, co-founder of the the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF).
Another impactful film, titled “Welcome Home,” catalogs the U.S. drug policy toward Jamaican nationals in New York in three stories. One is about a Jamaican-born teen who grew up in the U.S. and is caught with a small amount marijuana. After a trial, he is literally snatched from his mother and stepdad and immediately deported. In a second story, a very attractive young lady unwittingly becomes a “mule” (someone who is used to carry drugs) for a man who pretends to care for her. She is caught, deported and faces a strong prejudice at home against deportees.
“Our Rhineland” is a film about two mixed-race sisters and involving mandatory sterilization of Afro-Germans. One scene shows one of the girls being captured by the Gestapo, thrown into a lorry and taken to a medical facility for forced sterilization.
Such is the force of the real-life fare being provided at PAFF.
PAFF is set to celebrate its 21st anniversary in grand style, with a string of highly anticipated films. The festival will kick off tonight with a star-studded opening-night gala at 6 p.m. at the headquarters of the Directors Guild of America, located at 7920 W. Sunset Blvd., with the Los Angeles premiere of the voodoo psycho thriller, “Vipaka,” directed by Philippe Caland (“Boxing Helena”) and starring Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Anthony Mackie. The cast includes Sanaa Latham, Nicole Ari Parker and Mike Epps.
Set in New Orleans, an earnest life-coach/author, Thomas Carter (Mackie), is mysteriously abducted by a deranged client, Angel Sanchez, (Whitaker), who delves into Carter’s teachings and uses his spiritual messages of karma and vipaka–that is, action and reaction–to terrorize him and his family for their past sins. Lathan plays Mackie’s wife. “Vipaka” is a Buddhist term, which means the result of karma.
With the exception of the opening night, all PAFF screenings and panels will take place at the new Rave Cinemas at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. (The theater is situated on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Marlton Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard)
Herman James, an 81-year-old Jamaica-born actor and screenwriter, a friend to 82-year-old Trinidad-born actor-dancer-director-designer Geoffrey Holder, and whose uncle is Jamaica-born actor West Gale has been so impressed by PAFF that he has not missed a single festival in 21 years. He saw the “The War Witch” early.
“When I viewed ‘The War Witch’ I was captivated by the superb acting, and the screenwriting was so good it made me feel great about an industry that in the United States has shunned Blacks as actors and actresses, but internationally outside of Hollywood our work is appreciated and taken seriously,” said James. “The movie told a story of how the valuable resources of Africa can cause hurt and pain as opposed to Africans uniting and benefiting from those resources.”
James makes his pilgrimage from Pasadena once a year and says as long as the Lord allows him to wake up he will keep attending.
“Although I am no longer active in the industry, it brings happiness to my heart seeing the youth absorb the energy,” says James. “After each showing, I sit back and take in the excitement of tomorrow’s Spike Lees, John Singletons, Antoine Fuquas and Kasi Lemmons.”
Karen Ross, author of “Black and White Media,” is not so sanguine about the medium. She believes that “blackness” in film may have been permanently damaged by the stereotyping in the early 20th century. Even today, in entertainment ranging from inner-city dramas to sitcoms featuring a “token” Black actor, Ross does not find African American characters telling stories or exploring emotional states, but rather defining their servile place in American culture for the reassurance of White audiences.
PAFF Film Institute: Slavery in celluloid
Hollywood by Choice
By Gail Choice
Sunday, Feb. 10 (3:15-5:15 p.m.) Rave Theatres
PANEL DISCUSSION: “Django Unchained: A Discussion on Slavery and the 150th Year Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation.” What has been learned since the signing of this ground-breaking document that paved the way for African Americans to fight for freedom? A powerful discussion on slavery, media, entertainment and power. Featured panelists include:
* Gerald Horne, Ph.D., author, and John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. A historian, attorney and political activist, Horne has authored more than 30 books, including two on Hollywood.
* Melina Abdullah, Ph.D., acting chair and associate professor of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles. Abdullah has authored articles, with subjects ranging from political coalition building to Hip Hop womanism.
* Ayuko Babu, founder and executive director of Pan African Film Festival, Babu is an international legal, cultural and political consultant, specializing in African affairs. He’s an expert in African cinema.
* Ed Rampell, film critic and author, specifically covering progressive films and filmmakers.
Monday, Feb. 11 (7:15 p.m.) Rave Theatres
CLOSING KEYNOTE ADDRESS: Reginald Hudlin, Oscar-nominated filmmaker for Best Picture of “Django Unchained,” will address the “State of Black Entertainment.”
Hudlin offers a unique perspective because of his success as a writer, producer, director and executive. He is a pioneer of the modern Black film movement, creating movies like “House Party,” “Boomerang” and “Bebe’s Kids,” which are some of the most profitable and influential films of his generation. He is the executive producer and writer of the “Black Panther,” an animated series, and executive producer of “The Boondocks.” Hudlin also directed the pilot of the hit series, “Everybody Hates Chris,” and was a producer and director of “The Bernie Mac Show.”
Hudlin produced Quentin Tarantino’s latest film “Django Unchained,” starring award-winning actors Jamie Foxx, Leonardo DiCaprio, Christoph Waltz, Samuel L. Jackson and Don Johnson. The film has won two Golden Globe awards, and nabbed for five Oscars nominations. Already topping almost $150 million at the box office domestically, it’s on track to be the top-grossing Western of all time.
During his more than three-year tenure as the first president of entertainment for Black Entertainment Television (BET), Hudlin created 17 of the top 20 rated shows in the history of the network, including the award-winning “Keyshia Cole: The Way It Is;” “American Gangster” and “Sunday Best.”
The PAFF Film Institute will run Feb. 9-11 at a designated theatre at the Rave Cinemas in the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, located at 4020 Marlton Ave. in Los Angeles. (The theatre is situated on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard between Marlton Avenue and Crenshaw Boulevard.)
During the day, the Film Institute will host various workshops and panel discussions, and end the evening with a “Conversation With” keynote discussion by key figures in the industry. For more information about the institute, contact Sherri James at (323)646-3987 or visit the website at www.paff.org. Tickets are $10.50.