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Newark Museum Black Film Festival Marks 45th Anniversary

HUDSON VALLEY PRESS — The Newark Museum Black Film Festival (NMBFF), the longest-running black film festival in the United States, is celebrating its 45th anniversary with a blockbuster lineup of films and documentaries.

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By The Hudson Valley Press

NEWARK, NJ – The Newark Museum Black Film Festival (NMBFF), the longest-running black film festival in the United States, is celebrating its 45th anniversary with a blockbuster lineup of films and documentaries.

In keeping with a cultural event that is authentically Newark, this year’s opening night will screen the HBO documentary United Skates on June 26 and will feature a one-of-a-kind experience – a pop up roller rink set up outside the Museum. The festival will close on July 31 with a screening of Boyz N the Hood and an appearance by Donald Bogle, a film historian and award-winning author. Other films in the line-up include Losing Ground (July 3); Sammy Davis, Jr., I’ve Gotta Be Me (Jul 10); and 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story (July 24).

“Since 1974, we have been a constant champion of films for and by African Americans and the African Diaspora,” said Linda C. Harrison, the Museum’s Director and CEO. “In the beginning, we were one of the few places where you could see films that reflected the diversity of the black experience. In staking our claim to authenticity, we are embracing the tagline ‘Reel Black.’”

NMBFF also will include festival pop-ups focused on African films on Sunday, July 14; and Latina films on July 28. Additionally, the Museum has partnered with Woman in Media to present Girls on the Reel, a STEAM program that provides 15 high school girls from Newark with an opportunity to take stop-motion animation workshops in the Museum’s MakerSPACE. The students will create, shoot and edit a Museum-inspired motion picture that will be screened as part of the NMBFF on July 24 along with 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story.

In the past 44 years, NBFF has screened more than 917 films to an audience of more than 194,000 adults and youth. Past films of note have included Selma, Ashes and Embers, Body and Soul, Do the Right Thing and Daughters of the Dust. In partnership with organizations and businesses in Newark, NMBFF films have been screened at Rutgers-Newark, the Newark Public Library and Cityplex 12.

“This year we will continue to uphold our mandate to bring the best of cinema from across the Diaspora to the citizens of Newark and surrounding municipalities,’’ said NMBFF Chair Richard Wesley.

NMBFF has brought to Newark luminaries such as the late Gordon Parks and Paul Robeson, Jr. and James Van Der Zee; and James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, Reggie and Warington Hudlin, Ayoka Chenzira, Spike lee, Pam Grier, Donald Bogle, Richard Wesley, Euzhan Palcy, Ava DuVernay and S. Epatha Merkerson to participate in post-screening discussions.

“The intimate discussions between the audience and filmmakers is a unique aspect of NBFF,” said Pat Faison, NMBFF Coordinator who has been with the festival since its inception. Among the guests this year will be Oscar and Emmy nominated Samuel D. Pollard, who directed Sammy Davis Jr., I’ve Gotta Be Me.

The NMBFF started in 1974 with a touring black film festival that was put together by filmmaker Oliver Franklin who worked at the Annenberg Center for Communication, Art & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The late Gus Henningburg, who was then the Executive Director of the Greater Newark Urban Coalition, learned about the festival and proposed it to the Newark Museum.

In 1976 when the touring festival was no longer available, the Museum made the decision to produce the Festival and established a Selection Committee, whose volunteer members represented important institutions in the community.

In 1981, a Children’s Festival was added, which is now called Youth Cinema. In 1985, the Museum initiated the Paul Robeson Awards to honor excellence in independent filmmaking in five categories.

Warrington Hudlin, President, Black Filmmaker Foundation said, ‘’The Festival came into existence to fill the void left by movie theaters that were fleeing Newark and other inner cities throughout the United States. The real beneficiaries soon became the newly minted generation of young African American filmmakers who were graduating from film schools with films under their arms and looking for a place to screen them. And even today, if a filmmaker wants to put his or her film to a litmus test for authenticity, I say ‘screen it in Newark’.’’

“Newark Museum Black Film Festival is a total and complete national treasure,” said actor- producer-director-filmmaker Penwah. “It is such an honor to be associated with such a groundbreaking and vital movement! The staff, the content, the participants – just plain and simple ‘blacknificence.’ They are official originators, not duplicators. Follow their lead!”
Financial support for the festival from Bank of America for the past 19 years has allowed it to expand in the past to venues beyond the museum, including the NJ State Museum in Trenton, Rutgers-Camden and Monmouth Arts Council in Asbury Park.

“The Newark Museum Black Film Festival never fails to bring an impressive lineup of movies to Newark and beyond,’’ said Bob Doherty, Bank of America New Jersey president. “Celebrating differences in culture, ethnicity and experience helps create stronger and more vibrant communities.’’

Tito’s Vodka is the official Spirit Sponsor for the second year. The 2019 NBFF season will begin on June 26 and run through July 31 at 6:30 pm. For a complete schedule, visit www.newarkmuseum.org/NBFF.

This article originally appeared in the Hudson Valley Press.

Entertainment

Julie Ethel Dash: The “Strikingly Original Filmmaker”

Although she would later study psychology at City College of New York, Dash continued to long for a career in film. Following her heart, she enrolled in CCNY’s Leonard Davis Center for the Arts in the David Picker Film Institute. During her tenure there, she wrote and produced “Working Models of Success,” a promotional documentary for the New York Urban Coalition.

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Filmmaker Julie Dash

In 1991, the film industry’s racial and gender boundaries were shattered by the release of “Daughters of the Dust.” This Sundance award-winner (Best Cinematography) was presented by filmmaker Julie Ethel Dash (1952–), making her the first African-American woman to have a wide theatrical release of a feature film.

The film is a historically accurate fictionalized telling of Dash’s father’s Gullah family who lived on the islands off the southeastern coast of the United States at the dawn of the 20th century. The entire film takes place outdoors, in the woods, and on the beach, as Black history from West Africa to South Carolina is relived through its physical marks on the present.

The Library of Congress named it to the National Film Registry in 2004.

Dash’s film received critical acclaim and demonstrated widespread box office appeal. The Boston Globe described it as “mesmerizing.” The Atlanta Constitution described it as “poetry in motion”; the Village Voice described the film as “an unprecedented achievement.” Despite these accolades, Dash was brushed off by Hollywood executives when she approached them with the movie.

During a Boston Globe interview, Dash admitted she was told by Hollywood executives that her film was considered “too different” to be marketable. Such dismissal of her work, she added, “was consistent with a systematic pattern of excluding Black women from Hollywood.”

Dash refused to allow Hollywood’s practice of exclusion to define her, her work, or crush her confidence. 

Forging ahead with her dreams of filmmaking success, Dash was the recent recipient of the Special Award at the 82nd New York Film Critics Circle, the 2017 Women & Hollywood Trailblazer Award, the 2017 New York Women in Film & Television Muse Award, and The Ebert Award. She was also inducted into the Penn Cultural Center’s 1862 Circle on St. Helena Island.

Dash has directed multiple episodes of “Queen Sugar” (Season 2) and was nominated for a Directors Guild Award for “The Rosa Parks Story” (2002) starring Angela Bassett.

Dash grew up in Queens, New York. As a teen, she enrolled in a film production course at the Studio Museum in Harlem. It was an experience that opened her mind to filmmaking. 

Although she would later study psychology at City College of New York, Dash continued to long for a career in film. Following her heart, she enrolled in CCNY’s Leonard Davis Center for the Arts in the David Picker Film Institute. During her tenure there, she wrote and produced “Working Models of Success,” a promotional documentary for the New York Urban Coalition.

Dash currently serves as a distinguished professor of art and visual culture at Spelman and a distinguished professor of cinema, television, and emerging media studies at Morehouse. Still, much of what she has achieved has gone unnoticed by the press. 

“I was supposed to be a Black woman filmmaker and I was supposed to make the films they wanted me to make. And they couldn’t see anything beyond that,” she said. And she fooled them all.

Sources:  https://juliedash.tv/biography/ 

https://www.cinema.ucla.edu/la-rebellion/julie-dash 

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Kali O’Ray, San Francisco Black Film Festival Director, 48

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Kali O’Ray. Reimaginepe.org photo.

Kali Onaje Ray, director of the renowned San Francisco Black Film Festival, died on Aug. 7, 2020, from complications of a stroke. He was 48.

He was born on July 9, 1972, in San Francisco to Ave Montague and Walter Ray.

During his teenage years, when he attended San Francisco’s Serra High School and then San Mateo High School for his senior year, Ray was a graffiti artist and used the tag “O’Ray.”

He attended college at Clark University in Atlanta and studied communications, eventually becoming a graphic and web designer.

While in Atlanta, Ray married Katera Crossley.

It was Ray’s mother, Ave Montague Ray, who was the founder of the San Francisco Black Film Festival (SFBFF) in 1998, and when she died of a stroke in January of 2009 at 64, Ray took over as its director.

“Kali picked up the mantle to carry on with his mom’s legacy,” said San Francisco Mayor London Breed in a statement posted on the festival’s web site. “I am so grateful to have known and worked with Kali and will always remember him as a thoughtful and caring man.”

Ray suffered a stroke on July 28 and was hospitalized and died on Aug. 7 a few days after the original concluding date of Aug. 2 for the virtual SFBFF. The festival has been extended through Aug. 30.

More than the SFBFF’s director, Ray was an institution in the Fillmore as a photographer, videographer, and documentary filmmaker. He also managed restaurant websites, and, pre-pandemic, he worked nights as the doorman and DJ Greenlove at the Boom Boom Room. He also produced the Salsa Festival at the Fillmore Center.

SFBFF is normally held in June to coincide with Juneteenth, but was delayed and became a virtual event that began on July 17. It will continue its run through Aug.30 under the direction with Ray’s widow, Katera Crossley, and their children.

Ray was preceded in death by his mother and leaves behind to mourn his memory his wife, Katera;  daughter Cree Ray of San Diego, sons Ahmad Clayton of San Francisco and Kali Ray Jr. of Atlanta; father Walter Ray of Little Elm, Texas; brothers Kwasi Ray of Charlotte, N.C., Andre Johnson of Folsom and Darryl Johnson of San Francisco, and sister Rhonda McClinton of DeRidder, La.

Contributions can be made to the GoFundMe page.  https://www.gofundme.com/f/kali-oray-of-sfbff

Wire reports and web site sources contributed to this story.

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John Lewis: Civil Rights Lion Gets into Good Trouble in Dawn Porter Documentary

NNPA NEWSWIRE — On what would be called Bloody Sunday, Lewis, who at the time was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) along with other civil rights lions like Reverend Hosea Williams (SCLC) continued on their march despite then Governor Wallace’s threats and were attacked by the police, sending 58 people to the hospital.

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Described repeatedly as courageous, Lewis’ energy now is not very different from the energy on full display in the footage of the marches and Freedom Rides. Lewis lives and breathes the pursuit of freedom and all around him know it. To be in his orbit, one must hold that value if you are to be a part of his universe. (Photo: Still from film, John Lewis: Good Trouble)
Described repeatedly as courageous, Lewis’ energy now is not very different from the energy on full display in the footage of the marches and Freedom Rides. Lewis lives and breathes the pursuit of freedom and all around him know it. To be in his orbit, one must hold that value if you are to be a part of his universe. (Photo: Still from film, John Lewis: Good Trouble)

By Nsenga K. Burton, NNPA Newswire Culture and Entertainment Editor

As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can. – Congressman John Lewis

Congressman John Lewis is known and revered worldwide for his social justice activism as a young man during the modern Civil Rights movement which sparked large scale civic and social change in America. Many have seen the horrible 1965 footage and photos of Lewis being clubbed in the head while attempting to march from Selma, AL to Montgomery, AL arriving at the Edmund Pettus Bridge to 150 police officers waiting to deliver violence and intimidation to the protesters marching for voting rights for Black Americans.

Then Alabama Governor George Wallace had outlawed protests and marchers, who were raising awareness about the plight of Black Americans, who had been made to pay poll taxes, take literacy tests or flatly denied their right to vote by intimidation and the threat of violence at the ballot box. At that particular time, Black Americans made up 57 percent of the population of Dallas County, which is where Selma is located, yet and still only 2 percent of Black Americans were registered to vote.

On what would be called Bloody Sunday, Lewis, who at the time was Chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) along with other civil rights lions like Reverend Hosea Williams (SCLC) continued on their march despite then Governor Wallace’s threats and were attacked by the police, sending 58 people to the hospital.

Lewis, who suffered a skull fracture during the attack, left the hospital the following week to testify before Congress about what had happened to the protesters, resulting in the passage of the Voting Rights Act by Congress which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, giving Black Americans the right to vote and offering protections (National Guard) to marchers in pursuit of justice at the ballot box.

In Good Trouble, award-winning documentary filmmaker Dawn Porter (Gideon’s Army, Trapped, Spies of Mississippi) captures the many sides of John Lewis which are all connected to his quest for freedom. Porter shows his early desire to become a preacher eventually leading to a career in social justice and politics.

In the documentary, we see a young John Lewis from Troy, AL who aspires to be a preacher to such an extent, he preaches to chickens. His desires shift when at 15-years-old, the actions of Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King change his path, leading the civil rights lion to “Good trouble; necessary trouble to save our country, to save our democracy,” he says.

Lewis, who has been arrested 40 times, five of those times since being a member of Congress, allows viewers into the world beyond politics. Viewers learn how he met and fell in love with his wife, Lillian Miles Lewis, who died in 2012 and that he is still as heartbroken over the loss today as he was the day she passed.

Viewers see the fun side of Lewis, who loves to dance and crack jokes with his mentees and staff. John Lewis lights up any room her enters. Lewis is a man revered for his commitment to Civil Rights and viewers learn that all aspects of his life are tied to that pursuit. Lewis’ values as a human being are always at the forefront of every decision he makes in his personal and professional life.

Lewis’ major value is freedom. “When you lose all sense of fear, you’re free,” offers the activist who literally continues to traverse the country in pursuit of justice. Lewis, 80, who is battling pancreatic cancer stomps for Beto O’Rourke and Stacey Abrams during their high-profile bids for political change.

Colleagues and friends like Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley, Congressman Jim Clyburn, civil rights icon Diane Nash and the late Congressman Elijah Cummings discuss Lewis’ legacy and impact today.

Described repeatedly as courageous, Lewis’ energy now is not very different from the energy on full display in the footage of the marches and Freedom Rides. Lewis lives and breathes the pursuit of freedom and all around him know it. To be in his orbit, one must hold that value if you are to be a part of his universe.

Underscored by a soulful and haunting soundtrack, the documentary also shows the difficult times and sacrifices that sometimes have to be made while in pursuit of justice for all, like Lewis’ damaged friendship with the late civil rights icon and politician Julian Bond. Their 1986 battle over a Congressional seat led to Lewis’ harsh words about one of his closest friends – painful words that Lewis could not take back.

Lewis won the seat and is now in his 17th term as a Congressperson but at what cost? Many of the people in the civil rights movement are passing on and Porter’s documentary begs the question of who will replace these pillars of democracy who are willing to sacrifice so much of themselves for a far greater cause?

Lewis lights up the room wherever he goes. Like Moses, seas of people part to make a clear path for Lewis, who strides to the podium with personal stories and political messages that people need to hear. Lewis clearly understands there are more years behind him than in front of him. He is pained by the strategic and dubious attempts by Congress and the Supreme Court to undo the work of he and his ilk in a supposedly post-racial society.

Lewis knows the stakes are high as he has “lived it” and is now witnessing the dismantling of the protections for no reason other than plain old racism. Like many Black Americans in the United States, suffering from seeing such hard-fought freedoms rolled back, Lewis is broken hearted but not bowed. The 2013 Supreme Court decision dismantling the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing nine states, to change their election laws without federal approval, was another symbolic blow to Lewis and his generation of change agents but they remain unbowed.

Lewis is obviously troubled by what is happening in society. “One of my greatest fears, is one day we wake up and our democracy is gone.” Chilling words coming from a man who has dedicated his entire life to protecting the rights of all Americans in an attempt to bring to fruition the ideals of democracy upon which America was founded. These are also profound words from a giant of change who even at this precarious time in his life, knows that the fight for justice is never over.

“As long as I have breath in my body, I will do what I can,” says the Presidential Medal of Freedom winner, reminding viewers our freedoms hang in the balance and there is more good trouble ahead.

Watch the trailer for the documentary here.

Good Trouble debuted Friday, July 3, 2020 OnDemand on multiple digital platforms.

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