A Festival Grows in Brooklyn
Published on February 16th, 2012 | by Ryan Wells0
“New Voices in Black Cinema” runs from February 17-20 at BAMcinématek.
In an election year, the amount of self-reflection vibrating throughout the U.S. is typically through the roof. The usual “Where have we been? Where are we going?” echoes through the punditry, panjandrums, and general public in a variety of forms and realms of discussion. Most of the time, we hardly recognize it, as we do it so effortlessly or with specific purpose.
One of the more minor topics, though it still raises its head (usually in the vein of the Birther discussion), is the historical significance of having a half-black president. The attitudes towards this run the gamut. Some consider it a positive second coming for the U.S. For others, it’s a step towards radical Islam. Regardless of your take on Barack Obama, the novelty of a non-white president hasn’t worn off.
And neither has being black in America. In fact, Obama’s residency in the White House has opened a plethora of “teachable moments” for our country (some of which, like the Cambridge episode involving, of all people, one of our foremost black scholars, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., and a white police officer, put Obama at the center of it as a kind of Judge Hardy type, with meager results in all honesty). And thanks to film festivals like ActNow Foundation’s New Voices in Black Cinema, presented at BAMcinématek, those moments continue, and they certainly have their audience.
Curtis Caesar John, the festival producer and curator for New Voices in Black Cinema, agrees.
“The audience we’re trying to reach for New Voices are those clamoring for quality independent cinema by and/or about people from the African Diaspora,” said John. “So we have films from and that take place in Brooklyn, Atlanta, and as far as Accra in Ghana, Israel, and Berlin. Our audience, regardless of their race, respects the viewpoints of different artists and enjoys watching and sharing in their stories.”
The films are a diverse bunch. Spread over four days, fourteen films are being shown, with six being New York premieres, including marvelous gems like Daniel Falconer’s documentary “Deforce,” which takes a long overdue look at why Detroit fell, and the resolute nature of the city’s long-term inhabitants who want to build it back up.
“Our documentaries touch on how Black culture has affected the world yet remains disregarded or downplayed as an overwhelming influence for change by the powers-that-be,” remarked John.
Indeed, topics as diverse as the global reach of hip-hop (Joshua Atesh Litle’s “The Furious Force of Rhymes,” which feels like a younger, distant cousin of “Style Wars”), chronicling the final days before deployment (Jamil Walker Smith’s poignant feature debut using a cinéma vérité approach “The American Dream”), or the making and repression of a black militant political satire in the early-’70s (Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door”) really showcase the depth of this year’s bench of filmmakers.
“For 2013 and beyond, we aim to attract more international talent, especially those from continental Africa and the Latin America region,” said John. “From there, we want to grow into a market festival wherein we’d become the go-to festival for the best films from the African Diaspora.”
And certainly as New Voices continues to amplify, respect most certainly will be shown. The world really is its oyster.
“There’s a long road ahead for us,” added John. “But we believe in the force of quality Black independent film being acknowledged as art and entertainment beyond the allowed few that are [currently] acknowledged.”