Documentaries Star At Black Film Festival
Sunday, June 1, 2008
When entries started streaming in for the San Francisco Black Film
Festival, its director, Ave Montague, immediately noticed something
different. Lots more of them were documentaries. There were strong
submissions on political subjects such as reaching young Africans who
are susceptible to AIDS and fanciful fare such as the true story of
some youngsters in Cape Town, South Africa, who win a trip to Las
Vegas to compete in a magic show.
Because of the high quality of the documentaries, the judging
committee wound up accepting 25 of them, amounting to about a quarter
of the total entries - far more than in the past nine years of the
event. One reason for the quantity of docs at this year's festival,
its 10th, "may be reality TV," Montague speculated. "People see real
life on television. That's got to be an influence on the kind of
films they make." Bottom-line decisions may factor in as well: It is
easier to solicit funding for real stories, and "budgets will be a
lot lower if you don't have to hire high-priced talent," Montague said.
Or it could simply be that filmmakers found a lot of real stories
begging to be told. Here are some highlights from the rich
Nobody Knows: The Untold Story of Black Mormons: This film definitely
falls into the "who knew?" category. It turns out that, in 1850, Utah
was the only Western territory that allowed slavery. "The Untold
Story" consists of interviews with black descendants of slaves who
worked for Mormons in Utah and are themselves practicing Mormons. One
of them is expected to attend the screening.
Music Is My Life, Politics My Mistress: The Story of Oscar Brown Jr.:
Composer and singer Oscar Brown Jr. was also an engaged social
activist, as this documentary brings out. He was around to march for
civil rights and to see black power seep into American life. The
range of subjects he wrote about - marijuana, cockroaches, childhood
wonder and human dignity - is a measure of the man. The screening
will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at Yoshi's on Fillmore Street. Linda
Kosut, who will sing from the Oscar Brown songbook on June 22 at Jazz
at Pearl's, may sing after the screening.
Do You Believe in Magic?: This heartwarming documentary won the
African Academy Award. It's about a magic school in Cape Town, South
Africa, whose students win a trip to Las Vegas to compete in an
annual magic competition.
Don't Hate: Strippers Fight the Government: Male exotic dancers fight
the local government in Prince Georges County, Md., for the right to
perform in front of women. The county has regulations about what
dancers are not allowed to do, such as dance too close to a woman.
The dancers argue that they have a constitutional right to do what
they do. This film contains no nudity or pornography.
Diamonds in the Rough: The focus is on a group of rappers from
Uganda. It's their subject matter that is unusual. Through their
songs, they try to reach young people and spread the word about how
to avoid being infected with HIV. This documentary is not the downer
it may sound like. It's very upbeat.
Waterfront: This documentary is about residents of Highland Park,
Mich., who are fighting enormous water bills. This film shows how
people work together for change.
The People's Advocate: The Life & Times of Charles R. Garry: A look
at the prominent criminal defense attorney who took the cases of Huey
Newton and Bobby Seale of the Black Panther Party and other clients
whom lawyers were reluctant to represent.
Adjust Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene: Here's the true story
behind the somewhat fictionalized version of Petey Greene in the
biopic "Talk to Me." This documentary shows how he overcame poverty
and drug addiction to become a wildly popular disc jockey who
invented shock-jock radio and became the voice of reason during the
riots after Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination. The film looks at
why Greene never became the national figure he should have been. Don
Cheadle, who played Petey in "Talk to Me," narrates the story.
There's a shocking glimpse of Howard Stern in blackface and an Afro wig.
The San Francisco Black Film Festival will honor actress Taraji P.
Henson, who played Greene's girlfriend in "Talk to Me" and will be
seen taking care of Brad Pitt in "The Curious Case of Benjamin
Button" in the fall.
One change Montague has observed is that white filmmakers now send
their work for consideration for the festival. The selection
committee has no idea about a filmmaker's ethnicity when choosing
films. Nor, she believes, should they. However, it is important that
the feature film or documentary touch on some aspect of African American life.
The 10th annual San Francisco Black Film Festival: Wed.-next Sun. and
June 11-15 at the Sundance Kabuki and other venues. For ticket
information, go to brownpapertickets.com or call (415) 771-9271.
E-mail Ruthe Stein at email@example.com.
S.F. Black Film Festival celebrates its 10th year
May 29, 008
by Lee Hubbard
When Ave Montague started the San Francisco Black Film Festival 10
years ago, it was a side event to the annual Juneteenth celebration,
which commemorates the abolition of slavery in Texas and much of the
South after the Civil War.
She says, "It was a one-day event and there were not a lot of people
there." With a budget of just $3,000, the festival only drew 300 people.
Things have changed in a decade.
This year, it has a $100,000 budget and more than 2,000 people are
expected to attend the event, which runs Wednesday through June 15 at
the Sundance Cinema Kabuki, Yoshi's, the African American Cultural
Complex Center, Rasselas and the Museum of the African Diaspora.
"Today, the film festival is a 10-day cultural celebration drawing
international attention and thousands of attendees," Montague says.
"It is one of the largest black film festivals in the country and
filmmakers from all over the world come ... because we provide a
platform for them to screen films."
This year's theme is "10 years, 10 days, 100 films." Movies from
Africa, Australia, Canada, Europe and the United States directed by
or starring blacks make up the programming.
"We are particularly excited we are bringing it back to the Fillmore
district this year, where the festival started," Montague says.
At 6 p.m. Wednesday, the festival opens at the Sundance Kabuki with
"Shoot the Messenger." Directed by Nigerian-born British filmmaker
Ngozi Onwurah, it's about a British teacher who loses his job.
Other highlights include the documentary "Tribute: Stanley Tookie
Williams, 1953-2005," about the death row prisoner and member of the
Los Angeles-based gang the Crips, which screens at 5:30 p.m. June 15
at the African American Cultural Complex.
Additional documentaries featured are "The People's Advocate: the
Life & Times of Charles R. Garry," about the legendary attorney who
defended Black Panthers Huey Newton and Bobby Seale (screening at
6:30 p.m. Thursday at the Museum of the African Diaspora) and "Adjust
Your Color: The Truth of Petey Greene," narrated by Don Cheadle,
screening at 6 p.m. June 12 at the Kabuki. Greene, one of America's
first shock jocks, is also the subject of the feature film "Talk to
Me," starring Cheadle.
Documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne, who died in December, will be
honored in a retrospective tribute. Bourne made more than 40 films in
his 36-year career. "The Making of 'Do the Right Thing'" and "John
Henrik Clark: A Great and Mighty Walk" will be screened in a program
featuring panel discussions at noon Saturday at the Museum of the
Taraji P. Henson, who starred in "Hustle and Flow," will receive the
Phoenix Award at the Melvin Van Peebles brunch at 11 a.m. June 14 at
1300 on Fillmore.
IF YOU GO
San Francisco Black Film Festival
When: Wednesday through June 15
Tickets: $10 for most screenings; more for special events
Contact: (415) 771-9271 or www.sfbff.org
Most screenings at
- African American Cultural Complex Center, 762 Fulton St.
- Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission St. (at Third Street)
- Sundance Kabuki, 1881 Post St.
- Yoshi's, 1330 Fillmore St.