Author Archives: BFC/A

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions.

Digitizing the Richard E. Norman papers

In 2015, the Black Film Center/Archive received support from the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources grant program of the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct the Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking: Reprocessing and Digitization project, a three-pronged endeavor to reintegrate the dispersed papers of pioneering race film producer and distributor Richard E. Norman; to produce and publish a comprehensive new finding aid to the collection; and to digitize thousands of unique documents and other items in the collection for free public access online.

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The Norman Collection represents one of the greatest caches of material relating to the burgeoning study of early African American movie-going culture and race films. Consisting of historical materials ranging from personal and business correspondence to censorship reports to production documentation to promotional artwork, the Norman Collection provides a corpus for scholars seeking to explore the industry of independently-produced, African American-themed films starring Black casts and exhibited to Black audiences that thrived from the late 1910s through the mid-1950s.

In the 1910s, Norman, who had previously been working in niche “Home Talent” movies, became aware of independent, underground race films being screened at Black-operated theaters throughout the segregated South and Midwest. Though he was white, he turned to race films as his principal business enterprise and produced a series of successful all-Black feature films including The Green-Eyed Monster (1919), The Bull-Dogger (1921), The Crimson Skull (1921), and The Flying Ace (1926). The films highlighted African American action and romance in what were, for their time, almost fantasy settings. The Flying Ace, for example, followed the adventures of one Captain Billy Stokes, an African American pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces, a career that was entirely inaccessible to Black men until 1940.

Norman was a meticulous record keeper in both his professional and personal life and the collection he left behind is remarkable as a near-complete record of the Norman Film Manufacturing Company, benefiting researchers of Norman specifically as well as historians of social migration, itinerant filmmaking, and the silent era race films. Beyond Norman’s substantial achievements, his well-documented relationships with the many performers, filmmakers, studios, and theater operators connected to the race circuit make this one of the most significant collections of a scarcely documented culture. Film historian Matthew H. Bernstein writes “It is impossible to overstate the importance of Norman’s papers.” Bernstein explains its value not only to film history, but to understanding “a distinct strain of black popular culture in the 20th century.” He continues, “Beyond the realm of race filmmaking, the Norman papers are the most illuminating archival resource in existence for reconstructing black film culture.”

Megan MacDonald, the Richard E. Norman project archivist, has worked with African Diasporic collections at Indiana University for nine years. Before joining the Black Film Center/Archive staff in 2015, she was an archivist for Indiana University’s Liberian Collections working with one of the largest collections of Liberian materials in the United States.

As part of this NEH-funded project, MacDonald has coordinated the reintegration of the Norman Collection, which had been distributed across two campus repositories following its donation by Norman’s son, Captain Richard Norman, in the 1980s. In this conversation from last spring, MacDonald discusses the complications and discoveries that accompany a large scale archival access project such as this.

~Dorothy Berry

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Dorothy Berry: Can you tell me your position at the Black Film Center/Archive?

Megan MacDonald: Yes, I am the project archivist-slash-processing archivist for the Richard E. Norman Collection.

DB: Can you give a little background on what that collection entails?

MM: Yes, he [Norman] was a filmmaker in the 1920s, late 1910s, making at first… itinerant movies, where he would take the same movie plot and go around from city to city and film it with a new cast, a local cast, and then play it there for the townspeople to see. Then he got into race films, which were Black films for a Black audience, where the main characters were not the stereotypic slave “idiot” roles, and he made a few movies like that and was distributing those movies —  these were all silent films.Once the sound movies came about, he stopped making movies but continued to distribute movies. This collection doesn’t have any film in it, because most of it’s been lost with time. [Norman’s extant film materials were donated to the Library of Congress in the 1970s.]  [The collection] is mostly posters, and lobby cards, and photos, and all sorts of promotional materials, as well as distribution records from all the cities he traveled to. There’s a lot of correspondence. His brother was in the company with him, and his brother would be sent out to do some recruiting, to try to find theaters. It’s a little bit of everything, but no film for the film archives!

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Box Office Statement for the Black Gold screening at the Royal Theater in Charlotte, NC. November 19, 1927

DB: I know the Norman collection was spread out at different repositories on the Indiana University campus, how is the reintegration process going?

MM: It’s been, for the most part, easy. It was spread out between the Lilly Library, which is the rare books library here, and the Black Film Center/Archive. It wasn’t split in obvious ways. So there’s distribution records in both places, correspondences in both places. It isn’t one series here and the rest stayed there or vice-versa. For the most part, materials have been at both collections and integrating has been pretty easy because the series are mostly the same. There’s always going to be a correspondence series in both archives, there’s always the distribution, publicity materials are always there…the subseries maybe got a little bit divided, but it was still easy to bring it back to the top level and reintegrate, and then make the subseries.

DB: Were there any exciting or compelling new discoveries during this reintegration process?

MM: Well, it was all new and exciting for me because I had never seen the collection before. Coming from an archival background that didn’t necessarily deal with media or this time frame, it just was so cool to see all the photos and have that more pop culture reference from a time frame that really doesn’t have… isn’t really well known to someone like me. So it’s been constant exciting discoveries!

DB: Have any scholars or researchers come to access the collection since you’ve begun?

MM: We have fielded a few research inquiries, like right now I’m talking to someone who has a Kickstarter-funded movie project about the Compton Cowboys, which is something I’m definitely not familiar with, but it’s like the cowboy culture in California, the Black cowboy Hollywood culture…not even Hollywood, but Compton area, going back all the way to the 1920s. He wants to use Bill Pickett, who is a famous cowboy actor from that time period and he’s in a couple of [Norman’s] movies, The Bull-Dogger and The Crimson Skull. We might be sending him some scans of the posters, and stuff to use for the film.

DD: Where is the project at currently in its timeline?

MM: We are about halfway through. The first phase was to reintegrate both the groupings into one complete collection and have it encoded in a finding aid, which we now have online. Then the start of this year we started the scanning project, which will take the rest of the grant time. Images are appearing online with the finding aid, and will continue to be added. We have two students who are working on it, and I’m working at it.

DD: Final question: the project proposal mentioned possible future digitization projects beyond this EAD finding aid and digital collection. What ideas can you envision for a project such as this?

MM: Interesting. A digital exhibit, especially something involved with film or African American history, especially where those two intersect. I’d be interested in collaborating with other repositories to do an online exhibit of materials. IU has great scholarly support with people like Cara Caddoo and Terri Francis. Hopefully we can also be involved with classes, for some sorts of online collaborative projects.

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Photo from Green-Eyed Monster

[Note: A version of this article, written by Dorothy Berry and Megan MacDonald, first appeared in the Fall 2016 issue of Black Camera.]


Roosevelt Faulkner’s Experiences in Sweden

Last summer, I was one of several lucky students in my research lab to present at the International Conference on Computer Supported Collaborative Learning (the field commonly known as CSCL) in Gothenburg, Sweden. The conference brings together education researchers, technologists, and computer scientists from all over the world to share and discuss ideas on issues ranging from designing modern learning spaces to using social media in the classroom. Not only was I geeked about my paper being accepted, I was also geeked to be going to Scandinavia. I’d heard stories and saw pictures from people’s travels, but it never crossed my mind to visit. After finding some affordable tickets on Priceline, a colleague and I landed a quaint AirBnB flat just five minutes from the conference location.  I was set to go.

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I presented on  the use of mobile devices (e.g. tablet computers, mobile phones, and PDAs) in the classroom. We found several instances of studies investigating how teachers incorporate mobile devices in their lessons and these devices affect students’ learning outcomes and their collaborative behaviors. One interesting find was that tablet computers allowed for more fluid and natural interactions between group members.  Tablet computers allowed team members to face each other or freely move around in order to create a collaborative space, whereas, with laptops, students tended to be fixed in a position and had less eye contact with fellow members. Students using the tablets felt the tablets enhanced their collaboration and discussions.

The presentations were short and the atmosphere was very casual.  I was the only presenter in a tie, while the other presenters were in jeans- some with sneakers and some with casual dress shoes. This made for a different vibe I was not accustomed to. The last education conference I attended was the American Education Research Association conference in Chicago. People donned suits and the presentations had an air of hefty scholarship and cerebralness, which was starkly different at this conference in Sweden. For the tablet computer workshop, the presenters had to present using the PechaKucha format. With PechaKucha the presenter has exactly six minutes and forty seconds to present. Once time is up, the presentation closes. There were about 12-13 presentations, all showing the varying ways tablet devices were used.  Overall it was a good experience. The people were friendly and the atmosphere was relaxed.

My trip in brief:

City: Gothenburg is the second largest city in Sweden with a population of about 543,000 people living in the city proper and an additional 400,000 living in the metropolitan area. It is located on the  southwestern coast of Sweden. Gothenburg has an eclectic mix of architecture ranging from gothic to modernist styles.  The city is home to two universities- University of Gothenburg and Chalmers University of Technology- and annual film and music festivals.  It has a strong shipping and fishing industry, and it is the birthplace of Volvo.

Food and drinks: The food is delicious and really fresh, while the alcoholic beverages are pricy.. To my surprise, 7/11 had cheap and delicious prepared meals, unlike the ones in the States. If you have access to a kitchen, buying a few groceries would help cut down the costs of eating out. If you have a sweet tooth, Sweden is the the place to indulge in sweet desires. If the coffee cake during Fika, the Swedish word for afternoon coffee and dessert break, isn’t enough, or you want to stock up for the month, check out their candy shops. They are literally brick and mortar candylands.  Once you walk in, your jaw drops, your pupils dilate, and you salivate at the sight of aisles of delightful colorful and mouth watering treats from Swedish gummies to chocolates to hard candies.

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Money: The currency is known as the Krona with the abbreviation  SEK(Swedish Krona). It is  worth slightly more than the dollar; A 100 SEK is equivalent to 1.14 USD. Nowadays, US bank cards can be used overseas, especially those with the chip. Though this can be useful if you have a lot of transactions, one must be forewarned that a conversion fee may be assessed. Check your bank for details. Carrying cash is optional but best to have some for emergencies and small purchases.roosevelt3

To do: I like visual art, so I always make it a point to find an art museum.  Take your student ID because most of the time the museum offers student discounts. Explore! We walked around exploring areas to find new restaurants and bars after conference hours. Only if I had Pokemon Go then!

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Getting around was easy.  You can walk, bike, or take public transportation everywhere. They have dedicated bike-only pathways throughout the city.  They also have a tram system that runs until 12 am.

Communication: BUY THE INTERNATIONAL PLAN or check to see if your phone plan includes international calls.  If this is not the case, something as small as texting can have an exorbitant cost.  I racked up $400 in charges between texting and checking social media sites. Luckily I was able to get the charges reversed after retroactively purchasing the $30 international plan. What a relief!

 

Roosevelt Faulkner is a graduate student in the School of Education and research assistant in the Conundrums, Complex Systems, Collaborations, and Computers Lab (4C). In addition to his research work, Roosevelt works at the Black Film Center/Archive assisting with the blog, and designing promotional materials.


Jessie Maple’s Twice as Nice at IU Cinema, Sunday, Jan. 29

On Sunday, January 29, Jessie Maple and Leroy Patton will visit Bloomington to present Jessie’s 1989 feature, Twice as Nice, at the Indiana University Cinema.  The 3:00 pm screening is free but ticketed.  Professor emerita and former Black Film Center/Archive director Audrey McCluskey will introduce the film and host a Q&A with Jessie and Leroy following the film.

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Recently preserved by the Black Film Center/Archive through a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation, Twice as Nice follows twins Caren and Camilla Parker, both star players on a college women’s basketball team energized by the prospect of a first female pick in the upcoming “MBA” draft. Maple looks again here to the strength of community and family, as in her first feature, the groundbreaking Will (1981).

Maple’s cast, composed largely of non-professional actors, features legends of NCAA, Olympic, and WNBA basketball.  Among them are Cynthia Cooper-Dyke, and twins Pamela and Paula McGee.

As we look ahead to this weekend’s visit, take a look back at our earlier post “Into the Archive: Exploring the Jessie Maple Collection” for a glimpse into the personal collection placed at the BFC/A by Jessie in 2005.

 

 


Katrina Overby Participates in Study Abroad in Sweden

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In the summer of 2016, the stars magically aligned and I was blessed with a once in a lifetime opportunity to participate in a two-week study abroad in the beautiful capital of Sweden: Stockholm. At a time when I thought I would never have the opportunity to study abroad, I was granted the chance to fulfill a dream and I am forever thankful to have had this amazing experience. I participated in a study abroad graduate class titled Theory to Practice in a Diverse and Global Society. The course, offered through IUPUI’s Preparing Future Faculty and Professionals, examined a survey of leadership, faculty, and cultural development theories and practices in an experimental global setting through interactions with local and national government officials, business leaders, international faculty and staff, and faculty and students from Iowa State University. My classmates (Kimberly Burgess and Jantina Anderson) and I also participated in two micro-teaching sessions and mentored the undergraduate students from Iowa State University who were taking two classes for one month. The class was taught by Nashara Mitchell, former Assistant Dean of Academic Affairs and Student Development and Director of PFFP.

For my two micro-teaching sessions, I covered two topics that were closely related to what the students were learning and could find useful from a media perspective: Social Media and Global Awareness and Hegemony and Dominant Ideologies. In regard to professional development, I was able to learn more about myself as an instructor, was given the tools to navigate and understand my teaching philosophy, and articulate my own definitions of classroom teaching and learning.katrina-2

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One of the most amazing experiences was having a “Black Girls Rock in Sweden” themed dinner at a small but vibrant bar in a lovely area of town called Zinkensdamm toward the end of our visit. My colleagues and I met two amazing Black women during the first week of our program. One of them moved to Sweden from California three years prior with her boyfriend who was from Sweden. The other had lived in Sweden since the age of three when her family relocated from Cameroon. The other attendee was an Iowa State student. Our in-depth conversation at dinner included discussing racial issues in the US and Sweden, similarities in systems of gentrification, education, citizenship, what it’s like to be Black and abroad, and just common interests. I am still in able to keep up with both Hallex and Detria via Facebook and Snapchat and I can’t wait to see them again (we are trying to make plans☺)!!!

My two words of advice would be: 1) Always make sure that your passport is up to date because you never know when you may be traveling out of the country on short notice. 2)  Make a list of foods, places, museums, and eateries that you would like to try in another country and see how many you can mark off of your list, the world is ours to explore!

Quick List of My Favorites:

  • Coffee Shop: Wayne’s Coffee
  • Museums: Vasa and Nobel
  • Part of Town: Gamla Stan “Old Town”
  • Bar: The Dubliner
  • Restaurant: Strandbryggan Sea Club
  • Candy Shop: Caramella

~Katrina Overby

 

 


Julie Dash: IU Celebrates The 25th Anniversary of “Daughters of The Dust.”

Julie Dash’s rich filmography explores the spectrum of Black women’s experience across wide swaths of geography and time. The year 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking film Daughters of the Dust, and the Black Film Center/Archive is excited to sponsor a screening of the newly released digital restoration, along with a selection of early short films from her time as part of the UCLA-based Black cinema revolution known today as the L.A. Rebellion.

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In the late 1960s, Black students at the UCLA film school began to explore themes beyond the canon. Dash created her earliest short films then, each of which explores different but intersecting aspects of Black womanhood. Four Women (1975) experiments with music, dance and identity; The Diary of an African Nun (1977) contemplates complexities within spiritual relationships; and Illusions (1982) tells the story of a Black woman who passes for white to pursue a career in 1940s Hollywood.

Daughters of the Dust (1991), the first feature film directed by an African American woman to receive theatrical distribution in the U.S., engrosses the viewer in early 20th-century Gullah life. The film follows three generations of Peazant Family women as they prepare to leave the island their ancestors were brought to as slaves over a century earlier for opportunities up north. The lyrical magic-realist qualities of the film meld with historic truths to create a sense of uncommon understanding.(2K DCP Presentation) Director Julie Dash is scheduled to be present at this screening and all other screening events mentioned in the above poster.

For more information regarding this event series, please visit the IU Cinema website.

This series is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive, The Media School’s cinema and media arts program, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and IU Cinema.


Black Panthers at 50: Anniversary Celebrations in Bloomington and Beyond

In addition to the BFC/A’s Black Panther Film Festival (October 17-October 22, 2016) the Black Panther Party’s 50th anniversary has been commemorated from coast to coast. The Maysles Documentary Center of New York City and the Oakland Museum of California are among two venues that have highlighted The Black Panther Party’s rise to prominence 50 years ago.

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The Maysles Documentary Center of New York City’s 2016 Black Panther Party Film Festival Poster

The Maysles Documentary Center of New York City just concluded its program, 7th Annual Black Panther Party Film Festival—The Black Panthers: Vanguard of a Revolution, which was produced by the Black Panther Commemoration Committee of New York. This program featured two films Freeman Brothers (2015) and Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015). Freeman Brothers highlights the stories of recently departed brothers Ronald and Roland Freeman who were two of the few original members of the Southern California chapter of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1967 and were involved in the shootout on Dec. 8, 1969 involving over 300 LAPD officers and the SWAT team.

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Image of Black Panther Party Member, Elder Ronald Freeman

A groundbreaking film in its own right, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution (2015) is the first feature length documentary to examine the Black Panther Party’s importance to American cultural, political consciousness, and take a critical look at Party’s shortcomings. Through the layering of archival footage and interviews with individuals who witnessed the different phases of the Black Panther Party, filmmaker Stanley Nelson creates a compelling narrative that showcases one of America’s most defining social, political, and historical moments. A Post-screening Q&A with producer Laurens Grant and original members of the Black Panther Party followed the screening.

The Oakland Museum of California (the city that boasts the title of the Black Panther Party’s birthplace) debuted its Black Panther Party exhibit in early October, 2016.

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The exhibit, which will be on display until February, 2017 takes a multimedia approach to its curation.

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Image of Emory Douglas iconic Black Panther Party artwork

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Original draft of Black Panther Party’s Ten-Point Program

Through the showcasing of a combination of historical artifacts, rare photographs, first-person accounts from former Panthers, scholars, and community members, film screenings and a contemporary art show, the exhibit serves to further evidence the Party’s cultural, artistic, and political influences, which transcend the limits of geography and time.

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Literature of and about the Black Panther Party

 

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The Traumanauts (2007) by David Huffman

To take part in the local commemoration of the Black Panther Party’s 50th Anniversary, please consider attending screenings of The Black Power Mixtape 1967–1975 / Mayday at the Indiana University Cinema, which will take place on Saturday 0ctober 22, at 7 PM.

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Still from The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

 

 


An Interview with African Film Festival Founder Mahen Bonetti

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Mahen Bonetti, Founder & Executive Director of African Film Festival Inc.

In the early 90’s, Mahen Bonetti, the Sierra Leone-born founder and executive director of the New York-based African Film Festival Inc., created both the African Film Festival and its traveling series counterpart.  For the last two decades, the Festival has enjoyed immense success and garnered respect from the world of film festivals and and their audiences for its carefully curated selection of films created by filmmakers from every corner of the African diaspora. A few days ago, Yalie Kamara of the Black Film Center/Archive had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Bonetti about the 23rd and 20th respective anniversaries of the African Film Festival and African Film Festival traveling series (the latter makes a stop at Indiana University Cinema and the BFC/A this week), her thoughts on African Cinema, her vision, and what she believes the future holds for African cinema and its international audience.

Yalie Kamara: What makes you the most excited about arriving at the 20th year of the traveling series?

Mahen Bonetti: I would say the fact that the production has increased you know; we will never run out of stories. And that there is a growing audience and also the fact the people on the continent are getting to see these images, they partake in the conversation so that makes me feel good about our mission and goals…that if we do not complete anything else, that this is taking place. And this is where tech is so much more resourceful and practical for people from the global south. We think about utilizing this technology. I get off subway here and no one is thinking about how to get to Point A to Point B, someone has to look up…well anyways that’s another story, let me not digress. [laughs]

Y: In keeping with that theme, in looking at the last twenty years of these films, what has been the most surprising thing about the way that African Cinema has changed?

M: I think the experimental genre and the fact that you have…for example in this year’s festival, we had a combination of shorts, feature films and the different genres documentary, fiction and the long and short format and the experimental format. And the thing is…in total we had 54 films and half of those were made by women. I mean, you go to Cannes, and there may be two women in the whole program, and this is what we overlook, sometimes, you know. They talk about whenever we speak about Africa and even we as African people have, you know, belief in this hype! When out of 54 half are made by women, that’s huge!

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Faaji Agba (2015) by Remi Vaughan Richards

Additionally, these films are no longer just representing a narrative coming out of a colonial Francophone country or colonial Anglophone [country], there’s a mashup. You even have the Portuguese-speaking African kids. And there’s this caravan that is traveling around the continent, I’m almost envious. Like I hope I find someone quickly to take care of this [festival] so I want to join these young people, artists traveling from country to country. I hear it all the time, like “Where are you? We don’t see you anymore!” And the thing is, Yalie, I cannot also accept invitations because I know about our time, and when the moment comes for our major festival and our major flagship program, our time is so limited. I want to maintain a quality, so my first obligation is to filmmakers, as many as I can bring. And then if I have that extra infusion of cash, then I’m going to write a producer or programmer.

Outside of their country, the French have the largest number of speakers on the continent of Africa and they are supporting a lot of these initiatives, even in Francophone countries. And now the Germans are also doing it. So now you have these manifestations have that support of governmental institutions, European Union. I don’t have that. When they say “where are you?” I feel like sometimes “just accept it,” but I think that’s wrong and I know I have been invited with the expectation that I reciprocate, you know. So that being said, this is what makes me excited. That the conversation is not only taking place in this isolated space, you know.  There’s an incubator that exists on the continent and in the diaspora. And there’s this…coming back to the technology to social media to, you know, blogs, these kids are communicating amongst themselves. They’re the adults in the room.  Half the time, they know more about what is going on in the country than the president, who is busy stealing. That’s all they know how they do, you know? Anyways.  I hope I answered your questions. [laughs]

Y: You definitely did. What have been some of your favorite moments from the traveling series or from the African Film Festival. Feel free to answer whichever you want. I just want to capture the excitement.

M: I think the excitement is that we are considered a niche festival, but that the fact that we’ve built under this label of niche, there’s been a trust, a loyalty that over the years you know and people know where to come. So in a way, it galvanizes our community. That makes me excited. And it’s not a matter of scale because that community is international and it’s also regional, it’s also local, it’s also grassroots. But there is a community of like-minded people. And it’s huge. It’s the subculture where everyone goes to poach and not only for film. You know I was reading an article in the New Yorker about Hood By Air, I don’t know if you know this label.  They really — how do you say — brought high-end stree twear to the mainstream.

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Hood by Air’s Spring, 2016 Collection

Hood By Air was founded by a Trinidadian kid who brought on an Afro-Dominican kid. I mean they’re the most successful beyond…what would you call it…..I’m sorry, my daughter tells me all these names…well anyways, what he said was “I noticed everyone was poaching our ideas but we don’t get the big investor and what they do is…” the way that  he described it was excellent. He said “It’s like, I like how you look, but I don’t know how to approach you, so I’m going to put a bit of me in you, so I can control it.” Do you understand what I’m saying? So he says “I make tee shirts that are really, really, just in your face and then I see then the guy at one of those big couture labels doing it.” Next time they turn around, their tee shirts have been modified!

And it’s exactly that… so I feel that the fact that we have this audience…I think this has been is what keeps us relevant and this is, in a way, why the AFF is the envy of a lot of these major institutions: we are not a dying audience. You should see all these young kids coming around. And I see my grey hair and I’m like “Oh my God, I’m the Pied Piper!” And it’s just fantastic and that is also what keeps me going…

So these communities, they’re mushrooming they’re huge, you know? Like in Toronto, the city-to-city spotlight is Lagos this year. Who would imagine? A few years go, everyone was snubbing their nose.

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Featured at 2016’s Toronto International Film Festival: Green White Green (2016) by Abba Makama

But I always knew that Nollywood would evolve. You will always have that telling of the traditional Nollywood story that appeals to a lot of people, but each generation is going to come around and raise the bar even higher…production, structure, storytelling, you know? And an alternative Nollywood will have different genres within Nollywood, so Toronto International Film Festival, their city-to-city-spotlight this year is Lagos. We’re generating new audiences all the time and then there’s the material. And for me, when the story resonates, production quality is secondary, because the story can hook anyone.  Whether they’re in China, whether in Burma, whether in Burundi, the story is universal. As a poet you understand. So you connect to a character. You know that sound, you know that intonation. You can almost smell the space.

Y: When you’re looking for or thinking of different film submissions that you encounter, in addition to narrative heft, what are some of the other qualities that make a good fit for the African Film Festival?

M: For me. I mean first of all, I’m not a filmmaker. I’m not an academic. I was just desperate in the late 80’s to do something. [laughs] I was like “I want to hear my voice in this. Everyone is talking like maybe these are realities, but there’s another perspective here you know? Come on! Our continent is not sinking. We’re not all infected with AIDS. We’re not all swinging from trees! What’s wrong with these people?”  So for me first of all, each year, I look at a theme. It could be something historic, contemporary, current, because when you’re building a program, you’re also telling a story. So the entire program is like a circle. Each film connects to the next film. It’s like a continuation of the story.  Or going back to revisit the story or moving forward, or being in the present time of the story.  Does that make sense? So if one person comes and there’s one film they get, they look at the theme, International Decade of People of African Descent, Modern Days, Ancient Nights: 50 Years of African Filmmaking, Digital Africa. If there’s one film they see, it ties into that theme. Because you are also telling a story, because you are making it structurally like the rhythm.  We are all in that rhythm, you know?

Y: After seeing many films over the years, are there still specific representations of Africa/ African countries or themes that are yet to be addressed that you’re hoping to see emerge in the future of filmmaking?

M: One thing that I like right now is the documentary genre. I think it’s the most powerful right now. It’s very exciting and it’s a lot of women who are using this format. But they really take no prisoners on top of it. And they’re telling the story like no one else.  Like Sembène would be proud, wherever he is in that other world, you know? And then there’s docudrama genre, also, so that’s one exciting thing. I mean we’re slowly coaxing filmmaking at our own pace. And I know that, I’m just so excited, because I’m learning also! I’m learning about myself. That’s why I even started it. I wanted to know myself. I wanted to love myself, meaning I wanted to love Blackness. I wanted to love Black people. Because no matter what we think, colonialism and slavery have done such a job on our psyche, you know what I mean? Like who validates who? I wanted to be the one to validate myself. And not using someone else’s cultural references or standards to decide how beautiful I was, how smart I was, how well I spoke something, you know what I mean?  So for me, it was all about reclaiming, reappropriation.

In Sierra Leone, generally your traditional education guides you, even if you don’t have the formal education, but during the civil war, all that was shattered. All the infrastructures were broken…so this is what’s exciting in Africa right now: these kids are re-inventing what it is to be Black, to be African, and to live on the continent. They’re using their imagination and they’re kind of wild! They are like the Black Lives Matter kids. And that actually started on the continent. Even though we don’t label things, a lot of things started on the continent. Feminism started on the continent. Like the mother selling oranges and peanuts. Her bank is the knot in her lapa [wrap around skirt] and then she educated five children. That’s feminism. We don’t label things, you know what I mean? Like the Black Lives Matter. That movement started and then it comes back somehow and is labeled Négritude, even when that starts in the diaspora, its intersection of Black people of African descent meeting. That’s how these labels are created. That is why I wanted to have that conversation. We welcome everyone because that is also Africa’s nature. We are a people of humanity. Even when we are killing each other. You know we’ll go and cry and put kola nut offering for the one we killed.

I told someone the other day that we [Africans] are beautiful even when we…I told someone a story about the last day of  one of my trips to Sierra Leone. One of the people with me had gotten their sneakers stolen. And after the fact even the thief was coming to us asking if we’d found the sneakers and acting like he was helping to look for the sneakers, even though he knew he took them! We have a sense of community and there’s a lot of drama! It’s poetry in motion.

I feel we’re coaxing the stories, we’re doing it at our own pace. There’s so much yet to be told and I’m waiting for the story where we can openly talk about…I mean even though we do, and I think your generation is doing that, it’s like who created these languages and barriers within Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone? Who decided? Because this ties to tribalism.

I was thinking of the young kids who we did this program we did with young people in Sierra Leone where you bring a Temne and Mende together and talk about their differences. You know how did that happen?

sierra_leone_political_map-1

Map of Sierra Leone

 

Wars always happen. But then we live together.

I’m doing this work to be self-critical and to also celebrate our achievements.

At times, I get confronted by our own people like “Why are you doing that? Why are you airing our dirty laundry?” and my response is, “Airing dirty laundry to who? Check yourself!” It’s like saying “This person is beautiful because they have this color hair or this color skin,” You need to check yourself!

Y: Beyond bringing the festival to college spaces and giving libraries an opportunity to acquire films that elicit more robust representations of Africa, what are the other benefits of having a traveling series?

M: Oh the filmmaker! Absolutely! You’re introducing someone’s work. Look at over the years, Jean-Marie Teno, even Tunde Kelani, coming to your school or Sissako Abderrahmane coming to these universities or cultural centers that means you have to buy a copy of their work, and then they get invited to be artist-in-residence and do workshops, so definitely you’re also observing and a part of the trajectory of the artist. You grow with them. You’re part of the conversation of their story.

dvd-afrique-je-te-plumerai-jean-marie-teno

Afrique, je te plumerai…. (1992) by Jean-Marie Teno

It’s twofold—you have audience development and make it more accessible for a wider audience. We do outdoor screenings….I’ve been told films that we show shouldn’t be older than two years, but that’s so nonsensical that it’s not even funny. How do you weave the story if it can’t be more than two years old? There are some films that were done in early African cinema that are not even dated and they’re still some of the best films you’ve ever seen in your life, and it’s still part of the story; it’s contemporary life or futuristic life or whatever.

And it’s not only the audience development and making it accessible, but also the filmmakers, the artists who are like modern day griots who are giving us this face and voice. I want to give them that pedestal because they are doing a great, great, great service for us under very, very challenging conditions half the time.

Y: Do you have a message that you’d like to leave us with?

M: I’m really proud of our young, our millennials. The African diaspora millennials, who are soaking in these stories, who are engaging in conversation and who are taking action, because it’s about activism. Every change happens usually through the young. Through activism. They’re the ones that are the agents for change, i.e. what we’re seeing right now, what’s happening here. People do not realize that it’s not just  Black Lives Matter here, it’s happening all throughout the world. And even on the other extreme side these who are voting for Donald Trump, you have to also big enough to see and put yourself in someone else’s shoes, whether you agree with them or not. And that is part of your growth and your development. Part of humanity.

I think it feels like you’re on shaky ground, but at the same time, it’s the end of the era that cannot exist anymore. Something new has to happen. It’s like the force of nature. People don’t realize planting your feet on the living earth that is leaning too much on one side. It’s like equilibrium. We’re on shaky ground because the equilibrium is off. The plates of the world are off. And that is what is creating all of this pandemonium. And a lot of mad people. It affects people. It really does. I’m seeing that more and more in New York.

I feel as scary as it is, something new has to come out. It’s the browning of the world. You know, what constitutes White and Black, we’re becoming extinct, let’s face it. Latinos are going to be American, and Arabs are going to be European, okay? Look at the Great British Bakeoff. Did you see that?! The British tradition, the great British bake sale.  She had on a scarf. You’ve heard her first. She had this big Cockney accent! She had 300,000 Twitter followers and then you see the girl! She’s got on a scarf, she’s a Muslim kid! And she baked the hell out of the English! She got number one!


The 20th African Film Festival traveling series begins at Indiana University tonight, Sept. 12, 7pm, with Dare Fasasi’s HEAD GONE at the IU Cinema, and continues from Sept. 13-15 at the Black Film Center/Archive. 

The 20th African Film Festival Traveling Series is sponsored by IU Libraries Media Services, Black Film Center/Archive, the African Studies program, The Media School’s cinema and media arts program, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Comparative Literature, and the IU Cinema. Special thanks are due to Monique Threatt of the IUB Libraries Media Services and Alimah Boyd of the African Film Festival, Inc.