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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Black Film Festivals And Ish...

First the ish....

I went to see The Hulk yesterday, and can I say "WOW"? I don't care what some people say, that movie was crazy entertaining! The most beautiful and completely loud smash, crash, and kill mayhem to date. For my longtime readers, as you know, I am not a blockbuster type of gal, so this is unusual for me to love such a huge movie. But then again, Ed Norton is not a blockbuster type of guy, so maybe that was key; the fact that it was him and not the bland ass vanilla type we've been seeing so much of lately. And maybe it was the fact that I used to be a mini-Hulk myself---Madame Invisible used to have a legendary temper, just like my fellow bloggers BygBaby and Slausin' Azz Slaus (who actually had to go to anger management, and luckily I bypassed). But like Ed Norton in the movie, I try to live most of my life now in a peaceful Zen state...but even now, if you push me too far.... "HULK SMASH!" haha

I also saw Fela Kuti's son Seun in LA last night. For those of you who don't know, Fela was a mixture of a Miles Davis/Sly Stone from Nigeria, known all over the world. He passed in the 90's, and 2 of his sons carry on his legacy. Seun is one, and he tours with his father's original band, The Egypt 80. The band and the background singers were tight as hell! Horns reminiscent of The Ohio Players, EW &F, and Parliament at their finest. Seun is an entertainer, but what caught my attention more was the fact that Mr. Kuti looked like he'd been raiding his father's 70's closet. He had on a bright polyester floral shirt unbuttoned down to his navel, and the tightest white Angel Flight pants one could ever witness in their life. I haven't seen anything like it since "Saturday Night Fever". Tho admittedly, but the end of the show, he was half-naked, which seems to be some sort of trademark of his.

But I digress....on to a brief discussion on Black Film Festivals, yes?

I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, and I don't want to offend anyone who reads this blog and is associated with said festivals, but we seriously need to step up our game. Seriously, if we are to garner any respect, we've got to get it together!

I know I said a couple of weeks ago that I would dispatch from the Hollywood Black Film Festival, but guess what? There wasn't any part of the program I was excited about. Their site is not user friendly, I couldn't get a decent synopsis of the films, and on the Monday before the festival, the still hadn't posted what would be the closing night film. WTH? Many non-black festivals have that planned a few months in advance. Film festivals are supposed to give exposure to little or non known films. If you see a long list of films, with absolutely no information about them at all, what will be the percentage of your motivation in seeing them? If you're like me, that would be hovering around zero. Which is the main reason I didn't go. Not to mention it was a logistical nightmare--it was held in Beverly Hills, where there is no place to park (unless you pay a grip), the tickets were not sold online and not convenient to buy, and there was no real place for folks to gather. Hopefully, they are thinking of new venues for next year. And oh, you might be in trouble when your most publicized attendees are Ice-T and Coco, I'm just sayin'.

As far as the San Francisco Black Film Festival, I have to admit they have stepped up their game (as far as I can see, but I did not go there either). The website is crisp, interactive, and professional, and they have expanded it to 10 days and several venues, with a rich and diverse program. My issues are 1) Why is one week planned the same week as the Hollywood Black Film Fest? We are already struggling in this medium, let's support each other if we can, and not compete (tho I know this isn't a focal point for the organizers) and 2) Publicity outside of the San Francisco Bay Area is severely lacking. Many non-black film festivals are well known across the country, and the SFBFF has been around long enough to be making some noise when it happens. But it doesn't, and that's a shame.

Not to big up the Los Angeles Film Festival (which *sigh* I am attending a bit, sorry my peoples), but this is where we need to be. Tons of publicity, volunteers, and organization, and an amazing list of films, categorized and cross referenced almost to death. Free swag in their ticket office (which you could also buy online). Easily accessible venues, all within a couple blocks of each other. Minimal competing times with other films, so you can actually see 5 quality films in a day. Repeats on most films, in case you missed it. A huge diversity of films from everywhere, and the World Premiers of "Wanted" and "Hellboy 2" which, btw, is directed by the dude that did Pan's Labyrinth. They also had a free talk with, him. as well as Common (?!) and others on several days. They are also honoring Melvin Van Peebles and showcased his new film. One idea they came up with, that I thought was terrific, is that they have free screenings of classic films. And films that I love--to wit: Pulp Fiction, The Lost Boys, Bye Bye Birdie, Scarface, Shadows (a film by the late John Cassavetes about interracial relationships made in the late 50's), and one of my very favorites Nothing But A Man, that I wrote about HERE.

We have so many lost treasures, and beautiful, classic films. Why are they not shown at our festivals? Don't get me wrong--the subject of Black film fests has come up a number of times here, and I always advocate, but now I call on my contemporaries to elevate, and elevate hard! Network, get out of your cliques, and expand your horizons! Let others in that will help, and possibly give you some ideas and some exposure. Why am I always contacted by publicists, film, music, and production companies, and never by Black Film Fests? (The wonderful Spaghetti Junction and Reel Black excluded). That should be the first step right there--getting to the Black Blog Afrosphere...step it up people! I know I may sound a bit harsh, but I want to see us shine like other film fests...our current system is not working, and many more people should have exposure to all of the wonderful films that are barely being seen.....I don't want to hear about funding--it's about creativity, reaching out to everyone, initiative and motivation!


Villager said...

Stop hatin' on Coco! She is a 'talented actress'! (smile)...

Qadree said...

Sergio could probably address this better than I can, but from what I've seen the problem comes from the fact that the best films go for the best festivals first. How do you grow a festival if you can't get the good films? It's going to cost a filmmaker money to show their film in a festival so they have to think about what they are going to get out of it.

Many people don't realize that sales agents have a great deal of influence at the top tier festivals. Because of these relationships the top tier festivals can guarantee more exposure and a higher level of quality for the filmmaker. The majority of the films at the black film festivals have been rejected by the top tier so you end up with a festival that can't attract potential buyers and this offers very little incentive for a filmmaker who has investors to pay back.

Basically, the black festivals end up attracting films that often can't get, or already have distribution. This is not always the case though, here is a quote from Barbara Allen:

This has been an enlightening trip-politically, professionally and personally. I'm amazed at how well our film was received at the Cannes Film Festival, but rejected by the American Black Film Fest & the Pan-African Film Fest. What is going on--who am I making these films for?

That quote is from the site, she directed a film called "Morning Due" that was at Cannes this year.

I used to hear a lot of people say that a black filmmaker had to go to European festivals first in order to be respected in America. It was generally believed that Americans would never accept you as an artist unless the Europeans told them to, but I don't know if that sentiment is as strong as it used to be.

The Obenson Report said...

My experience with Black Film Festivals has been rather disappointing and has dissuaded me from bothering with many of them ever again. I could write volumes on this subject. I've been to most of them over the last 7 years or so (there are some that I still need to attend), and I've talked to a few of their organizers to come up with enough of a picture to go on. As Qadree said, the best films (regardless of who made them) will go to the top tier film festivals. Almost every filmmaker's end goal is to nab that ever-elusive distribution deal, and only a handful of festivals attract reputable distribution companies. So, you're unlikely to see a film like Medicine for Melancholy at the American Black Film Festival, or the Hollywood Black Film Festival. Neither festival carries much weight within the industry. They're usually all packaged in glitz and glam, with very little genuine substance underneath.
The ABFF has moved its location twice - from Acapulco to Miami and now they're in L.A. - hoping that being within closer proximity to the studios will be somehow beneficial to them. I doubt it. Until the caliber of films screening at the festival improves, all the location changes in the world won't matter.

And to address Qadree's last paragraph - in my experience, black filmmakers with films that get into any of the top tier festivals, whether European or American, or whatever, will usually get into the black film festivals. It's almost as if they need validation from the "Sundances," "Cannes" and "Torontos" of the film festival universe. I think Barbara Allen's "misfortune" (if you can even call it that) is that the ABFF and Pan-African fests occurred BEFORE the Cannes film festival - the ABFF was late last year and Pan-African was in February, while Cannes was in May. If her film got into Cannes BEFORE the other 2 (maybe last year's Cannes), I'm almost certain that they would have accepted the film, thanks to the Cannes validation.

Given the kinds of films that I've seen at festivals like the ABFF, I'd say that there's definitely a desire to mimic some commercial standard. The films that get in tend to be rather empty, frivolous and meant to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. Rarely have I seen anything truly challenging. The thinking seems to be that these are the kinds of films that will attract distributors - cheap, easy sells for the supposed "unsophisticated" black audience. All one has to consider are the kinds of "black films" that the studios produce. Most tend to fall under that umbrella, so it makes sense that some of the black film festivals take that fact into serious consideration when screening films to showcase at their individual festivals. They've got to make money, so they're going to go where they think the money will be.

The African Diaspora film festival is one of the few that I've been to that I can recommend. Reinaldo Spech who runs the festival with his wife, has been doing it for 15 or so years, and every year, they feature a solid group of films from all across the Diaspora, not just black American talent (and maybe that's the difference - they're all-inclusive. Black cinema doesn't only exist in America). They aren't a big festival, on par with the biggies of the world, but the respect afforded them is palpable. The turnout is often unimpressive despite their aggressive marketing (here in NYC anyway), but that's another conversation for another time.

I think there are too many festivals already - not just black film festivals. But I'd say that there are definitely too many black film festivals, given that there isn't much content to go around. I had a conversation with a few festival reps a couple of years ago about possibly merging with other black film festivals to reduce the clutter and increase the caliber of content. I even suggested maybe even considering consolidating with Latino film festivals, or certain Asian film festivals... but there was absolutely no interest. Everyone was content as they were, even though progress wasn't evident.

Like I said, I could write volumes :o) Maybe I'll write up something, detailing my thoughts and experiences, and post on my blog.

The Cocoa Lounge said...

This is a great post that I hope a few Black film festival organizers stumble upon.

I agree with all that has been said and have practically given up on festivals in LA, because they're too big, equally unorganized and honestly, not worth the trouble. It's as if some festivals (who will remain nameless to protect the guilty, hehe) accept every film submission without even watching the screener DVDs, in an effort to fill their schedules.

A good deal of films are usually missed because highly publicized panels are occurring at the same time as screenings and audiences are forced to choose which to attend. Festival resources are usually low, which makes me wonder why they don't downsize the festivals to maximize quality...?

I have to say, though, that I've been really impressed with the Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center's work and agree that the Los Angeles Film Festival has the festival market on lock. Good lord those folks know how to put on a show! If I were an LA organizer, I'd definitely be taking notes but several of our festivals have been running for decades(!) and the organizers still haven't gotten a clue...And that makes me sad.

Bygbaby said...

Hell no on Seun. I ma mos def doing a post on his Detroit set.