The Pan-African film festival has been a staple in the Atlanta scene for nearly two decades now, drawing countless fans of independent black films each year to local theaters as a part of the larger National Black Arts Festival. But this year, for the first time in 15 years, PAFF ventured out on its own and started out its inaugural year as a standalone film festival with a bang, bringing in critically acclaimed films like the African and Native American love story "From Above," starring Danny Glover, as well as the hip-hop documentary "Til Infinity: The Souls of Mischief," about hip-hop group Souls of Mischief's landmark 1993 album 93 Till Infinity.
Of course, no film festival happens without community partners and this year PAFF welcomed 50 Shades of BLACK as a community partner and invited them to host the opening day of the festival. And the opening day was nothing short of remarkable as hundreds of Atlantans flooded the Plaza Theater in Midtown Atlanta to see what PAFF had to bring to town this year.
And what they had to bring was an amazing set of films for fans to enjoy. Charlie Cattrall's award-winning "Titus," about a troubled and displaced black Jazz player and his relationship with his estranged daughter, burrowed deep into the mind with it's moody, haunting and beautifully shot black-and-white scenes and stunning Jazz score, while Hemamset Angaza's documentary "In Our Heads About Our Hair" literally took viewers into the minds and scalps of others as it explored the notion of "good" versus "bad" hair in the African American community.
The festival also packed indie film heavy hitters, like "From Above," a Romeo & Juliet-syle love story starring Glover as an African American man named William retelling his sordid love story with a Native American woman, Venus, from the mythical lightning tribe. As 50 Shades of BLACK creator Carlton Mackey explained, seeing tales like "From Above" from director Norry Niven showcased a whole new range of stories about people of color.
"You might see all kinds of love stories, but it's rare in Hollywood that you see major motion picture of a love story between an African American and a Native American," said Mackey.
But it wasn't just the films that made the festival experience enriching. Undoubtedly, the heart of the film festival was the films themselves, but the life blood of the festival was certainly the fans and the Q&A discussions, hosted by Mackey and 50 Shades of BLACK co-director Ross Oscar Knight, that happened after each film.
And if the fans were the life blood of the festival, then certainly the veins and arteries were the theater hallways as filmgoers hustled through them, mixing and mingling with each other as they carried the messages and conversations from the films and the Q&As into their own circles.
Just standing and watching the crowds, you could see filmgoers breathing continued life from the films and their Q&As into these much-needed community conversations that covered everything from expressions of black art and music, interracial love, the black communities grossly overlooked roots with the Native American community, as well as our issues with our own hair roots and our struggle to embrace all hairstyles, whether it be natural or not.
"I think the films provided a catalyst for specific conversations to be had. I think the table itself and our presence lended, on some level, a conversation around issues surrounding black identity. Whenever we left out of a particular screening, that generic conversation took a particular shape and people walking up and down the halls were able to witness conversations formed by the films.
Certainly though, a highlight of the festival was not only the conversations between the fans, but also the conversation between Glover and the audience who attended the screening of his second film of the day, the critically-acclaimed "Supremacy," which tells the real-life story of a cop-killing white supremacist and his unstable "girlfriend" as they take a black family hostage just hours after he kills a black cop after his prison release. The film also stars Lela Rochon, Derek Luke and Evan Ross.
While chatting with fans about the racially-charged drama and it's surprising themes of redemption and finding the humanity in even the most hateful of people, Glover discussed film festivals such as PAFF and the responsibility of black actors and filmmakers to tell stories that not only uplift our community, but spark transformative dialogue amongst all people.
"For us to talk about whatever we say about what black artists should do or should not not, I'm not into any kind of asessment in determining that. I know that the bottom line is how do we discover the kind of relationship, the transformative relationships that are necessary for us to survive as human beings? How does art play a role in that?" Glover asked. "Those are the kinds of things I think about in terms of art, whether it's black, whether it's green, whether it's yellow or whatever it is."
If art can be that transformative, then certainly PAFF has been a hotbed for change, or at least the place to take the seeds of transformation.
And for those looking to get a taste of PAFF and those great community conversations, the festival is still ongoing and concludes on Sunday, August 10, with a special presentation of the highly-acclaimed British drama, Belle, which tells the real-life story of Dido Elizabeth Bele, the biracial daughter of a Royal Navy Admiral, as well as a pre-screening reception with director Amma Asante and lead actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
And fans who can't make the film can still get their PAFF fix because 50 Shades of BLACK will be posting exclusive interviews with Danny Glover and Amma Asante in the coming days.
For more information on the Pan-African Film Festival check out there official site www.paff.org.
Freelance Journalist, storyteller and blogger for 50 Shades of BLACK
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