As Austin gets dragged into the dog days of summer, it can be a difficult time for cinema fans. August can be a bit of a movie wasteland, as studios tend to dump their summer film also-rans. And with aGLIFF and Fantastic Fest still a month out, is there any reason to leave the comfort of the couch and venture out into the triple-digit heat in search of fresh and interesting cinema? An oasis has appeared this weekend, in the form of the Capital City Black Film Festival. Now in its third year, this fest is dedicated to films created by African-American filmmakers and films that concern the diversity of the black experience. As the fest expands, it has come to embrace filmmaking talent from all backgrounds, but the emphasis remains on the black community. And if there were any worries that another film festival in a town with, well, a lot of film festivals was a gamble, Executive Director and co-founder Winston G. Williams puts that worry aside. He said, "I was concerned ... but felt like the market for CCBFF was underserved. Austin has opened up to the festival in an unbelievable way, and the concern has dissipated quickly."
A competitive fest to be sure, with features, shorts, and docs vying for awards, this year's lineup also includes more noncompetitive films, including a screening of Austin filmmaker Ericka Marsalis-LaManna's The Bag Lady, an inspiring story of an ex-con in search of redemption, plus the red-carpet world premiere of Blackhats, a thriller about a bounty hunter who must track down a group of hackers while trying to stop a cyber-attack that could bring ruin to the American economy. Of the many films in competition this year, highlights include Elzbieta Szoka's doc That Daughter's Crazy, which profiles Rain Pryor, daughter of legendary comedian Richard Pryor, who is following in her father's footsteps with her one-woman show on growing up half black/half Jewish while trying to avoid the hazards that afflicted her father. Then there's America Is Still the Place, which recounts the 1971 San Francisco Bay oil spill – in which 800,000 gallons of crude were unleashed on the ocean after two oil tankers collided – through the eyes of Charlie Walker, whose efforts to clean up Stinson Bay are impeded by systemic racism and corruption. If that sounds a bit dry, let's just say that Mike Colter (cast as Luke Cage in the upcoming Marvel/Netflix TV series) oozes charisma, and the film leans more toward tall tale than clinical indictment.
But while the films may be the spotlight of the fest, Williams seeks to educate the next generation of filmmakers by, in his words, "expanding the youth component. This year, there is a daylong workshop for youth where they learn how to make a film, as well as screening films made by other youths." That, coupled with panels on subjects ranging from what the definition of a "black film" is to hosting ex-drug lord turned activist "Freeway" Rick Ross in a discussion about his drug empire and his relationship with the Iran-Contra cocaine trafficking (as seen in the doc Freeway: Crack in the System, which screens as well) should make for an eye-opening learning experience.
But perhaps the feather in the cap of this year's fest is Williams' longstanding dream to screen the 1943 classic Cabin in the Sky, starring Ethel Waters and Lena Horne. That's part of the opening night extravaganza. As Williams explains, "We have partnered with the Austin History Center to go back in time and pay homage to black Austinites in film. The theme is 'Harlem Lights,' named for the Harlem Theatre that opened in 1935 in East Austin." More than just a screening, Williams promises a "wonderful historical and pictorial presentation which simultaneously infuses live narration, singing, dancing, and live music." So, whether you're out to cut a rug or just take in some films you might never see otherwise, CCBFF will keep you cool.
The Capital City Black Film Festival will take place Aug. 13-15 at the Palmer Events Center (900 Barton Springs Rd.) and the Brass House Jazz Club (115 San Jacinto). Full festival passes, $149; individual events, $10-50. For a full schedule and to buy tickets and passes, go to www.capcitybff.com.
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