Capital City Black Film Festival Grows by Leaps and Bounds
Four-day event showcases African-American experiences in cinema
With scorching triple-digit heat indexes finally broken by torrential rains, further relief arrives with the start of festival season. Coming back with a fourth edition of the still-evolving Capital City Black Film Festival, organizers are going even bigger. The growing four-day event was built by African-American filmmakers and enthusiasts to showcase black experiences within cinema, with this year's multifaceted convergence centering on distribution and concentration of black dollars for film, connecting with the African continent, and aesthetics.
"This year's opening night theme is 'Film & Fashion.' We will be taking a look at iconic black films that had wonderful costumes and fashions for its era," explains festival director Winston G. Williams. Carmen Jones, the iconic 1954 adaptation of the Broadway musical starring Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte, was chosen as the festival's opening film.
The panel guest list has taken on an upgrade in terms of depth. The rundown includes Peabody and Emmy-winning director Laurens Grant (Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement); managing editor of BroadwayBlack.com and #OscarsSoWhite creator April Reign; Gil Robertson IV, president and co-founder of the African-American Film Critics Association; and Candice Wilson, the acquisitions and development director for Codeblack Films.
Another notable name is actor/producer Miguel Núñez Jr., of Juwanna Mann. In his transition to film producer – acquiring a distribution deal with Lionsgate Films along the way – Núñez will touch on the finer points of distribution in this rapidly evolving age of production, that now includes Netflix pushing TV and film forward. The Tour of Duty and Black Dynamite actor has some interesting thoughts on race, social media, and filmmaking.
"One of the things the head of Lionsgate told me was, 'We want you to package films with stars or people with massive social media followings,'" explains Núñez. "They don't even care if you've got a star in your movie anymore – if you've got people with huge social media followings, they want you to cast those people. They don't care about black or white. If it translates into dollars, they're going to make the movie. There's so many different black films coming out. They're always ending up being successful at the box office."
Williams and his team were keen on including films from Nigeria's long-thriving industry, colloquially known as Nollywood, starting what they hope will begin a pipeline into the robust film market of continental Africa. "We've partnered with Austin-based Texas Blue Mountain Media, which is owned by a Nigerian filmmaker, Evans Igiehon-Osifo, to bring competitive Nigerian films," says Williams. There will be six Nigerian films in the competitive portion of the festival. Filmmaker Lancelot Oduwa Imasuen is coming, and will premiere his latest film, romantic comedy ATM (Authentic Tentative Marriage).
Using the "get'er done" mantra and philosophy, the makers of Jerico – a whip-smart surrealist satire drawing rave reviews – fit the festival's bill to a T. Director/wife Seckeita Lewis and writer/actor/husband Brandon Lewis have been creating material since meeting at a Plano Walmart, where Brandon was selling TVs while doing stand-up on the side.
Jerico is the oversized extension of one of the three characters Lewis plays in the film. "I did a voice on the Rickey Smiley Morning Show. A character I created called Dale Stevens. I created the voice when I was living in Albany, Georgia," says Lewis. "Eventually, Rickey got wind of it, and he said, 'Man, I need you to come down to my show, I want you to do that on my show. I left my job, my career, and came to Texas and went on Rickey's show doing radio bits."
Initially building the film around the Stevens character – a white hillbilly with a "love for black women and all things black" – Jerico eventually became a buddy film about two friends from Jim Crow-era Mississippi, which manages to tightrope an intriguing mix of humor in the vein of Luis Buñuel – if he were born late enough to cast Eddie Murphy – with the life-or-death rawness of those racially explosive times.
"We love movies like Fruitvale Station. We loved 12 Years a Slave. Those are great films, highly impactful, and they're meaningful for the time period that they were developed for. When I sat in that theatre after 12 Years a Slave and Fruitvale Station, we were glued to the seats long after the movie had ended, because we were just so shell-shocked," explains Lewis. "We were angry, we were upset, we wanted to hurt somebody, and I said, 'You know what? I don't want to do that with Jerico.' I think there is a place for a Civil Rights film that can bring people together through laughter."
However, they clearly did not make the film to assuage the viewer. "There's some harsh things in the movie. The N-word – we use it constantly, because we want to make people cringe, to make you uncomfortable. Then, right when you're about to say, 'I just can't deal with it,' you get a laugh. We wanted to do that to balance it out, so that it was easier to absorb for the audience."
Another notable film is in the feature documentaries category. Out of Bounds: Sports in the Inner City delves into the choices and potential peril athletes must deal with as they attempt to use sports as a way out of the inner city. Directed by Noube Rateau and William Medero, the film harnesses various perspectives, ranging from the athletes themselves to ESPN talking heads such as Stephen A. Smith, Jackie MacMullan, and Robert "Scoop" Jackson.
As a lover of film and his city, Williams is clearly in it for the long run, fortifying what he hopes will become an institutional staple for future auteurs of color from far and wide. "Long-term, I want the festival to be a must for films by and about black people. We want the world to recognize our brand, and give clout to the filmmaker who has our laurel or crest affixed to their film," says Williams.
"We've already experienced exponential growth from inception, and I want that to continue to be a problem for us. Most of all, we want to be that festival that actually connects with the filmmakers, and provide resources and assistance to get them to that destination they have identified as their dream."
The Capital City Black Film Festival runs Thu., Aug. 25, through Sun., Aug. 28, at the Austin Convention Center. To purchase event tickets and passes, and for a complete schedule, visit www.capcitybff.com.