Focusing on Mental Health at the Capital City Black Film Festival

The online version of the fest becomes a celebration of healing


The Pandemic Chronicles

It's been a year of changes for everyone, but the team behind this year's Capital City Black Film Festival have kept to the plan for this weekend's 2020 virtual edition. Executive Director Winston G. Williams explained, "Before the pandemic, before George Floyd, I had made it a personal mission to focus on mental health."

The decision was truly personal. Williams first started going to counseling after he published his autobiography in 2005, but two years ago he realized he was facing new issues. He said, "I was experiencing a measure of success behind the film festival and I knew I couldn't handle it because it was coming so fast." He engaged a counselor to help him work through those issues, and that was pivotal for the continued existence of CCBFF. He said, "I would not have been able to continue this thing in my previous state, but through counseling I have learned that we have access to so much power in ourselves." So not only has he been able to keep the festival going, but he's relaunched his publishing company, re-released his own first book, and is currently working on a second. However, that wasn't all that counseling brought him: "I realized, 'Oh my gosh, how many other people in the arts are dealing with the same thing?'"

Now, he wants to use the festival to highlight mental health issues and the importance of self care and counseling, especially in the Black and creative communities.

It would have been easy for the pandemic to throw those plans off. When the disease first hit the U.S. in March, and festivals like SXSW canceled, Williams initially contacted CCBFF's sponsors and told them he planned to cancel, too, but "they went, 'Oh no, everyone is [in the] same position,'" and convinced him to carry on. He particularly credited the City of Austin Cultural Arts Division and the Austin Convention Center: "They allowed us the free range to reinvent ourselves, to pivot."

The coronavirus inevitably impacted the programming, with the addition of titles like "Lockdown Lunch Club" and The Pandemic Chronicles exploring the impact of COVID-19 on Black communities in South Africa and Austin respectively. However, it also opened up opportunities. Williams said that going virtual means more people than ever will be able to attend, even if it's just for one screening, without worrying about travel expenses. The team has even been able to experiment with drive-in screenings, having co-presented basketball documentary Aulcie last month as part of the Austin Jewish Film Festival. Williams said the fest may do more in the future, as well as more virtual events. "We're in a different world," he said. "I call it 'adapting and not becoming fossil fuel.'"

However, the focus on mental health has remained constant. Williams said, "As a Black American, we deal with a lot of issues that others do not," and he explained that he hopes "the festival lends a hand in dismissing the issues around getting counseling." However, while the festival keeps its focus on Black creatives and Black stories, the films deal with universal themes surrounding mental health: "Mr. & Mrs. Ellis" explores the trauma of growing up with abuse; "Finding Elijah" and "Awaken" both deal with suicide; while "They Keep Playing That Song" follows a family dealing with the dementia of one of their elders. "That's another part of mental health," said Williams. "Not only for the person experiencing it, but the people dealing with it."


The Capital City Black Film Festival 2020 virtual experience runs Dec. 4-6. Passes and info at www.capcitybff.com.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Capital City Black Film Festival
Capital City Black Film Festival Returns With New Voices
Capital City Black Film Festival Returns With New Voices
After a forced hiatus, stronger than ever

Richard Whittaker, Aug. 31, 2018

Horror Short Brings Supernatural Rage to Slavery's Story
Horror Short Brings Supernatural Rage to Slavery's Story
Capital City Black Film Festival's "Swing Low"

Charlie Neddo, Aug. 31, 2018

More by Richard Whittaker
Making the Flowers Bloom in <i>Encanto</i>
Making the Flowers Bloom in Encanto
Austinite Jay Jackson talks about Disney's latest animated blossom

Nov. 24, 2021

House of Gucci
Ridley Scott is a bad fit for the tale of the fashion house's fall

Nov. 26, 2021

KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Capital City Black Film Festival, Winston G. Williams

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle