The 2003 Black Arts Festival takes place Friday (Feb. 28)-Sunday (March 2). For a complete schedule, go to www.blackartsfestival.net.
Events include: Forum: ‘Whose Music Is It Anyway? Thinking About Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hip-Hop in the 21st Century in the Past, Present and Future,’ Feb. 28, 4 p.m., ARCO Forum
Performing arts showcase: ‘Renaissance Revisited: Creative Expressions of Black Struggle,’ Feb. 28, 8 p.m., Lowell Hall
Black Arts Film Festival: Saturday (March 1)-Sunday (March 2). All films are screened at the Harvard Film Archive at the Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy St.
From swing dance to hip-hop, storytelling to spoken-word performance, Harvard’s sixth annual Black Arts Festival, hosted by the Kuumba Singers, embraces the full sweep of black creativity when it kicks off tomorrow (Feb. 28).
But it’s a celluloid celebration that takes center stage this year, showcasing groundbreaking new films by top African-American filmmakers. Just three years old, the film-festival-within-a-festival is gaining attention, acclaim, and even audiences from around the country, its organizers say.
“Every year it’s getting better,” says Julian Breece ’03, who started the Black Arts Film Festival in 2001 by tapping his interest in film and the contacts he nurtured through his work with New York’s Urban World Film Festival. “I’m more excited about the festival than I’ve ever been.”
Among the offerings that Breece and co-curator Rachel Bolden-Kramer ’06 consider particularly strong are “Crazy as Hell,” the directorial debut of “ER” actor Eriq LaSalle; “Hip-Hop: The New World Order,” a documentary that roams the world to explore the impact of hip-hop on youth culture; and “A Luv Story,” a lesbian romantic comedy starring rapper MC Lyte.
The festival – run completely by students, with support from the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute and the Harvard Film Archive, as well as other on-campus groups – also nurtures up-and-coming black filmmakers with a student competition. As they talk about the upcoming festival, Breece and Bolden-Kramer are bleary-eyed from having spent several hours in the dark judging 20 student films that were submitted from around the country. Last year’s winner, Ryan Richmond’s “Money Matters,” was an official Sundance Film Festival selection.
“It’s a unique festival in that we show a really exciting cross-section of black film,” says Breece.
At the intersection of black and gay
New to this year’s festival is the Tribute to Black Queer Films and Filmmakers (March 2), a day of new films and older works by legendary filmmakers like Marlon Riggs ’78 and Isaac Julien. Bolden-Kramer, who worked at the San Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, is curating that portion of the festival, which honors Riggs and includes a reception and a discussion by Belinda Wallace, a gay/lesbian/transgender film scholar from the University of Maryland.
Bolden-Kramer, a filmmaker herself, has been reaching out to the range of Harvard student and alumni groups as well as organizations throughout Boston that might find inspiration in the intersection of race, class, sexuality, and gender issues that the Tribute to Black Queer Films and Filmmakers explores.
“At Harvard, you don’t get the whole picture all the time. A lot of our campus groups aren’t talking about these issues,” she says, noting that most groups are identified around one issue: either race or gender or sexuality or a political cause or action.
In addition to the romantic comedy “A Luv Story” and a look back at some of the mavericks of queer black filmmaking, Bolden-Kramer has programmed films that will provoke, educate, and amuse. “Chocolate Babies,” which the organizers call one of the most cutting-edge films in the festival, follows a colorful underground band of HIV-positive activists. It’s paired on a double-bill with “Life on Christopher Street,” a documentary by Maria Clara that profiles “homo-thugs,” a rising subculture of black and Latino gay youth who find inspiration in the hyper-masculinity of hip-hop.
“Multi-Facial,” a short film by actor Vin Diesel, shares the bill with “A Luv Story.” The film, about a struggling New York actor played by Diesel, launched his career when Stephen Spielberg saw the film and cast Diesel in “Saving Private Ryan.” Diesel is currently expanding “Multi-Facial” into a feature-length film.
Challenging films, intellectual discussion
Breece and Bolden-Kramer anticipate robust audiences for the festival, despite -or perhaps because of – the risky nature of many of the films they’re screening.
“We don’t want to underestimate our audience, which is a problem with black film,” says Breece. “Within black film, there’s very much an attempt to confine and pander to a black audience by creating very unchallenging films, films that you think are going to do well at the box office.”
And while similar complaints could be lodged against many mainstream Hollywood films, such narrow vision is more damaging in black film, the organizers say.
“There’s much less to counter the images that [mainstream] black film is picking up,” says Bolden-Kramer. “It’s this underestimation of the audience that prevents an expansion of creativity in black film.”
The duo is confident that this festival will assert the full range of black film’s creativity and, with an audience that includes film distributors and other festival organizers, might bring the films to a wider audience.
“It’s become very well regarded in film circles around the country,” says Breece, adding that the festival’s reputation has mushroomed in its three short years. “It’s a festival that’s really conducive to a lot of intellectual discussion on black film, on the black image, so a lot of filmmakers like to come and have their films shown and be able to have discussions with the Harvard community.”
This year, filmmakers Stephen Winter (“Chocolate Babies”), Muhammida El Muhajir (“Hip-Hop: The New World Order”), and Maria Clara (“Life on Christopher Street”) will be on hand to discuss their films.
Although Harvard is hardly a hotbed of filmmaking, the organizers see the University as playing a vital role in the festival’s success.
“Having this at a place like Harvard makes a big difference. It has a huge impact on the intellectual community as well as everybody else who hears of the festival,” says Bolden-Kramer, adding that the festival is changing the perception of alumni she speaks with who say, “That’s not the Harvard I knew.”
If the Harvard name has an impact on the festival, the duo is hopeful that the festival will make a lasting impression at the University, too.
“We’re making sure the festival is bringing something to the Harvard community as well as demanding something from the Harvard community,” says Breece.
firstname.lastname@example.org The 2003 Black Arts Festival takes place Friday (Feb. 28)-Sunday (March 2). For a complete schedule, go to www.blackartsfestival.net. Events include: Forum: ‘Whose Music Is It Anyway? Thinking About Jazz, Rock ‘n’ Roll and Hip-Hop in the 21st Century in the Past, Present and Future,’ Feb. 28, 4 p.m., ARCO Forum Performing arts showcase: ‘Renaissance Revisited: Creative Expressions of Black Struggle,’ Feb. 28, 8 p.m., Lowell Hall Black Arts Film Festival: Saturday (March 1)-Sunday (March 2). All films are screened at the Harvard Film Archive at the Carpenter Center, 24 Quincy St.