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African American Film Fest offers diversity
BY SONNY GANADEN / Special to the Star-Advertiser
For the Honolulu Museum of Art’s second annual Honolulu African American Film Festival, the event’s organizers have added more sponsors and more films, including a short documentary that highlights a legal story and the unique African-American experience in Hawaii.
HONOLULU AFRICAN AMERICAN FILM FESTIVAL
Where: Doris Duke Theatre, Honolulu Museum of Art
Cost: $8-$10 (unless noted below); $50-$60 for an eight-film flash pass
Info: 532-8700 or honolulumuseum.org/events/films
The festival opens Saturday with two films paying tribute to significant figures in black history and culture: “Jesse Owens” and “Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White Man’s World.” As part of the opening-night reception, patrons will be treated to small dishes prepared by chef Sean Priester, who has become well known on Oahu for his soul food.
“Josephine Baker” traces the personal history of a woman ahead of her time. The 2006 film by director Annette von Wagenheim is not available outside of film festivals; it is meant to be seen with others.
As an African-American performer who went to Paris in 1925 as part of Revue Negre au Music Hall, Baker had a major effect on European ideas of dance and culture during the same period America circumscribed its black performers. She later became politicized, and was a figure in arts and culture in the U.S. well into the 20th century.
Cultural critics, including those on National Public Radio, have traced present-day performances, including Beyonce Knowles’ Super Bowl halftime appearance, back to Baker’s Parisian period. The gyrations of a black diva are still relevant.
Director Laurens Grant has flown in from New York to premiere her film “Jesse Owens,” which will be re-aired nationwide in 2013 as part of the PBS series “American Experience.” Grant will introduce her film when it screens Saturday.
The film explores the life and legacy of the black track star who excelled in the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Nazi Germany.
“We’re delighted to be bringing her here,” said museum film curator Abigail Algar.
In a telephone interview, Grant said, “Part of my task as a filmmaker is asking, What can I add to what people think is a familiar story?”
“It’s a nice companion piece with Josephine Baker’s story,” she said. “Jesse Owens was also a man ahead of his time, one of the most famous athletes of the era prior to television, when the Olympics was one of the few times all of the world media was trained on one subject. He would be a much larger celebrity if he were a sportsman now.”
Grant was also a co-producer in the documentary “Freedom Riders,” about the civil rights activists who traversed the American South to directly oppose segregation. She will be speaking about the production of that series as well as her film on Jesse Owens at the University of Hawaii at Manoa Ethnic Studies Department at 11:30 a.m. today.
THE FILM FESTIVAL has a diverse array of offerings.
On Sunday, Mom’s Soul Food will offer healthy plates between the 4 and 7:30 p.m. screenings of “Soul Food Junkies.”
In “Wolf,” screening Monday, a family is shaken at the discovery that their son has been molested. The film’s trailer is both gripping and gorgeous. “Wolf” was accepted to the South by Southwest film festival and won the grand jury prize at the Dallas International Film Festival.
In a collaboration with Oahu military facilities and sponsored by the insurance company Geico, “Veterans of Color” will premiere in Honolulu both at the museum on Thursday and at several military bases across Oahu. The 2012 film gives voice to service members who have advocated for equality from within the armed forces.
“Our military was a segment of the community that was missing from last year’s festival,” said John Nichols, one of the festival organizers.
In its inaugural year the film festival was sponsored by the Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights, a group of equality advocates with deep ties across the state. This year the organization will host a double billing that includes a film with isle ties.
On Feb. 22, as ARTafterDARK events take place in the lawns and courtyards of the museum, the Hawaii Friends of Civil Rights will screen the documentary “The Notorious C.R.” along with “The Last Fall.”
At just under 13 minutes, “The Notorious C.R.” barely qualifies as a short film. Featuring prominently in the film is longtime civil rights advocate Faye Kennedy.
“Carl Richie is a black guy who was arrested for having a lap-dancing business on Kauai,” the 82-year-old Kennedy said.
Richie was convicted of promoting prostitution and given a 10-year sentence, ending up in a Texas prison, but Kennedy continued to maintain that he’d been handed outsize punishment. She and others petitioned the appellate court and then-Gov. Ben Cayetano, eventually succeeding in advocating for Richie’s early release.
“For the record, I never condoned lap dancing,” Kennedy said. “But I understand that the women involved with Mr. Richie’s business did it consensually. I thought it was racist how they arrested him for something that was going on everywhere all over the state.”
“It was strange bedfellows, all those that got involved. The main people who helped us out were these libertarians, who I suppose were into freedom of movement, and these small-business people,” Kennedy said.
“The Notorious C.R.” was directed by New York City-based producer and cable television show personality Wilfred Lee, aka “Wild Will,” who has family in the islands.
“Will’s a great guy, and even though he lost money on this movie, it was definitely worth making,” Kennedy said of the short film. She will introduce the film at its screening.
The festival closes Feb. 23 with a Last Saturday Roots in Jazz concert featuring the Chuck James Quintet.
» Opening-night screening of “Jesse Owens” and “Josephine Baker: Black Diva in a White Man’s World,” 7:30 p.m. Saturday; reception: 6-7:30 p.m. Saturday, with pupu by chef Sean Priester of Soul and live music. Tickets: $25, $20 members
» Family Film Sunday: “Filling the Gap” recounts contributions of African-American craftsmen, artists, inventors and entrepreneurs of the pre-Civil War era, 11:10 a.m. and 1 p.m. Sunday. Tickets: $1-$3
» “Soul Food Junkies,” documentary chronicling the story of soul food with a sprinkling of humor, 4 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday
» “Wolf,” a family struggles to come to terms with abuse, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Monday
» “Bury the Hatchet,” portrait of three Mardi Gras Indian big chiefs who are descendants of runaway slaves, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Tuesday
» “The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music that Changed America,” musical story of swing-era bandleader Webb and Harlem’s Savoy Ballroom, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday
» “Veterans of Color,” spotlight on soldiers and their battle for equality, 1 and 7:30 p.m. Thursday
» “The Last Fall,” an NFL journeyman adapts to life after football; with “The Notorious C.R.,” 1 and 7:30 p.m. Feb. 22
» Last Saturday Roots in Jazz: Chuck James Quintet. Tickets: $25-$30