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A Black Film Festival Undressed – A Conversation w/ African Diaspora International Film Fest Co-Founder Diarah N’daw-Spech

A Black Film Festival Undressed - A Conversation w/ African Diaspora International Film Fest Co-Founder Diarah N'daw-Spech

Another new content feature I’ve long intended to incorporate into the site are profiles of black film festivals and the people at the top who run them. I think it’s crucial that we get to know these men and women behind these yearly events, who invest quite a lot of time, energy, and other resources into putting their individual celebrations of black cinema together. Given how long I’ve been writing about black cinema on the web, I’ve noticed that we (as audience members, filmmakers and writers) can be rather quick to criticize black film festivals and those who run them, without really, fully understanding what happens behind the curtain, so to speak. And I say it’s time to demystify some of that process, and get inside the heads of the folks who manage these sometimes mammoth annual events. 

I interviewed Jeff Friday of the American Black Film Festival over the summer, and penned a piece based on what I learned from our conversation (read that HERE if you missed it); but I’d like to do more than relay chats I have with festival founders/directors, and instead have you hear from them directly.

And I’m starting with the African Diaspora International Film Festival, which is currently underway here in New York City, its 19th year, by the way! 

The African Diaspora International Film Festival is one of the few black film festivals in the entire world with a consistently true diasporic offering of films annually, living up to its name. In any given year, you’ll find a lineup of narrative films and documentaries about people of African descent from countries almost all over the world – a  feat that I find impressive. 

I had the pleasure of talking to one of its co-founders, Diarah N’daw-Spech (her husband Reinaldo Spech is the other founder) about 1 1/2 weeks ago, and videotaped the entire conversation. Initially I planned to summarize the footage into a 5-minute profile of the festival, but, as I watched and listened to it, I felt that the entire 40-minute chat was worth sharing, and you’re encouraged to watch it below.

We covered quite a bit of ground, including: the festival’s origins and mission as a tool for edutainment and uniting the Diaspora here in the USA, how they find their films, considering the festival’s relevance after 19 years, whether the process has gotten any easier, the state of black film festivals, the perception from black filmmakers of black film festivals, on being a hub for distributors/market activity, challenges in getting their films (via their distribution company Artmattan) into theaters, challenges in attracting audiences – especially black audiences – to challenging Diasporic content… and more.

Speaking of Artmattan, I should note that, yes, they are in a somewhat unique position as a film festival, with a distribution company that operates as a separate entity, but also in conjunction with the festival.

You can learn more about this year’s festival – the films in its lineup and such – by clicking HERE.

Watch our lengthy though insightful conversation below, and thanks to Diarah for the time.

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christiane boekholt

je ne comprends pas tout, mais juste un peu….j'ai bien oublié, mais de toute façon vous êtes très courageux et restez-le,


Loved this interview, I plan to submit my film to this festival!


Nice piece. Well done the Spech's for going 19 years strong hope they're around for much longer. Rather shocked to hear about bookers of supposedly indie/art-house cinemas not being interested in award winning films from around the world, but maybe that's just naivety on my part.

However, the discussion on audience makeup is sad indictment on the lack of awareness/education (and perhaps unwillingness to find out more) of African Americans to with regard to global cinema, and sadder still when you mentioned the LA restrospective and the lack of younger African-Americans among the audience. However, glad to see the overwhelming number of comments on this piece…! :(

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