2012 was a banner year for black film at Film Independent’s Los Angeles Film Festival, with movies by and about black people presented at two of the festival’s four gala screenings, and taking a number of awards as well.
Gala films included the LA premieres of Beasts of the Southern Wild (review HERE), which also won the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature, and Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere (review HERE), which opened to a crowd of over 1,000 with Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance, Salim and Mara Brock Akil, Harry Lennix, Reggie and Gina Prince-Bythewood, Salli Richardson-Whitfield, and several other stars in attendance. At the Q&A with DuVernay and her cast, moderated by Elvis Mitchell, actor Omari Hardwick discussed the value of working with directors who are confident and unapologetic about presenting compelling black films.
Additional screening highlights include the dark drama Four (review HERE), which earned Best Performance honors for Wendell Pierce (interview HERE), Emory Cohen, E.J. Bonilla and Aja Naomi King, and Narrative Feature winner All is Well (review HERE). A few films we’ve covered previously on this site, including Gimme the Loot (review HERE), Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification of Her Beauty (review HERE), and Sheldon Candis’ much-anticipated crime drama LUV (review HERE) were also presented with directors in attendance for Q&As. Standing out among the comedies were indie break-up tale Celeste and Jesse Forever starring Rashida Jones, and Cuban zombie flick Juan of the Dead, which received a third screening date due to popular demand.
Festival Director Stephanie Allain worked closely with The Blackhouse Foundation this year to present an impressive slate of LAFF events centered on black film. Highlights include a June 16th panel on representation, where an elite group of black agents and managers – Billy Hawkins (CAA), Charles King (WME), Jelani Johnson (Generate), Andrea Nelson Meigs (ICM), and Matthew Johnson (Ziffren Brittenham) – spoke candidly with Overbrook Entertainment’s Franklin Leonard about attracting representation and getting them to advocate on your behalf, as well as the problematic lack of diversity at Hollywood’s largest agencies. The overwhelming message from the panel rested on the importance of filmmakers and actors learning to connect directly with their audiences to build their own buzz.
On June 16th The Blackhouse also presented an in-depth conversation with Stephanie Allain and film producer Datari Turner (LUV, It’s a Disaster), as well as a panel on film programming with Sundance senior programmer Shari Frilot, Ava DuVernay, former Tribeca programmer Roya Rastegar, and cinematographer Bradford Young, who spoke of the challenges of creating a stronger black presence among film festival offerings.
Powerful documentaries this year included Call Me Kuchu, following Uganda’s Anti-homosexuality bill through the eyes of a young activist (review HERE), and The Invisible War, uncovering the legacy of rape within the military. The Iran Job (review HERE), on a black American basketball player’s stint in Iran, also opened to much applause. And on Father’s Day, Sundance grantee Question Bridge: Black Males presented a special film-only version of their installation on black male identity.
Wrapping up the festival yesterday, Forest Whitaker’s JuntoBox Films, which uses an innovative model of uniting social media with traditional film production, announced its next two projects – Sacrifice and Anthem. At the company’s greenlight party, Whitaker discussed the promise and flexibility of this new model and the idea that it will allow more filmmakers to find their audience and get their projects made.
A few of this year’s films have already announced distribution plans and will come to theaters this summer/fall, including Beasts of the Southern Wild (June), The Invisible War (June), and Middle of Nowhere (October), but we’ll be sure to keep you posted as we hear more.