I believe it was Octavian, the Roman general, who declared, “We expand or we die!” Not that the African American Film Festival Release Movement (aka AFFRM) – the film distribution collective/company launched by Ava DuVernay in 2010 – is in any danger whatsoever of “dying” (absolutely not, especially after an immensely successful fundraising drive earlier this year that saw AFFRM’s membership double to roughly 1200 “rebels”), but the ancient Roman philosophy of expansion (also, technically, an actual law of the universe), is somewhat apropos here – expansion as in moving forward, evolving, continuing to grow by seeking and recognizing opportunities and exploiting them, adapting (especially in such a rapidly evolving, highly-competitive environment), etc, etc, etc. Essentially, never standing still and resting on one’s laurels, from a professional and personal standpoint, while still staying true to your core, and the foundation upon which you’ve built.
The relatively young AFFRM continues its evolution with today’s announcement that it’s re-launching as ARRAY, and is expanding its emphasis (previously on the work of black filmmakers solely) to also include the acquisition and distribution of films by other filmmakers of color and under-represented groups (for example, Latino, Asian, indigenous and Middle Eastern groups) as well as women filmmakers, enhancing its mission to showcase the works of a much more diverse filmmaker base, and thus, the variety of stories told on distributed films.
As ARRAY founder DuVernay told the Los Angeles Times in an interview published today, “There’s a generation of filmmakers of color and women whose primary concern is that no one will see their work… And that is a huge barrier. They’re asking, ‘Why make something if no one will see it?'”
Further, “Right now, there is a fundamental disrespect inherent in the distribution and amplification of films. There is a cinema segregation in how films are seen and not seen. What we’re saying is, we’re not going to depend on those things anymore,” she added.
An increase in the number of films ARRAY acquires and releases annually (the initial formula was two a year) should therefore be expected.
Today’s announcement comes with the revelation of what ARRAY’s next acquisitions are – two films that will be released this fall; both of them readers of this blog should be familiar with, given past coverage:
– First, South African drama “Ayanda and the Mechanic,” directed by Sara Blecher (“Otelo Burning”), the opening night film of the 36th Durban International Film Festival 2 months ago, and just before that, making its North American premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival.
Set in the vibrant, Afropolitan community of Johannesburg’s Yeoville, “Ayanda and the Mechanic” is a coming-of-age story of a 21-year-old “Afro-hipster,” who embarks on a journey of self-discovery, when she has to fight to save her late father’s legacy – a motor repair shop – when it is threatened with closure. She’s thrown into a world of gender stereotypes and abandoned vintage cars once loved, now in need of a young woman’s re-inventive touch to bring them back to life again.
The film stars Fulu Mugovhani and Nigerian actor OC Ukeje, with a star-heavy South African cast that includes Ntathi Moshesh, Kenneth Nkosi, Jafta Mamabola, Thomas Gumede, Sihle Xaba and veteran star of stage and screen, Vanessa Cooke.
This is director Sara Blecher’s follow-up to her critically-acclaimed “Otelo Burning” (covered quite extensively on this blog), which also opened the Durban International Film Festival in 2011.
– And second, a film that was selected for the main program of the Berlin International Film Festival’s Panorama section in February of this year, Takeshi Fukunaga’s directorial debut, “Out of My Hand,” about a worker on a Liberian rubber plantation who wants to get away from a life overshadowed by civil war, and so moves to New York where he lives a new life as a taxi driver.
The film was made with support from the Liberian government and its Movie Union, who sponsored the shoot, and offered to pay for travel for its Liberian cast and crew, for the New York portion of production.
The film’s stars (Bishop Blay and Zenobia Kpoto), as well as of its cast for the Liberia portion of the shoot, are played by Liberians, who, for the majority, are acting for the very first time. As the filmmakers said previously: “We consider ourselves very fortunate to have found such an extraordinarily talented cast in Liberia. There are of course few opportunities for actors to practice their craft in the country of Liberia, due to its small, but resiliently passionate film community. Our hope is that this film will shine light on them, and hopefully contribute in whatever small way to bringing still greater opportunities for them to do what they love.”
To help complete the film, a successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $42,000 last year. Its Berlin screening was its world premiere. It also screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, where Brandon Wilson saw it and reviewed for S&A here, calling it simultaneously “of the moment but also timeless.”
Both films will be out this fall; specific release date announcements and distribution platforms are forthcoming.
Today’s news comes about a week after ARRAY’s Netflix release of Tina Mabry’s critically-acclaimed feature film directorial debut, “Mississippi Damned” – a film that deserved far more attention than it received 6 years ago, and that many of you likely haven’t seen, but can now do so, thanks to its Netflix availability (streaming).
The AFFRM/ARRAY relaunch comes with a new website at arraynow.com, where you’ll also find the collective’s popular filmmaker podcast The Call-In, which is hosted by DuVernay, information on all ARRAY films (7 previous titles), and more.
The multi-platform ARRAY’s founding organizations include: Urbanworld (NYC), Imagenation (NYC), Reelblack (Philadelphia), Langston Hughes Film Festival (Seattle), BronzeLens Film Festival (Atlanta) and DVA (Los Angeles).