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American Film Festival Features African American Women Directors

American Film Festival Features African American Women Directors

The American Film Festival is building families. The 6th edition (October 20-25, 2015) of the Wroclaw, Poland film fest was better than any of the previous four I have attended as a jury member for the US in Progress section. Networking with the USiP filmmakers, past participants Matt Sobel (“Take Me to the River”),Leah Meyerhoff (“I Believe in Unicorns”),Reza Sixo Safai (“A Girl Walks Home at Night Alone”) and whose present project “ The Loner” (he produced and stars in it, Daniel Grove directed) won at USiP, etc. mingled with Indie Star Awardees David Gordon Green and Hal Hartley and other filmmakers like Jenner Furst (“Welcome to Leith”) invited to present their films and to eat and party together over five days and four nights which lasted until the wee hours of the morning.

African American Women’s classics also showed for the first time ever to appreciative Polish audiences. Though luckily for them, but a sad miss for the audiences, every one of the filmmakers was too busy with other work to attend. The selected films brought rarely before scenes of life in America to a new public.

You can be sure Ava DuVernay was invited, and you can be equally certain that she was very busy with multiple projects.

When I was in Trinidad, I heard from the film’s distributor, Michelle Materre, a well known lecturer and film curator whose film series and discussion group, Creatively Speaking, takes place at the N.Y. Film Society’s Lincoln Center and in L.A. that Julie Dash was busy working on a TV series or a doc. I hope one of you reading this will email me a more news of her, because since her film “Daughters of the Dust” premiered at Sundance in 1991, her fan base has grown and eagerly awaits more stories from her. For those who missed her instant classic at Sundance, “Daughters of the Dust” presents a transgenerational saga set on the fictitious island of Ibo’s Landing in 1902 about a young woman’s quest for identity. Guichees, or Gullahs, aka the Georgia Sea Islanders are U.S.’s most African community still living today off the Georgia and South Carolina coast. The film was presented to the audience as a radical feminist manifesto and landmark of independent American cinema.

Other films included in the series, curated by Ula Sniegowsk and a young film academic Ewa Drygalska, included Katherine Collins’ (who tragically died of cancer at age 46) 1982 film “Losing Ground“, Tanya Hamilton’s “Night Catches Us“, the popular and fabulous ” The Secret Life of Bees” another Sundance premiering film, by Gina Prince-Blythewood (2008), Dee Rees‘ 2012 Sundance film “Pariah” and her recent HBO (who incidentally is an important sponsor of the festival with a showcase of its own films) fictional doc “Bessie” starring the one and only Queen Latifah, and Ava DuVernay’s “Middle of Nowhere” and “Selma”.

While we’re on the subject of African American movies, the Spike Lee mentored new talent Michael Larnell, was here with my favorite “Next” generation film ” Cronies“.

US in Progress had two out of six selected films about African Americans, the Four Award winning “Alaska Is a Drag” directed by former L.A. and Sundance Festival worker, debuting director Shaz Bennett, produced by Melanie Miller and Diane Becker; and “The Alchemist Cookbook” written and directed by Joel Potrykus. Other films included “Dope“, documentarians’ Albert Maysles’ ” In Transit”, Nick Broomfield’s “Tales of the Grim Sleeper” and Frederick Wiseman’s “In Jackson Heights”, Mark Silver’s “3 ½ Minutes, Ten Bullets”, sleeper hit “Tangerine” by Sean Baker, “Field Niggas” a nocturnal portrait of Harlem by Khalik Allah, David Gordon Green’s “George Washington”, and last, but by no means least, Clint Eastwood’s “Bird” as part of his extensive retrospective.

This festival is held in the largest Arthouse multiplex in Europe, built and owned (as is the festival itself, along with New Horizons Film Festival in July and several others) by arthouse film distributor and entrepreneur Roman Gutek.

Fabulous. Written by Sydney LEVINE in her hotel room at The Monopole where an opera rehearsal wafts through the morning air of a sunny, dry 50*F metropolis mixing with the sound of the streetcar. This has been a fabulous experience topped off by a fabulous tour of the city and today a visit to Europe’s most fabulous zoo and aquarium.

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