Aug 2, 2007

Roxbury Film Festival - Dispatch 1

The Roxbury Film Festival, the largest African-American film festival in New England, opens tonight with a gala screening of Jennifer Sharp's "I'm Through With White Girls", a winner at June's Hollywood Black Film Festival. A survey of some of the best new work by American filmmakers of color, the festival runs through Sunday. Films of note include Dee Rees' "Pariah", the longish short film about a lesbian teenager in the Bronx which has been racking up prizes on the black and gay fest circuits, Moon Molson's "Pop Foul" (see the new issue of Filmmaker Magazine for more on Mr. Molson and his much lauded film), Lance Olabisi's SXSW narrative competition entry "August The First", expanded from his short film which is still on the fest circuit, and another account of the Melvin Van Peebles myth in "How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It)", which has already screened commercially in different parts of the country (and which will be closely watched by this reporter, who has yet to see it but suspects the usual hyperbole and self-mythologizing by one of the most divisive figures in modern cinema).

What good are niche festivals anyway? This is a question that we will be asking throughout the week as the Cinema Echo Chamber covers the festival. It seems that with the proliferation of film festivals, just about every conceivable audience has a moderately prestigious event on which to hang worthwhile cinematic representations of their communities and cultures, yet, as any discerning viewer who attended enough NewFest or Frameline or Hollywood Black Film Festival screenings can attest to, mediocrity reigns. Is that a good thing? Were there really 65 black shorts made in the states this year that are festival worthy? HBFF thought so. As Earnest Hardy wrote in LA Weekly last month while covering OutFest, "Watching most contemporary queer movies, particularly the American ones, is to see art reflect the downside of the progress achieved in the culture wars, in gays and lesbians securing that much-coveted 'seat at the table,'", who then goes on to call most contemporary American queer movies "infantilized art".

Though the narrative lineup at SXSW was "amateur hour" this year (as one of the jurors shared with me in confidence), it would not have dipped so low as to program the outrageously bad reparations drama "Sorry Ain't Enough" and the near unwatchable Frank Vincent/Chuck D classroom drama "City Teacher", as San Francisco Black did. Do these festivals provide a marketplace in which niche films can be bought by outlets that specifically market them to the audiences they are meant for? I didn't see Logo making alot of acquistions at OutFest. We'll be exploring the implications of these issues facing minority filmmakers in a number of interviews and dispatches this week.