Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

POLL - Rating Black Film Festivals; Your Participation Encouraged!

I'm challenging black film festivals in this post...

But let me start by saying that I haven't been to every single black film festival in the country; so, my thoughts and words are based on my experiences with those that I have been to. This post isn't meant to inflame, but rather generate conversation. And, ultimately, it's just one person's opinion. I do list my favorite black film festivals towards the bottom of this post, so I'm not referring to all of them.

In previous years, I was a frequent attendee and supporter of several American black film festivals. However, my enthusiasm for the collective bunch gradually waned after successive years of disappointing performances from a few of the more prominent names in the group, attributed mostly to 2 things:

1. A weak selection of films, often uninspiring, unchallenging, and lacking in much artistic will;

2. Disorganized program staff, which influences several pieces of the floundering whole, in overwhelmingly negative ways, often dissuading potential attendees like myself from patronizing the event after the first trial.

Number 1 isn't entirely the fault of each festival; although, in the past, some decisions made by certain festival programmers on films accepted and/or rejected, have left me scratching my head, perplexed. The emphasis is more often than not on commercial viability, even in cases where quality is absent (which happens quite a bit), over a celebration of artistic merit. I realize that the intent by the larger festivals especially, is to attract distributors; but, the distributors simply aren't coming; so, clearly, something isn't working! And it shouldn't come as a surprise when black filmmakers with really good films completely bypass black film festivals - sometimes not even considering them at all - in favor of their non-race specific counterparts.

Number 2 however is entirely the responsibility of each festival's organizer(s). I've had experience with a few of these festivals on 3 fronts - as a filmmaker, as a distributor, and as a critic. And several of them have failed me in all scenarios, with regards to overall managerial ability... competency... efficiency... the little things that can really make a big difference. For example, simply following through on their own rules, which some haven't yet quite learned how to do.

I recall sending my film to one of the more prominent of the group, along with my check for $40, or whatever it was, my application, press-kit, and all the other materials requested for consideration; dates were listed as to when I would receive a response from the festival as to whether my film was accepted or not accepted. That day came and went, and I heard nothing. My emails requesting information were never responded to. The festival itself passed, and I still heard nothing; I never got an email, letter, or phone call telling me what they had promised on the application, and on their website, that they would do. A simple, "thanks, but no thanks," that just about every other major festival affords its rejected submissions, would have sufficed. But I heard nothing. And, I was surprised to hear that I wasn't the only one with this experience, and that this particular festival, one that would like to consider itself a giant amongst midgets, was notorious for this kind of incompetence. So, in essence, they were more than willing and able to take my money, but couldn't meet their end of the agreement.

Another festival provided contact information on its website, but, queries sent to their listed email address were bounced back, stating that the address didn't exist; and in another situation, that the account was full.

Others have had extremely poorly designed, rather uninviting websites that will make any sane person question the validity of the festival, or just turn them away completely. You may not have Sundance's production budget, but, a simple, clean, informative website doesn't require thousands of dollars in funds, or a skilled designer's touch. Like me, most visitors to each site are looking for the basics - when and where the festival takes place; how to contact the various departments; the titles, times and screening locations of films playing at the festival; and how much tickets cost. No need for any fancy splash and dash. And especially, don't design each page to load with music playing automatically in the background, as one prominent festival currently does. That's really annoying, and has "Amature" hung around its neck like a gold chain.

I'll save you all the other gory details. But I'm sure some of you reading this have stories of your own.

Granted, I haven't been to every single black film festival in the land; so, my thoughts and words are reserved for those that I have been to.

And instead of naming those that I have grown to find unworthy of my time and money, I'll instead give praise to those that I have attended at least once, that have given me reasons to want to continue going back:

1. The Harlem Film Festival (NYC), which used to be curated by Michelle Materre; I'm not sure if she still is. But when she did, those years that I attended were memorable and worthwhile. Not one of the biggest of the bunch; but you're guaranteed a professional, intimate, thoughtful experience.

2. The African Diaspora Film Festival (it's a traveling festival). Run by husband and wife team, Diarah N’Daw-Spech and her husband Reinaldo Barroso-Spech. You're certain to find an eclectic group of films at this festival, covering the entire African Diaspora, hence it's title. They've been doing it by themselves since 1992, and it's gotten better year after year. I've run into Reinaldo several times, at several different screening venues, big and small; the man works hard to find the kinds of films he wants to showcase at his festival, as opposed to waiting for them to come to him, as most other festivals do.

3. The San Francisco Black Film Festival (San Francisco, CA). Haven't been there in awhile, since I live in New York now; but during the 4+ years I lived in San Francisco, I attended the festival at least twice, and was very pleased both times. It was there that I first saw Raoul Peck's under-rated and under-appreciated Lumumba in 2000/2001, where I believe it was making its Stateside debut. Despite a few hiccups along the way, they've shown an interest in taking on some more challenging fare.

These are the best of the bunch - the bunch that I've attended. So, again, I haven't been to every single black film festival in the country; but, of the 9 that I've been to, these 3 have provided me with the best bang for my time and money, and have been the most consistent! Usually very well organized, and thought through, as advertised on their websites and ads, with a solid group of diverse films screened each year.

Now, I'm turning it over to you all. Some of you are filmmakers, press, film enthusiasts, and maybe even involved in the organization of a black film festival or two. I'd like to rate and rank the nation's black film festivals. Which have you had any dealings with? What have your experiences been like? If you had to list 3 of the best, what 3 would those be? And if you're in anyway involved with a festival, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the overall family of festivals, and why anyone should be paying attention to yours, if you aren't already attracting attention? Or if you could care less about black film festivals, and find them mostly unworthy of your time, money, or film (if you're a filmmaker), and just completely irrelevant, I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. Etc, etc, etc...

So, please, chime away... and at the end of it all, maybe we'll find some common ground, and possibly get the attention of those lagging festivals, giving them the swift kick in the arse that they so desperately need.

You can responded anonymously if you prefer. Blogger allows for that option.




  1. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    Well, I've only attended two African-American film fests.

    One was a small one in which I was a finalist in their screenplay competition. As such, it's hard to criticise them, really. I got very good treatment, had a VIP/filmmaker pass and networked enough to still be in contact with some people I met there some 3 years later... However, it could have been organised a little better. Getting email responses (or not) before the festival was frustrating, and timing was sometimes an issue, with schedules running behind almost as a matter of course. But it was my first black film festival, I won the screenwriting competition, and I'm glad I went!

    My second foray into black film fests was later the same year and one which is supposed to be one of the premier black fests in the US and which several people at the first black festival recommended. So I went. I was appalled!

    If this was the best, then I would have indeed felt sorry for the rest if not for the one I'd already attended. The selection of drama features was dire. Apart from one or two dramatic features, it was the documentaries and shorts which seemed to make up the best viewings. There's one dramatic feature which, to this day, I can't believe ever got into a festival - and it shall remain nameless...

    The smaller, less well known festival I attended first had a much more diverse and interesting array of films.

    And is it me, or does having a special tribute to Russell Simmons at a film festival seem a little... um, pointless...?

    I won't discount black film festivals altogether but, based on my experiences, I'm very unlikely to give the bigger, glitzier ones my money... They seem more interested in grand-standing and can't seem to see through the haze of their own hubris to actually do anything worth making it worth any filmmakers' while to attend or send their work to.

    I think small and eclectic as opposed to grand and glitzy is the way to go from now on.

  2. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    Oh, and maybe you should have a voting thingamajig thing so you can get some instant poll results to specifically aimed questions.

    It would be anonymous and you'll probably get a greater response that way.

  3. SolShine7 said...

    I haven't been to any black themed film festivals but I'd like to attend the Roxbury Film Fest (Boston). I've only heard good things about it and Ruby Dee was there in 2008.

    I went to the Boston Latino International Festival a few years back and it was a completely pleasant experience. They had screenings at Harvard and MIT, great Q&A sessions, solid films, and some nice panels. There were a couple of films that still haunt me with their gritty beauty every time I think about them.

    As for this year, I'm planning to attend the Mixed Roots Film Fest (Los Angeles).

    And LOL on the annoying music that a certain black film fest has playing on their site.

  4. James said...

    The Harlem Film Festival is now Harlem Stage on Screen. Still wonderful

  5. Cut! said...

    The Hollywood Black Film Festival and the American Black Film Festival are 2 of the biggest jokes. I'm a filmmaker who has submitted films and I've also volunteered at both of them in the past. There is no reason for either of them to exist.

    The ABFF has moved its location so many times which says a lot about it. How can any filmmaker trust a festival that isn't grounded enough and knows what it wants to do with itself.

    The HBFF has some of the worst films and it's hard to take them seriously. Like you said, commercial attractiveness over art no matter how bad they might be. And the films are bad.

    I live on the west coast so I have only been to festivals in my area. So, I have little to compare them to.

    The Pan African Film Festival is usually strong. You should give them a look if you haven't done so. They usually have an eclectic mix of films like the African Diaspora film festival. I haven't had any difficulties with them.

    There's the Black Hollywood Education And Resource Center that hosts a few festivals. They sometimes screen some good stuff. But what you said about organization applies to them. I just went to their website and clicked on the "Reel Black Men" link and the information on the page is announcing a screening event dated September 8th 2007! What the hell?

    This is a very useful post. Thanks for opening up the conversation. Not too many others seem to want to have this discussion and I'm looking forward to reading what others have to say

    But if I had to choose one festival that I think is best out of all the ones I've been to, it would be the Pan African Film Festival.

  6. Anonymous said...

    You have to take budgets into consideration. Our festivals don't have the kind of money top tier festivals have to hire people and for marketing. Running a festival is not an easy job and I challenge anyone here to start one of their own if they think they can do it better. We should give them a break and be encouraging instead of disparaging.

  7. Filmmaker Man said...

    i don't pay attention to the festivals as much as i pay attention to microcinema screenings.... i think festivals are becoming irrelevant as technological advances are made... makes it easier for filmmakers to distribute their films and audiences to find them without the help from festivals.

  8. Anonymous said...

    First - there are too many festivals. It's time to consolidate.

    Second - there is little variety. The same group of films get recycled from one festival to the next. See my first point.

    And third - the model is dead anyway. We're trying to copy an archaic model. It's time we strip it all down and rebuild.

  9. BlackFilmThreat said...

    Great blog. I would rate black film festivals, of the ones I attended like this:

    1. Roxbury Film Festival, Boston MA
    2. Pan African Film Festival,
    3. San Francisco Black Film Festival

    ABFF is a joke and an even bigger joke has to be Urbanworld.

  10. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    Anonymous @ 10:57 - The issue doesn't seem to be with marketing or publicity (which seems to be where most of the effort, if not money, seems to go, especially with the bigger fests) but with organisation.

    Doubtless, a film festival isn't going to be a doddle to run, but why get so defensive when people who've attended these events voice their displeasure?

    Who are you running these festivals for anyway? Black filmmaking and associated talent or for your own egos?
    Listen to the complaints and grievances and then consider if new changes need to be implemented.

    If you're not able to make better use of what ever resources are available to you, then not having as much money as all the supposedly rich white folks doesn't really hold much water and maybe you have no business trying to cook in the same kitchen!

    If we want cordon bleu or nouvelle cuisine, then we know where to eat, but when we want soul food, why should we have to make do with burnt black eye peas?

  11. Anonymous said...

    I second what others have said. I give the nods to Pan African, Roxbury and African Diaspora.

    If I can say on this that the smaller festivals tend to be better than the bigger ones. So that's something to consider. I suggest that each big festival strip things down. Don't worry about the glitz and glamour. Worry about the showing good product.

    The other stuff will come. But it starts with the films right?

  12. Sergio said...

    I can't let this discussion pass without mentioning the Black Harvest Film Festival which is held every August in Chicago at the Gene Siskel Siskel Film Center of the Art Institute of Chicago and which I'm involved with as co-founder and co-programmer. We will be celebrating our 15th year and planning to make this the best year ever. Already we're getting some really great submissions

  13. Matty said...

    This is a good discussion to have and I for one am glad we're having it.

    I'm a filmmaker and I have a lot to say on this but I'll keep it short and simple. What I would ask each festival is why they exist. What they hoped to achieve when they decided to start their festivals. Is it to make money? Is it to give black filmmakers a voice since no one else is doing that? What are their intentions?

    Is not the goal to be a force in the industry so that black filmmakers will feel that they must go through black film festivals in order to get to the next level? If other non-black festivals are getting the really good films first then something isn't right.

    My tops from my experience are the Pan African festival. I live in LA so I go to their festival every year. I went to ABFF when it was here last year and thought it was kinda weak with the films it showed. Where were the films like A Good Day to be Black and Sexy, or Medicine for Melancholy?

  14. Sergio said...

    @ Matty

    Well we showed A Good Day to be Black and Sexy (with Dennis Dortch in person) at last year's Black Harevst Film Festival which was a huge hit and got a great response from the audience. We were going to show Melancholy too but Barry Jenkins pulled the film to show it instead at the Chicago International Film Festival. Yeah sure we were disappointed but that happens al the time with film festivals. It comes with the teritory

  15. Anonymous said...

    Let's take the conversation even deeper and ask why we have black film festivals, or Latino film festivals, or Asian film festivals. Let's start there and work from there. I think doing so we will have a better understanding of why things are the way they are.

    What about the Obama effect that is on every persons lips?

  16. SolShine7 said...

    I'm hearing more good things about the Roxbury Film Fest. Now I'll just have to go! Has anyone went to any other ethnic film fests? If so, what was your experience like at those?


  17. Anonymous said...

    Black film festivals are needed at this present time to showcase the voices that are not heard in the mainstream cinemas. You are going to have your AKA Hollywood ones, which will never go away across all color lines. Which will never change because they just don’t care or just don’t see the vision of context that is out of their box of thinking.
    But a better movement for more challenging films on a much bigger stage is still so needed.
    Everybody has there different vision, and walk of life. But sometime one vision overwhelms another and variety of substance is lost.
    I personally like and believe more balance will come as long we have the right speak out.

    Thank you for this platform

    A concern black American

  18. Invisible Woman said...

    To all film festival directors who are offended by this poll(Sergio this isn't for you):

    You should be paying VERY close attention to what is being said here. These responses are from people with unbiased opinions and no agenda. I started attending events related to Black Cinema since I was a little girl, when my parents took me yearly to The Black Filmmakers Hall Of Fame Awards.

    As a person who has worked in the industry, as well as being a consumer on the outside of it (Tambay as well) it is absolutely NO secret that most of what's out there in Black Film Fests is weak. Yes, weak. I agree with Matty that the intentions are muddled at best.

    One black film festival last year was held in Beverly Hills. Why? Who are you trying to reach? For what purpose? There was absolutely no parking (death in LA), you could not find the program listings or buy tickets online even a week before the festival, and the box office closed before you could get to it after

    Festivals want support, money, popularity, and to be taken seriously. So guess what? STEP YOUR FREAKING GAME UP and maybe that will follow. Stop criticizing the author of this blog--who just opened the dialogue, get some decent films people would go out of their way to see, and check to see what might be wrong in your own backyard.

    That being said, big ups to the Pan African Film Fest, always consistant.

  19. SolShine7 said...

    Are black film fests really that dire? So far the only good ones mentioned seem to be the Pan Africian Film Fest and the Roxbury Film Fest.

    Question: Are there any stellar black/African film fests abroad? Perphaps Cananda, Europe or Africa?

  20. bigg daa dee said...

    OK... Im gonna put in my two cents... (not in defense of my fest, of which certainly can improve)

    I am a festival programmer... and I do happen to agree with most points made here...

    In fact, my stomach still hurts by one of the comments about BHERC, of which I know is true... (unfortunately)
    Its almost like someone saying your kid is ugly... a fact that you are aware of but what do you do...

    I have been programming films for BHERC (15 years) and now The Best Shorts on BETJ... (3 years) In fact Tambay has shared his displeasure with the films shown. (its ok, you can't please them all)

    I have seen more short films then I can recall... but what I do know is... good films are in the eyes of the beholder... many times I have not chosen a film for some particular reason... and go to another fest and it is the favorite... so no major point to be made here...

    When we started showcasing films back in 1993, there were only a few festivals that specifically featured Black filmmakers... it was certainly difficult getting into the mainstream fests... (in some cases it hasnt changed)

    We chose to showcase short films and still do... Being that short films are pretty much the starting ground for most filmmakers... it is only natural that they are not going to all be the best... some just need a venue to showcase their work...

    think of your favorite poetry spot... how often do you go and say wow... some of these poets are not that good... but they have that moment to get in front of an audience to either improve or fail...

    It is the same with Black film festivals... Most programers or fest organizers simply have the passion to help the filmmakers showcase their work... some are actually trying to make money out of the deal...

    Sure they can be more organized... and of course money can help... but that is not all... we truly rely on the kindness of others... spending their time to help out... and the next year... it starts all over again...We kept the festival small so to stay in control... however, there is a pay off and a cost to EVERYTHING...

    With money comes a certain responsibility to sponsors... if you don't have Will Smith attending your fest... you can kiss most sponsors goodbye...

    I ramble this to say... I'm not whining about how difficult it is to hold a fest... that comes with most challenges in life...

    I guess my main point is consider helping out at your local fest... see what it is like from the inside out... you may get to understand some of the kookyness that happens... (like having an old azz file/pics on your website never to change)...

    Bottom line... keep supporting your filmmakers by attending these festivals... they need you to: stand in the lines, not get your tickets, go to the wrong theater, wait for a film to screen late, to have it shut off after just the opening credits, go to another theater because the dvd (you should never screen with) crapped out, only to find out the film sucked any way... but you met some cool people in your same boat and you came back next year and won the fest and became the next hot filmmaker on the circuit...

    I will also take this moment to apologize to anyone that has had any experience other than pleasureable regarding my fests.

    I do the best I can with the talents I possess...


    Ralph Scott

    (post script)
    Ave Montague of San Francisco Black Film Festival has recently passed... I send her friends and family my sincere condolences

  21. The Obenson Report said...

    Wow, thanks to everyone for all your comments! Much appreciated!

    If I knew it would stimulate this much discussion, including all the emails I received on the subject, I would have done this much sooner!

    I won't respond to every single comment. But Solshine mentioned black film festivals outside the United States, of which there are a few that I'm immediately familiar with - notably FESPACO, held biannually in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in West Africa. It's probably the most important black film festival outside the United States.

    I will post a separate blog entry highlighting those non-American black film festivals.

  22. Anonymous said...

    hey wendy
    do you have a blog? i want the link.

  23. Media Man said...

    I agree with a decent amount of people here so I won't repeat those sentiments, but I do want to start by thanking Ralph Scott for being frank and speaking from the heart.

    Ralph, I think those of us who have had bad experiences at Black/African film festivals (I've only had one bad one out of the three I've attended) can tell the difference between a festival that's trying their best and has bumps along the road, and the ones that are just trying to be fabulous with little substance for fabulous' sake. While I've never been able to make a BHERC event, from what I hear people do usually enjoy themselves.

    As Black people, like any other race or culture, we have every right to call out one another's ineffectiveness. Not doing so is the kind of short-sighted thinking that has destroyed our communities and efforts for years. If or when even President Obama messes something up that effects the Black community more directly than others we should call him out. Black-themed festivals are not immune from this.

    Anyone ever been to the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival? I plan to check it out this year and the one person I've asked said he had a good time there.

  24. SolShine7 said...

    I've never been to the Martha's Vineyard African American Film Fest but when I lived in Boston I only heard good things about it. One day though!

    And now that I think about it I remember hearing about that one film fest in Canada lead by Tonya Lee Williams (Y&R) that focused on multicultural stories. It seems top-notch. Has anyone been to it?

  25. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    @ MLM: Sorry, Must Love... No blog. I just love to shoot my mouth off on other peoples.


  26. Ed DuRanté said...

    Preach, Brother O, preach!

  27. Tanya Kersey said...

    Hello. My name is Tanya Kersey and I run the Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF) which is the festival one woman referred to as being held in Beverly Hills. I want to thank my friend Ralph Scott for standing up in defense of film festivals.

    I didn't want to even respond to this poll because I find it particularly offensive for many reasons, none of which I will go into here.

    But, in answer to some of the questions and to set the record straight regarding HBFF, we use bSide and Brown Paper Tickets are our tickets are sold online one month in advance! We don't sell tickets in advance at the box office because that set up isn't available. All of our information is clearly on our website which is updated constantly. We are the only black film festival to use this very sophisticated system which is like the Faceboook for Film Festivals. So I can't explain why you had such a hard time getting any information on the festival. However I will say that we don't market heavily to the general public as our festival is very industry oriented so you wont see lots of advertising and promotion in the community. Our focus is elsewhere and for good reason. Which brings me to my second point, the reason we are in Beverly Hills is because the industry surrounds this area. Many black film festivals suffer from lack of any real industry participation. Our festival attracts EVERY SINGLE MAJOR STUDIO and NETWORK!!!! There are top agents from CAA, UTA, William Morris and distributors, small and large. This festival was set up to model Sundance. We are trying to reach the industry and the filmmakers that come to HBFF have an unparallelled opportunity to meet industry folk in a way they can't anywhere else. Lastly to one of the posts, parking is $5 in the lot across the street from the Writers Guild Theatre and around the corner from the Laemmle Music Hall. In California you have to pay parking in most areas and there is no way around that. We also post the parking information clearly on our website.

    Finally, I find this entire conversation extremely offensive and without merit. Why dump on black film festivals that are out there doing positive things to help black filmmakers get a foothold in the entertainment industry? Maybe you haven't been on the receiving end and benefited from black film festivals but thousands of filmmakers have.

    And let me ask you all one question -- how many of you have been to Sundance, Toronto, Tribeca or Cannes? Do they respond to your emails? Do they know each filmmaker by name? Can you talk to the staff and programmers? Do they even care? Did you like all those black films they program? I'm not knocking the big guys but there are questions you should ponder and think about. Without black film festivals 95% of the black filmmakers out there would not have an outlet to screen their films so don't kill the messenger!

    If anyone has comments about HBFF you can direct them to me at If you have a problem with something that happened at a festival and you don't address it, whose fault is that?

  28. Anonymous said...

    1. Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival
    2. Pan African (in LA)
    3. Texas Black Film Festival

    The best ever WAS Acapulco Black Film Festival. No one has topped that, not even ABFF itself.

  29. SolShine7 said...

    I enjoy listening to Tanya's Inside Urban Hollywood podcast, she's had some good guests. But as Tambay first stated: This post isn't meant to inflame, but rather generate conversation. While I can't speak for him I don't think his intent is to offend any of the festival programmers but to simply discuss the state of black film fests. If you look at the overall nature of his blog it mostly highlights the positives of black cinema.

  30. Geniusbastard said...

    Ms. Kersey:

    Thank you for your response. I personally had a great experience with HBFF in 2000 when I showed my short film Benefactor. I met a filmmaker that I am still friends with and met Seith Mann who has gone on to direct The Wire, Entourage, and many other shows. I saw him recently at the Arclight and was able to have a nice chat with him thanks to HBFF.

    But I must disagree that this was an offensive topic. It isn't offensive to talk about shortcomings and to also ask people to share their experiences, both good and bad. I don't think that any conversation that goes beyond cheerleading is problematic.

    Nobody wants to kill the messenger, but I don't think we should be forbidden from having a public discussion on how the messenger could be better.

  31. Anonymous said...

    I think all film festivals, in their infancy, have problems. Black film festivals are no exception. However, as time goes on, the level of professionalism and quality of these fests tends to improve. Classic examples are the Pan African Film Fest in Los Angeles, Hollywood Black Film Festival in Los Angeles, and Mid-Atlantic Black Film Fest in Norfolk, Virginia. I have watched as, each year, these fests have just got bette and better. We have to give ourselves time and not be so hard on each other. The fact that we even have two major Black film fests in L.A. (HBFF, PAFF) says a ton. Some cities with a lot of Black people don't even have one. Ayuko Babu and Tanya Kersey are committed to excellence and if you have been attending their festivals consistetnly over the years, you would bear witness to what I am saying. They are class acts. The writer sounds like a disgruntled filmmaker who maybe has trouble getting his films seen in festivals. He should not take out his pain on Black film fests as a whole. Not cool or fair.

  32. Anonymous said...

    I am a film maker and I probably applied to every Black Film Fest out there, and showed in about 1/3 of them with my last film. The organization and quality vary greatly (ranging from the actual festival to the communication with the film maker.) Some appear to just take your application fee and others are both film maker and audience friendly.

    My top three are

    1. ADFF- New York
    2. Martha's Vineyard AAFF
    3. ABFF

  33. BlackFilmThreat said...

    Speaking of ABFF, what's up with there dated websites and management skills? They always seem to be late on their own dates. For exampled, I was looking at their website for the possibility of entering a film through "" On the ABFF website, when I passed my arrow over the Withoutabox banner, it read that this option would be available Jan. 5th. Soon, Jan. 5th turned to the 19th, to the 26th, then to February 2nd. Of course Feb. 2nd past and guess what? The Withoutabox option is still unavailable. I tried contacting them about it but haven't heard anything back. Now what's the excuse for such mismanagement? And don't shovel me the whole "its in their infancy stage" BS. That's all excuses. The festival is in its 13th year. When will they get their act together? In their 50th year?

    If it's that difficult to maintain then they shouldn't intend on having that option. Its little things like this that make ABFF and Urbanworld such jokes.

  34. Ed DuRanté said...

    I'm going to my first Black film festival new week. PAFF. I'll report back and vlog about it.... I just think in general we need to raise the bar on Black Film... Okay, I said it. ACCESS TO A CAMERA AND ACTORS DOES NOT MAKE YOU A FILMMAKER.
    Bad no composition ... Bad acting ...Meaning bad directing...
    A film education is not a bad thing to have. ;)

  35. Anonymous said...

    The person who posted this is just wrong! And the people posting individual things they don't like about a film festival are wrong too. So yall want all the black film festivals to go away? Then what? They don't need your comments about what they don't do right cuz they're doing the best they can. Instead of complaining why not volunteer to help them. I will say the person who posted this is bold cuz I would never want to put myself out there like that and if I were a festival programmer I would never program your films, and your name would be $hit on my list. I agree with Ms. Tanya don't kill the messenger cuz black film festivals have our back and those peeps work for little or no pay to support black filmmakers.

  36. Ed DuRanté said...

    They definitely don't need anyone's comments. No one NEEDS so say anything. Like I said, I've never been to a Black film festival, I was addressing a wider problem. I'd like to address ART. YOU REMEMBER HIM DON'T YOU? My questions are: Why is this discussion upsetting so many people? Why do we need to support mediocre films?

  37. BlackFilmThreat said...

    I agree with you Ed and I like what you're doing with your facebook group "Black Filmmakers":

    "I just think in general we need to raise the bar on Black Film..."

    Well said. To add, I would also say we as an audience need to raise the bar as far as what we choose to absorb as film goers. I sincerely believe that most black people, which includes the programmers of these film festivals, don't know what makes a good film and wouldn't be able to recognize one if it were to land on them like a giant anvil from the sky.

  38. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    Boy, there are a lot of anonymous people who don't like other people to speak their minds...

    And they seem to be anonymous people who've obviously only visited this blog for the first time ever or they'd know that this is a a forum where black film and related talent is highly promoted, praised and, if need be, questioned.

    If you're going to enter the fray then at least introduce yourselves and they put forward an intelligent argument.

  39. Ed DuRanté said...

    Preach sister!

  40. Jeremiah said...

    Wow! I am surprised that so many programmers are upset. I think it is typical of Black ( I always capitilize the B) people to be upset when someone puts them to the test of becoming better. I have know Tambay and others on this blog for some time and he is with out a doubt all for Black film festivals and the films as well.

    As much as like your podcast Tanya, I have to say that I am disappointed at your response. Bloggers are not questioning what programmers are doing, but in the way it is carried out.

    For some reason we are always trying to model what we do after them (meaning people who do not look like us). That is the hand we have accepted with the acceptance of integration as we know it. I say as we know it because I am not against integration, but I am against integration that means we are always doing the following and/or integrating. This blog topic is much deeper than Black film. It is about a mindset of a people who are like psychiatric patients without psychiatrists. Meaning we have been so robbed that we cannot help but think "the man's" way is always right.

    I don't know Ed DuRante, but I agree that we need to step our game up big time. We love to talk about how positive images are needed and I have to agree that they are to some degree. I say that if we focus on being GREAT, then positive images aren't the focus anymore. I would love to see a negative image if it is a great performance of a negative image.

  41. The Obenson Report said...

    I'm reading every comment, but I'm not going to respond to every single one. It'll take too much time.

    What I will do is post another blog entry that addresses everything that's mentioned on this thread.

    But thanks for all your comments - both those in support, and those in dissent.

    As you were...

  42. Anonymous said...

    I have to say that I am disappointed in the comments of Ms. Tanya Kersey. I really love your podcast and I am sort of surprised at the tone and content of your comments.

    It is sad that you and/or other progammers will probably ban Tambay or give him a bad name just because he started a blog with a question. It is clear that this is something that is bothering a lot of people. Most of them are just afraid to say something about it because they do not want to be ostracized or banned for honesty.

    I really hope you as well as other festival programmers think about what you are doing to a black filmmaker because he is saying that black filmmakers need to step up their game.

  43. Anonymous said...

    I hope you are doing fine Tambay. Keep your head up. You are one of the few are courageous enough to start a much needed dialogue.

  44. BlackFilmThreat said...

    What's going on now? Black film programmers from these black film festivals can't handle the truth? It's not as if Tambay mentioned any names. It really takes someone guilty of his complaints to come forward and defend against them.

  45. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    Hey, I like and welcome the programmers stepping forward to defend their corner.

    But nobody is perfect and I don't think anyone expects perfection so much a improvement, so I wish they could all be like Mr Scott and and at least defend themselves with some grace and dignity rather than talking down to us like we owe them something...

    We have minds and can choose to vote with our feet and wallets. At this juncture, I'm way more inclined to go to BHERC than go schlepping into the hills...

  46. emil faladun said...

    The best black filmfest I ever went to was the Blacklight Film Festival in Chicago. It was inspired programming, they had African Flmmakers, as well as black Americans, they had a guy from Cuba, sho showed oncredible features films about slavery in Cuba. I mean what happened to that festival and how did it get replaced by so much mediocrity?? That festival set a standard. I remember the organizer telling someone that a potential sponsor wanted him to not show so many foreign films and he would not agree. The excitement of that festival went away, festivals like Black Harvest are contrilled by white people at the School of the Art Institute. The Black section of the Chicago Film Fest is controlled by the white festival director. Did the blacklight brother die or something????" Does anybody know?

  47. BlackFilmThreat said...

    I agree. Ralph Scott, as he always does, exuded humility and sincerity in his comment. The others are just coming on here, some in tirades, talking about black lists for those who speak against them. Sounds familiar?

  48. The Wendilicious Wonder said...

    I feel like writing an ode to hubris...

    Maybe I will!


  49. Anonymous said...

    Tambay started this out as a poll for people to list which film festivals they like best. It should have been a CONSTRUCTIVE DIALOGE about what areas of a festival we like, don't like, why and what they could do to improve. Then it might not come across the way it has to some of the festival programmers. Thanks to Ralph and Tanya for coming on and voicing their opinions. I'm sorry so many of us are now angry that you spoke honestly about how you felt.

  50. emil faladun said...

    These folks at the Blacklight fest did this program with a live jazz band back in 1992 when I was with my first wife. This Oscar Micheaux film had just been found in Spain back then. The place was sold out and it was one hot screening. The audience was 50-50 white and black too. They did some truly inspired programming back then. They even had top ten films cited y the critic Jonathan Rosenbaum in the festival. And little or no hollywood stuff. That is the kind of festival I like. Like some kind of masterclass.

    Pioneer black filmmaker's lost epic is rediscovered
    [CITY Edition]St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg, Fla.
    Date: Aug 9, 1992
    Start Page: 8.A
    Section: NATIONAL
    Text Word Count: 524
    Document Text

    Seventy-two years after censors banned pioneer filmmaker Oscar Micheaux's Within Our Gates, the sometimes violent, sometimes caustic look at black life has been shown without cuts in the city where it was made.

    Micheaux, a native of rural southern Illinois, moved to New York after his run-in with the Chicago Board of Censors in 1920.

    The movie he wrote, produced and directed was filmed in Chicago in 1919, the year of the city's worst race riots. The all-white censor board banned the 1920 premiere of the black filmmaker's second movie because it considered certain scenes too inflammatory.

    Two scenes considered inflammatory depicted a lynching of a sharecropper family and a black Baptist pastor as a secret foe of racial progress.

    "Micheaux went before the board with Ida B. Wells and other leaders of the black community and finally got permission to show the film, but only with 1,200 feet cut out of it," said Floyd Webb, program director and founder of the Blacklight Film Festival.

    "The preachers were on his case just as much as the white power structure," Webb said.

    The festival on Friday night presented an uncut version of Within Our Gates that was discovered in 1990 in Spain.

    The subject matter of Within Our Gates was surprising for a movie made in 1919. It deals with literacy crusades, urban crime, alcoholism, rape and miscegenation.

    In its shortened form, the movie played for months in Chicago, making enough money for Micheaux to continue his cinematic career. But he was barred from showing it in other parts of the nation and the film disappeared.

    It was the first cinematic setback for the former railroad porter and farmer, whose first movie, The Homesteader, was bankrolled by white South Dakota farmers.

    Webb sees Within Our Gates as Micheaux's answer to D.W. Griffith's 1915 Birth of A Nation, which glorified the Ku Klux Klan. The Klan makes no appearance in Micheaux's film, but it features a lynch mob of vicious, Mississippi townspeople. Members of the Southern aristocracy are depicted as money-grubbing drunkards.

    Most of Micheaux's later movies were shot in his apartment in Montclair, N.J., or in a small studio in nearby Fort Lee. He normally used a rented camera and produced his movies on budgets of $10,000 to $15,000. Budgets of up to $1-million were the rule then in Hollywood.

    Of 46 features Micheaux made between 1919 and 1948, fewer than a dozen are known to exist. Most are either what Webb calls "shuffle-along" musicals or melodramas such as the 1924 Body And Soul, which introduced Paul Robeson to movies. He played a hypocritical preacher.

    "Something happened to him after Within Our Gates," Webb said. "The Homesteader was a socially conscious movie, and so was this one, but his later works just aren't the same."

    "Maybe he realized that the American people just weren't ready for propaganda - propaganda in the good sense, before the Nazis and Communists gave the word a bad meaning," he said.

    Micheaux died in 1951. By then, a new generation of black filmmakers had rediscovered his work, but only the later, studio-bound movies made in New Jersey.

    Credit: Associated Press

  51. Anonymous said...

    We post anonymous cuz yea we scared of getting blacklisted ... this is a business and politics are always at play. Grow up, deal with it & get real. Be safe or be sorry.

  52. Sergio said...

    @ Emil

    I used to be involved with the Blacklight Film Festival back from the beginning for five or six years. The festival eventually ended due to a number of factors mainly due to the difficulties with financing, finding personel willing to work for the festival (back then for NO pay) and other problems mainly involving infighting about control and the direction of the festival. Also the festival was getting a bad rep among filmmakers for stiffing them out of their B.O. take. By that time,I had had enough and moved on

    As I stated in my earlier post I am now one of the co-founders and co-programmers for the Black Harvest Film Festival Though the Siskel Film Center as part of the Art Insitiute of Chicago provides most of the financial support and provides the screening space for the festival it does not solely select the films shown and the festival also has a commiitee made up entirely of African-Americans. As for the quality of the films shown granted I admit we've shown some real stinkers as most black film festivals have, but film festival is only as good as the films that are available at any given time and I'm sorry to say that a lot of black films are simply not up to standards. Something that I have always complained and even written about. Yet explain this ironically some of the worst films we have shown at the festival have been some of our biggest successes. Why is that?

    Right now we are in the process of looking at films now being submitted for this year's festival and so far the quality as been uniformly really good for a change. I hope this is sign of things to come

  53. Invisible Woman said...
      This comment has been removed by the author.
  54. Invisible Woman said...

    @tanya: "Our festival attracts EVERY SINGLE MAJOR STUDIO and NETWORK!!!! There are top agents from CAA, UTA, William Morris and distributors, small and large. This festival was set up to model Sundance. We are trying to reach the industry and the filmmakers that come to HBFF have an unparallelled opportunity to meet industry folk in a way they can't anywhere else."

    From my experience, it is not that hard to meet with industry heavyweights if one has even the slightest bit of wherewithal. What I'd like to know is, what happens the next day, the next week, the next month? Is anyone that is shown at your festival getting any sort of real notice/deal funding? And if not, why not? Start there.

    A word to the wise: a little self-importance is a dangerous thing.

  55. Tanya Kersey said...

    To Invisible Woman - I've been reading the comments coming into my email box throughout the day and althought I don't want to get into a tit for tat, I am compelled to respond since you called me out.

    Let me say that dozens of dedicated and passionate HBFF team members have worked hard over the years, along with the studios and some industry heavyweights, to make sure the mainstream industry is at HBFF. There are quite a few studio executives who go to bat to make sure their top executives come out. We've hosted our filmmakers with welcome receptions on studio lots. One major studio has held a special event, on their lot, just to introduce the various departments (from casting and production to development and acquisitions) to me and HBFF. This included the head of production. These are not things we publicize but they are the things that make us HBFF. So yes, we are very proud that HBFF gets a lot of industry support as it is one of our selling points and one of the things that distinguishes us from other festivals. Every festival has something that distinguishes them and this happens to be ours.

    Second, like you said, its not all that hard to meet with industry heavyweights but what the filmmaker-writer-director-producer does once they've made that connection is not the festival's responsibility. We try to school the filmmakers as best as we can but its up to each and every filmmaker to take it from there.

    I teach workshops and classes all the time about how to network in Hollywood and unfortunately, most filmmakers don't have a clue. They don't know how to meet someone, what to say, how to stand out from the rest of the crowd, how to follow up, etc. So if you're meeting people but nothing is happening, don't blame the film festival. Figure out how to produce results from the contacts you're making. And realize that just meeting someone does not a contact make. Are you looking to meet hollywood heavyweights or build solid relationships. And there are different levels of relationships. The best ones are those in which you're invited to their homes for BBQs, kids' B-day parties and weddings. Having a cell phone number is not as big a deal as it used to. If you run into them on the street, do they know who you are? Those are the questions you should be asking yourself if like you say, its not hard to meet hollywood heavyweights.

    Finally, HBFF has had many successes -- some which have been made public and others which have not. I personally have taken it upon myself to get filmmakers deals if I really believe in the project. Many filmmakers have gotten agents, attorneys, distribution deals, and the like. You can check our website for some of the success stories. In addition, each year one of our storyteller finalists gets to be mentored by a major screenwriter who reads their script, gives them notes, and in some cases, helps them get a deal. And, last year we partnered with the UK Film Council who bought 10 top Black British filmmakers over to attend HBFF and get introduced to industry executives through their Breakthrough Brits program. Three of those filmmaker's are now moving to the U.S. to pursue their dreams in Hollywood as a direct result of their experience. The list goes on and on. If the filmmakers weren't getting anything from HBFF, they wouldn't return year after year.

    Now I'm wondering who Invisible Woman is and what your experience is since you reference your experience. you obviously have a problem with HBFF, but then you apparently don't know much about the festival since you had to ask about our successes. Why don't you reveal yourself!

    And to those of you who are "disappointed" with what I said, "disappointed" in what way? That I didn't say what you think I should have said? I'm very sorry you feel that way but I said what I honestly thought, I stand by it, and its my opinion. If you knew me you'd know that I'm a total straight-shooter and I call 'em as I see it, no sugar coating.

    Peace out.

  56. The Obenson Report said...

    First, Ms Kersey, I wondered if there was really any point in me responding to your missives, and wasn't planning on doing so until I felt truly warranted. But your comments demonstrate a clear lack of understanding for what the essence of my initial post was, and I now feel compelled to respond, after your last note above.

    I'll preface this by saying that I'm going to be blunt with you in this response, because your comments and your email to me, call for that.

    As someone mentioned on the thread, this discussion is bigger than just the black film festivals; however, we're talking strictly about the festivals this time around. Anyone who's been reading my blog, or listening to my podcast since inception, will know that I've spent plenty of time criticizing (and championing) other aspects of the industry - the films, the filmmakers, the audiences, etc, etc, etc. No group or segment is sacred. Certainly not the festivals.

    I applaud your accomplishments, and all that people like you have done, and continue to do for black filmmakers. But that doesn't somehow automatically relieve you of criticism. There's still a lot of work to be done, whether you choose to realize that or not; although it would be in your best interest if you did.

    Threatening another person simply because you don't care for their opinion - an opinion that didn't even directly, or indirectly reference you - reflects negatively on you, and is unbecoming of someone of your perceived stature, forcing me to question you and your motives.

    Your festival is practically irrelevant; and that's the problem Ms Kersey, which you still refuse to realize and acknowledge. In the larger picture, amongst all the other pieces that make up the film industry puzzle, for a festival that you claim is somehow a giant in its specific sector, you're mostly irrelevant!

    Labeling your festival as "the Black Sundance," which you've done, demands certain expectations, influenced by comparisons made between your festival and the real Sundance Film Festival. But why even make that connection? You can't stand on your own? It's like when certain journalists called Spike Lee the black Woody Allen in the late 80s. What does that really mean? Was that meant as a compliment to Spike? Should he have smiled and kissed the feet of the journalists who made the comparison? Is calling your festival "the Black Sundance" meant to compliment your festival? Have you asked yourself that question?

    If you've been reading my blog or listening to my podcast, you'd know who I am and what I'm about, and you'd realize how inappropriate some of your comments have been. So, I urge you (and others who are blindly chastising me and my opinions) to first learn about who you are addressing before making accusations, which many will agree are completely baseless.

    Your pugilistic ways are unnecessary, and your condescending, dismissive tone does you absolutely no good.

    In case you haven't noticed, you're the only festival programmer screaming as much as you've screamed about my post and this thread, even though, nowhere in my post did I mention your name, nor your festival. So, your knee-jerk, impulsive, impassioned responses come across as painfully defensive, exposing a wound, even though I didn't accuse you of anything. If this blog post is "without merit" as you claim it is, and we're all just a bunch of uninformed peons, then it should have been really easy for you to simply ignore me, and this entire blog. But, the fact that you've taken the time to type up multiple dissertations, in your defense, indicates that you obviously don't think this is all "without merit." Far from it! I'm not Freud, but I can ascertain that some things that were said definitely hit you hard enough to warrant a response, even though you say, "I wasn't going to respond."

    You and several others apparently didn't read my original post closely enough, and I strongly encourage you to go back and do so, before posting another word, as you will see that I'm not a "foe of black film festivals" as you put it; I simply expressed my concerns with how some festivals I've been to were handled. Nowhere in my post did I name any specific festivals pejoratively, except when I listed the 3 that I thought were the best of the bunch. Now, I'm almost certain that if I had included your festival in my top 3, that the tone of your responses to me, and on this blog would have been entirely different. I doubt that you would be as "offended" as you're claiming to be presently, and wouldn't feel the need the "defend black film festivals," as you seem to believe is necessary, even though nowhere in my original post, did I lump ALL black film festivals into one sullied group.

    And if you haven't been paying attention Ms Kersey, several people on this thread have also listed their top 3 black film festivals, as I requested, and NO ONE has mentioned yours, even though you claim to be "the Black Sundance?!?!" Doesn't that tell you something? Or are you just refusing to listen?

    I'm not quite sure what you expect to get out of all this posturing. Your comments imply that this isn't a discussion we should be having. Why not? Are black film festivals somehow sacred that we aren't to criticize them, simply because you all are "working hard for black filmmakers without pay?" How does any human being, or any entity grow, and become even better, if it is barred from receiving criticism? That's silly and you know it!

    I'm not here to pick fights. That's a waste of time and emotional energy. If you want to have a healthy, constructive discussion on the subject, then, I'm all ears. You can do so here, or come on my podcast and we'll talk it out... but all this verbal sparring is pointless and does no one any good.

    Clearly, there's a problem, otherwise there wouldn't be this many people posting comments, as well as the countless others who have sent me emails, whether in support or in dissent, and the still countless others who I know have read my post and the thread, but choose not to comment for one reason or another. So, clearly, everything isn't as peachy as you apparently think it is. If it was, then most, if not every poster, would have been quick to shout me down. But, quite the opposite has occurred, as you've certainly noticed. So, as I've already said, clearly, we have a problem that isn't being addressed; and you, and others like you, can choose to recognize that, or continue living in the bubble that you've apparently surrounded yourself with.

    The people posting here are the filmmakers, writers, and film enthusiasts that attend your festivals, and, trust me, there are countless others who feel very much the same way many of the posters here feel, but are too afraid to voice their opinions for one reason or another. I'm not. Do you really believe that everyone here is just some disgruntled filmmaker, or someone with a personal agenda against you, or against black film festivals in general? What you're witnessing here is a microcosm of a larger community with similar concerns. And I think it's in your best interest to recognize that, and respond accordingly, rather than engaging in needless chest-pounding that I believe only makes you, and thus, your festival, unattractive.

    I have had dealings with many major festivals - from Sundance, to Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, SXSW, Tribeca, Slamdance, and a few others - and, yes, to answer your questions in sum, my experiences with them have been unquestionably superior to my experiences with certain (not all) black film festivals - specifically those that are competing (or appear to be trying to compete) with those majors above - the "black Sundance" included.

    If I'm a black filmmaker with a feature-length film that I believe can compete with the best of the best, I see absolutely no reason to send my film to your festival, as well as some other black film festivals, because, I'll instead be sending it to those festivals that I believe will give me the best opportunity for success; and yours, quite frankly, does not do that. The numbers simply don't lie.

    So, if you haven't already asked yourself these questions, and I certainly hope you have, then maybe you should. Why does your festival exist? What purpose does it serve? Who is your audience? What's the long-term goal? Is it serving its purpose? Is it meeting its goals? Is it at all relevant? Do you care, or are you simply content with the status quo, and don't think any adjustments are necessary?

    Now, we can certainly discuss the state of power and control in the industry, and the fact that minorities are noticeably absent in power positions, and thus there are reasons why festivals like Sundance, and others, are what they've come to mean to film and filmmakers today. But, that's another lengthy discussion for another day, and I'm sure we can agree on that.

    But, the fact still remains. There's a problem that you're refusing to acknowledge, whether because of ego, or just stubbornness. Even Ralph Scott's response first acknowledged that there are problems, and then he went on to elaborate on why some of these problems exist, and what could be done to fix them. As the saying goes, you attract more bees with honey than vinegar, so you can choose to continue assuming the defensive stance that you've been in, or, you can take a page out of Ralph's book, and attempt a somewhat more graceful, less self-important response. I really think you'd be helping yourself and your festival by doing that.

    As I've already stated, I'm extending an invitation to you to be a guest on my podcast, where we can actually have a constructive discussion on the matter, instead of continuing as we all have been doing on this blog thread. We're all adults, so let's all act like adults - and that goes for everyone here.

    Believe it or not, I'm interested in continued progress, not regression, or resting on one's laurels. As hard as you may think you're working, there's always someone working harder than you are, and sacrificing even more, intent on doing what you're doing 10 times better, so that they can surpass you. So, if I were in your position, I would be constantly looking over my shoulder, and my efforts would reflect that.

  57. Aleshia said...

    A film I edited, "Oberlin-Inanda: The Life and Times of John L Dube" screened at the The African Diaspora Film Festival in 2005. I went to the festival and had a really good experience. The selection was top notch and Diarah and Reinaldo were very welcoming. I too have run into them at other venues, including the Cannes film market, as they searched for the films they wanted to screen in their next festival.

  58. Faith said...

    Thank you so much for this discussion because it is sorely needed! I can't agree with you more that many of the Black film festivals have major issues. I would say that the #1 problem is film quality. Of the festivals that I attended, I would say about 40% of the films there had no business being there. Low production value, bad acting, crap storyline or dialogue, and in the case of documentaries, also low production value and lack of structure and/or focus.

    I appreciate that these festivals want to give Black filmmakers exposure, but if someone's work isn't up to par with what's coming out of top film schools and film festivals, aren't those filmmakers being done a disservice? I can recall one instance when a filmmaker admitted that his film was lacking production-wise, but that he was learning as he went. The audience, of course, applauded, but to me is his comment was an insult, as someone who spend mega-$$ on grad school to study filmmaking and the film industry and who spent six years making my most recent film and made sure that its production value is top-notch.

    As far as best/worst I would list them (in no particular order):

    --Black Harvest Film Festival (Chicago). Gene Siskel Film Center is a GREAT place to see a film, and they piggyback off of Gene Siskel's marketing dept. to properly publicize the festival and its screenings throughout the city. My only wish was there was a meet and greet for the filmmakers, which is impossible to do when the festival is a month long.
    --Roxbury Film Festival (Boston). Committed, friendly staff. Well-run. Probably the best overall slate of films I've seen at a Black film festival.
    --Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival (Brooklyn, NY). Small but committed staff. They have limited resources but they do what they can to show love to filmmakers. Again, a pretty strong slate of films, but very heavy on shorts.

    --Martha's Vineyard African American Film Festival. Badly organized, horrible screening room, "exclusive" parties were lame (ex: a reception with free booze but NO FOOD!), films in Vineyard Haven--after parties were in Oak Bluffs, and you were on your own as far as transportation between the two, and some of the films that won awards the year I was there were NOT the best films.
    --San Francisco Black Film Festival. Hate to write this so soon after Ava Montague's passing, but my 2003 screening there was a disaster!. My film screened in an ATTIC (!) in the Bravo Theater using one of those projectors you use at school! Not to mention it had to have been about 90 degrees in that room! And the film screened three hours early (!), because another film didn't arrive in the mail. When I went to Ava and demanded that the film screen AGAIN during its correct time slot, she looked at me like I was high. After some discussion, they did screen it again. To Ava's credit, the festival was well-attended and well-publicized, which makes sense considering that Ava was a publicist. But there was no non-random way to meet other filmmakers and close to no social events.

    Can't speak to ABFF, HBFF or Urbanworld, because all three rejected both of my films. Which goes to my last point, can we look beyond "hood" films and comedies and hip-hop documentaries to represent the Black experience at these festivals (and I say that to the "mainstream" festivals as well)?!

  59. Sergio said...

    @ Faith

    Thanks for the kind words about Black Harvest. I really appreciate it. Are you Faith Tremel director of Black Aura on an Angel?

    If so are you interested in submitting your new film Family to Black Harvest this year?

  60. Jeremiah J. said...

    I have to agree with Faith to some degree, especially when she mentions the quality of films at these festivals. Most of the stories are weak and the acting is just beyond awful. That is no surprised because I realize that Black people have problems with defining and understanding art and crafts of art such as acting, writing, directing, etc. It is good to get some type of training.

    I do not think that developing great art depends on having multiple degrees or post graduate degrees. Most of the time people with those degrees make great technical work, but really lack in creativity because they are to stifled with what they learned from school. At some point all of that must be let go and the creativity must rule the day.

    I end by saying that we need knew trailblazers instead of trail followers. We have followed hip-hop and I have always wondered how could we let a lower tier culture, meaning people with questionable ethics, morals and lack of education control Black culture. If you do not think it is true just look around. We

    We have work to do people.

  61. Pete Chatmon said...

    Mr. Obenson -- first off, great post, great discussion, great value.

    To discuss the inadequacies of anything is the only way to move past them. When I do screenings and script reading I pressure folks more for what they like than what they don't...they just better be able to SAY WHY. If there's no why then it's simply hating, and it doesn't seem to me like there is much hating going on in this dialogue.

    IMO, some black film festivals seem to feel they have done their part by merely existing. Others seem to exist for the accompanying parties, fashion shows, and comedy nights that they know their "audience" will be more than happy to pony up money for. The rest of the "bad" seem to prey on the $15 - $40 they can pilfer from filmmakers dying to get an exhibition platform for their work. As a filmmaker myself, organization is all I ask for. I'm not even asking for a mission statement, a simple to-do list would suffice.

    I can join you in your horror story and discuss a film festival that called and accepted my short film 3D that had gone to Sundance with Kerry Washington, Dorian Missick, and Al Thompson. Being a shameless self-promoter, I went on an email and postcard rampage (yes, this was when people handed out paper!) trying to ensure attendance to my screening. Weeks went by, deadlines passed, and when the "schedule" was finally posted online there was no mention of my film. I called this festival in NY and was informed that "I never should have received the call that my film was accepted". WOW. Profanity ensued. Then...they said since it had been to Sundance it had acquired TOO much attention as if that somehow weren't the goal when meanwhile they're profiling some half-baked studio movie with black actors as the fundamental reason to attend the festival. When made aware of the fact that I had promoted their fest for 6 weeks (essentially for free at this point), and the prospect of me not being screened being unacceptable, there was no discussion, no middleground, no nothing. Not even a smidgeon of understanding as to why a filmmaker might feel a tad bit embarrassed as to the fraudulent 6 week promotion campaign they'd just completed.

    Now on the flip, there are of course well organized fests, and I would be remiss if I didn't mention the Pan African Film Fest in Atlanta where they featured Premium as the closing night film and while not a festival, BMW & were very organized and caring for the project when they took Premium to LA, DC, Chicago, and Atlanta. Many of the fests I've played in I haven't attended and I am in no way shedding any negativity on them as I have no experience from which to draw.

    Looking toward the future, I think festivals could benefit from better promotion and strategic partnerships (this doesn't have to be Pepsi or a huge conglomerate, just someone in your city that can assist in spreading the word so filmmakers aren't in 3 person 11am weekday screenings) and maximiazing the educational components of the fest so filmmakers can be prepared for their future career. I don't care if it's just giving cats a recommended reading list -- merely showing a film transitions to a film career for the smallest percentage of filmmakers. It will be HUSTLE, INFORMATION, and PERSISTENCE that will be most important.

    Anyway ... apologies if this rambles as I did not go back and revise. Gotta get to work but wanted to join the conversation...

    have a gr8 day...

  62. Tet Ndeti said...

    my 2¢,

    Tambay, as a fellow creative, I agree with your stance on Black cinema. In fact, the same points can be applied to all forms of Black-related media (print,web,tv, radio).

    Just like we come in different shades and hues, we are as multidimensional as a people in our views and experiences...and this diversity is rarely reflected on the big screen.

    Furthermore, banning or boycotting Tambay's site because, does nothing to help our cause. Shall I go there and equate it to black-on-black crime. Echoing the purveying sentiment up here, there is nothing offensive up here... there is no malice in this blog. Sometimes the truth hurts, but i would rather have that critical eye from my own people... I know its coming from a place of love and respect.

    Listen. Digest. Reflect. Respond.

    Tet Ndeti

  63. Anonymous said...

    The best film festival I have attended is the Arizona Black Film Festival. They are really small, but probably one of the best run festivals ever. They are so polite and accomadating and as a filmmaker I felt like a VIP. Got a chance to meet Lee Daniels Producer of Monster's ball and was able to chat with him in a very intimate setting in their VIP Film Makers lounge. They were also really organized which I found refreshing. I had no idea that they even had Black people in Arizona so it was nice to see and attend.

  64. Anonymous said...

    Programmers are not the problem when they have 12 spots to fill with only 5 good films to fill them. Make better films people.

  65. voyage2atlantis said...
      This comment has been removed by the author.
  66. voyage2atlantis said...

    I swear it was 25 yesterday.

    Do we need a place to discuss black film that bad? It's like folks were like oh snap did you hear about that heated discussion on that blog about how black film festivals suck? I wish I had some input but I haven't been to enough.

    HEY OB maybe your site needs boards like okayplayer. I'm thinking this is a good idea the black film messageboards. For real besides your site and invisible's i don't get to rant enough. I don't want to lose followers but still in all we could build. what do you think?

  67. The Obenson Report said...

    I used to have a board, last year, but no one was really using it, so I shut it down.

    I.W. and I flirted with the idea of a black film supersite - a portal that would cover all aspects of black cinema from across the globe, which we would run collectively.

    But I got caught up in other things, and was blogging elsewhere for a few months, and never worked on the idea.

    I still think it's a good idea, but I'm not sure I can commit to something major like that. It's work!

  68. The Sujewa said...

    A Black flm supersite would be a good way to raise $s for projects, also a possible source of advertising revenue (& the place would be interesting to visit for us indie minded people as long as the site covered the full spectrum - from indie folks like Spooner & Jenkins to Hollywood stuff to history - Micheaux, etc. - also w/ an on-going discussion on why ethnicity-labeled filmmaking & distribution is necessary or not necessary, but with you having a hand it it, I think that would be the case). Also, if you appoint maybe 5-6 trust worthy administrators to assist with managing the site, it maybe less hassle. I did a group blog called Indie Features 06 in 2006 - w/ about a dozen bloggers participating/being able to write on the blog w/ out me having to approve every post, & it went very well & the site got a lot of attention from other indie film media.

    - Sujewa

  69. alfred said...

    Let me start off by saying that this type of dialogue needs to happen in our community so this is not a negative thing,but if we all come to the table looking to see how things are wrond and how we can improve on them, only then can we move forward and for all the people that want come on this blog and use it as the personal attacks and are not interested in solutions, we don't need to hear you go somewhere else and do your hater thing there. Now I am an Actor who has been doing the Black fil festival circut for the past 2 years and My film has been in all the major Black Film Festivals and i gotta be honest i was alittle disappointed with what i saw. Now that's not to take into account that it is very difficult to run a festival i get it, but that's the thing,this is what you do so find a creative way to make it work. As for us(artist) that may mean stop comparing every Black film festival to Sundance because we know they have the machine(MONEY) behind them, so know your just playing yourself by making such a comparrison, you can liken it to having a Knife in a Gun fight and you can be as idealist as you want but at the end of the day a Gun is a gun and a knife is a knife. Before i went to any film festival i thought that(and i admit naively) Film Festivals was for the people that were new and that was trying to present themselves to the industry and that would be their ticket to going to the next level(through the festivals) whether you were an actor, director, producer or whatever you were, this would be the place you go to get approval, to whether you were good enough to go to the next level but i was wrong, wrong, wrong!!!!! Now i understand that you need to have celebrities at your festivals, i get it, to secure the sponsors but it seemed like all they cared about, was who was there(celebrities)at the festival. The people that need the most Press the Filmmakers,Directors, actors were reduced to pats on the back and then you fly back home. Matty asked and i agree, is not the goal to be a force in the industry so that black filmmakers will feel that they must go through the Black Film festival in order to go to the next level. that is powerful because whe my film didn't get into sundance but got into ABFF i was like off at least the black community will begin to know who i am, but i came back from the festival feeling like i just went on vaction, spent some money and came back home.another person wrote why do we have Black, latino, asian film festival? and what a great question. we need to stop comparing ourselves and not to make this a black and white issue becuase no excuses will help anyone but let's deal with the reality, we were not getting the kind of exposure at these other festivals like sundance and Cannes because the majority of us were not and are still not getting into these festivals. so why do we have the black film festivals? Because it is a necessity in order for us to gain exposure because if we didn't trust me most of our stuff would never be shown because they are not taking our films. if you think i'm lying i was there at the Q&A at Hollywood black film festival when almost everybody ask the senior program director for Sundance "Do youb really watch our films". All the filmmakers in the audience is asking the same question??? come on man.I can talk about this forever but i started off with talking about solutions and what i propose to all the balck film festivals out there is this. stop trying to keep up with what the other festivals are doing and who they have at their festivals. Do what you gotta do for your advertisng dollar but( and this is where i start) START BUILDING THE CAREERS OF THE BLACKS FILMMAKERS, ACTORS, DIRECTORS, PODUCERS" The power is in your hands to say you know what, we(along with the audience that comes to watch these films becasue they are most important) decide who will be the next Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, whoever(and i'm not talking about next but first whoever but it was used so you no what i mean). say to these up and coming entertainers(through your actions) you want to go to the next level, you gotta come through us. that way people will stop think that man i gotta get into Sundance so that my life can change or so that i can get on. the one thing these peole respect and that money, from as early as i can remember(and i'm young)we(the black community) set the bar on what's cool and who and what is going to be the next big thing. think about it like this all the the award shows you have been seeing i know you notice that all the people in the crowd are mostly white with a couple of us sprinkled here and there and that's ok because what i'm saying is why don't ABFF, Hollywood Black, Pan African, San Francisco and whatever festivals want to participate form a council that every year since the same films are being recycled in the same festivals, we have our own awards and not some TNT Black film awards because they have people that's already on, hollywood has already got them so how much more exposure do they need? Form a governing body that selects best Film, best Actor, etc and have a real independent Award show. Last year i had 1 feature and 2 shorts that i'm the lead in that done very well but someone ask me the other day how come most don't know about you.That was just an example but i hope you see that we need to stop waiting for Hollywood, sundance to validate us and start doing it ourselves. If we had an awards show like that, a real Black independent awards show where let's say it's on BET J I would bet my life within 5 years Hollywood would try to get up in it, why? because now we have take our destiny into our own hands and we are saying you know what i don't need you, i going to be a star over here and i'm good, and you watch how many films get picked up, watch how many people start wanting to see the indie films that they never knew excisted and want to see them on the shelves at blockbuster or want to get it on netflix, watch how many directors start getting work etc. agreat example of this is Bollywood i spoke to one of those actors and thet were like look success in America is like success in no other place in the world but we are happy with being Mega stars in India.Black people as a whole we are our own country and this is nobody fault but our own, stop blaming anyone but ourselves because we are the ones with the crab in a barrel mentality(even though it was social engineered)let's take our power back and believe me it's going to start with is in the entertaiment industry because, us artist shape the world, in many ways we are politicans because your work can reach so many. To the filmmakers i know money is the problem but keep grinding i am a lover of your work and struggle. there is so much i wanted to say but this is too long and if there are holes or reason why my plans worn't work instead of bashing it, say how it could work. let's stop being apart of the problem and be apart of the solution.*Notice how i did not mention Obama, he has done his part now lets do ours!!!!!!

  70. alfred said...

    *Forgive me for all the grammartical errors and missed spelled words. i was just writting and being all passionate and didn't even spell check or look for those erros, but i hope what i was trying to say was conveyed.

  71. Cheryle Reynolds said...


    First, I would like to thank all Black film festival directors/programmers for all of their hard work. Second, I would like to thank independent filmmakers and film enthusiasts for their support. Without you, there wouldn't be a need for this discussion.

    I'd also like to ask you all to understand those that are responding to his forum defensively. While we do need to agree to disagree, keep in mind that those who have founded and produced Black film festivals are really parents and the festivals are their children. They gave birth to them and have nurtured them as they've grown. So as Erykah Badu would say, "they're sensitive about their festival." But we (Black film festivals) can definitely improve our delivery.

    I am Cheryle Reynolds, an independent filmmaker and founder/producer of the Urban Mediamakers Film Festival in metro Atlanta. Initially, I wasn't going to respond to this poll but after getting e-mails and telephone calls from other Black film directors/programmers, I decided to add my two cents to the forum.

    While I can't speak on behalf of all Black film festivals, most of us do agree that sponsorship dollars are a big challenge. With that out of the way, I will say that money has not stopped UMFF, as the Most High is the real Provider.

    I do want to share a couple of things.

    1. Why did I start UMFF and what is the mission of the festival? It definitely wasn't for the money (lol) but for the opportunity to be a spring-board for filmmakers of color like myself and to teach collaboration in getting quality films produced and distributed independently. Greenlighting our own films -- if you will. By connecting with a director, DP, writer, gaffer, and actors, collectively many quality films can be produced. UMFF's first festival was in 2002 when digital technology was just leveling the playing field. I had travelled to various film festivals (BHERC, ABFF, Cannes, Pan African, etc.) and I always enjoyed the artistic atmosphere and being able to network with like-minded folks. Whenever I would come back to Atlanta, there was a void -- nothing happening for Black filmmakers. So I created UMFF with a two-fold mission -- to provide training for independent filmmakers and to showcase our films that most people would never see. Working straight from my personal checking account, I've been able to bring in some heavy-hitters, but without big funding dollars, there are limitations.

    2. Organization of the festival. As far as UMFF, I'm pretty much a one-women show, with the help of volunteers that come on board 2-3 weeks before the festival. In multi-tasking and attempting to ensure filmmakers, writers, and attendees are taken care of, films judged, maintaining the website, scripts read, logistics, etc., some things do fall through the crack. If there are filmmakers or attendees that I've dropped the ball with during UMFF, I want to apologize and ask you to give UMFF a second chance. My goal is to always provide an organized, professional film festival that gives you more than just a party to attend.

    In looking at the big picture of UMFF, I do believe attendees of UMFF have enjoyed the festival and made contacts that have developed into long-term relationships. The festival has always been affordable, and I've seen actors, writers, filmmakers and crew members excel in the industry and I can truly say UMFF assisted in their creative journeys.

    As far as film selections, I have always been able to find Black short films and documentaries, but not many quality feature films. I believe that's due, in large part, to funding for the projects and the content (violence, depicting people of color in negative-only storylines, etc.). And really, film selections depend on what's available during a particular year. From my experience, there are not a lot of quality, independent Black features.

    Stepping Up Our Game...
    I'm looking at stepping up UMFF's game and moving with incorporation of new technologies (mobile devices, podcasts, etc.). This past year, I used Skype to bring in speakers from Los Angeles and New York. This helped tremendously in my cost, because I didn't have to pay flights, hotels, and speaker fees.

    I believe a solution to stepping up our game and improving our festival delivery would be to continue discussions like this, as well as perhaps a Black Film Festival Summit where we can put our heads together and develop a collaborative strategy for 2010 and beyond. The summit dosn't have to be in person (although in person would be good). We could actually conduct the summit via free video conferencing.

    We should develop an agenda addressing funding, collaborating our resources, contacting speakers that support independent film festivals, programming, securing quality films, niche marketing, advertising tools, etc.

    The best Black film festivals that I have attended are listed below in the order of my preference.

    Urban Mediamakers Film Festival (lol)
    Pan African Film Festival
    Langston Hughes African American Film Festival
    Black Man Film Festival

    I've yet to make it to the Hollywood Black Film Festival, but it is definitely on my list to attend.

    In closing, filmmakers and attendees are our customers. This forum is great because it gives feedback that we (as prgrammers/directors) need to hear in order to be proactive in the future to improve our festivals. I would like to invite all of you to come to the 8th Annual Urban Mediamakers Film Festival, October 16-18, 2009. I also would like to thank The Obenson Report for opening up this dialogue. To my good friend Ralph Scott, Tanya Kersey, and other festival directors/programmers, keep your head up, think and move positively, and let's start making changes that will step up our festival games!

    Go courageously as you pursue your dreams!

    Please visit and join us in October 2009.

    Peace and blessings.

  72. Cheryle Reynolds said...

    BTW, with several mentions of the Black Harvest Film Festival, I'm going to definitely check it out this year in Chicago! I'll continue to follow this thread to see what other Black film festivals I need to put on my radar. Visiting other film festivals is a great way to get films as well as speakers!

  73. Sergio said...


    Yes plaese come to Black Harvest this year (Aug.7 - Sept. 3) and be sure to introduce yourself

  74. The Sujewa said...


    Do you want to see the documentary about bloggers that Tambay is in (also Brandon Harris is in it - another Af-Am film writer) - to be considered for Black Harvest '09?

    doc is premiering in nyc on 2/17 at anthology film archives, and then in april the atlanta film fest is gonna show it.

    If you go to the blog for the doc you'll see the opening 9 mins. of it:

    (btw, i went to columbia college chicago)


    - sujewa

    Sujewa Ekanayake
    Indie Film Blogger Road Trip

  75. Daryle Lockhart said...

    Great conversation topic. Thanks for starting it.

    We started after we were trying to find trailers for indie Black films and found nothing but YouTube links. I haven't attended enough of the festivals this year to really judge, I just want to offer my help in any efforts for a blog portal. I also offer a better quality alternative to using YouTube that is also free.

    Thanks again.

    Daryle Lockhart,

  76. lpcyusa said...

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  77. floyd webb said...

    Sergio Mims

    "@ Emil

    I used to be involved with the Blacklight Film Festival back from the beginning for five or six years. The festival eventually ended due to a number of factors mainly due to the difficulties with financing, finding personnel willing to work for the festival (back then for NO pay) and other problems mainly involving infighting about control and the direction of the festival. Also the festival was getting a bad rep among filmmakers for stiffing them out of their B.O. take. By that time,I had had enough and moved on."

    This is Floyd Webb and I was the founder and programmer and chief financier if the Blacklight Film Festival that existed from 1982 to 1995.

    Sergio, how dare you cast this kind of light on my history in heading up this festival. Your revision of history is amazing. Right along with your continual spreading of the rumour that I was in the CIA (WTF). You did this until I addressed it 12 years later. You walked away from me when I asked you to sign my petition to the CIA Human Resourses Dept to get my benefits, since you knew with such authority, that I was working for them. My response to that kind of bullshit is always humor.

    You want to talk history. Let's talk history. It is not always pretty. But most important of all Sergio, I am sick of your shit. I have allowed you to be the spin doctor for 15 years, now we need a course correction.

    I essentially and continually financed that festival for 15 years myself out of my pocket. Even with grants, I still poured $60K plus into that festival over the first 8 years. I payed for my own travel to foreign festival during most of that time. I stopped counting after year 9.

    We tried to pay filmmakers and did not charge entry fees. We charged fees designed to encourage people to come to us instead of going to the mall theater. I was commited to building the audience for a new generation African American Cinema.

    That had it's pluses and minuses but at least we tried. Some years we did not make enough money and bills went unpaid including my rent. Did I make mistakes, yes. Did I bear the responsibility, yes. Was I the first Film Festival to be in debt and struggling? No. Ask your boy Michael Kutza at the Chicago International Film Festival about that.

  78. floyd webb said...

    @Sergio part 2

    I am proud to say I did a pioneering Black Film Festival behind the work of people like Pearl Bowser, the Ceddo collective at the Tiki Room behind the Chicago Defender Building, the first South Shore Black Film Festival and was greatly inspired by the 1982 festival organized by Parminda Vir at the Commonwealth Institute in London.

    With the encouragement of people like St Clair Bourne and Clive Taylor, I moved forward and with a tiny group of people decided to do this festival. You came along, Sergio, after we had the Festival organized. The wagon was already pushed up the hill, Serge, we welcomed you to ride down with us. The mission needed everyone we could get.

    Your involvement in the festival was tangential after you draw your fist back on me in the basement of Chicago Filmmakers in a discussion about how to build an audience in 1986. Your question was, "what are we doing wrong?

    My positon was that with few resources all we could do is build the audience by word of mouth and with grassroot efforts like the annual Festival newspaper, public relations and year round events. I was not so hot about presenting Hollywood Films and perpetuating that aesthetic, and stealing the thunder from hardworking independents like Alile Sharon Larkin. Your postition was.....emotion and disappointment.

    You in your emotional way, disagreed but had no other concrete or tangible solutions or suggestions. Threatening to throw down on me in that way just showed me you needed anger management. I was not going to jail for dim-making your ass. The distance from my cupped hand to your left ear was already calculated and cocked cause I was trained like that. I never hit anybody first and I never fight if I don't have to, it is childish. Excuse my anger, but damn Sergio, enough is enough.

  79. floyd webb said...

    @sergio part 3

    The Festival ended because I was sick of having to reinvent the wheel every year. Sick of working with Institutions such as the Film Center of the School of the Art Institute that felt that as an organization, Blacklight should not be paid part of the box office after 15 years of building an audience that did not exist for the kind of quality work we were presenting.

    After a 15 year relationship with the The Film Center of the School of the Arts Institute starting with Richard Pena(now in NY), in 1982, The current director did not like the fact we tried to be a membership organization and it distracted from their ability to attract membership. People did both. We had a good reciprochal relationship but the director, in that liberal way of hers, wanted it all.

    She even went so far as to tell me, in a year we got an unprecedented grant from a liquor company(I knew no good would come of it but I was desperate and foolish) that we should not be getting box office money since we got this one $50K grant.

    We got nothing free from anybody, we paid for the use of the theaters we screened in and shared in the box office and other expenses. We did our own PR, promoted Blacklight as an emerging institution. I was, in my inexperienced inept way, was actually trying to build an institution.

    I have not stopped trying.

    The festival ended because I had a new son(he just graduated high school last month). My resources has to be reallocated. The alluring smell of freshly wet diapers and baby vomit has a sobering effect on a brohter. I took a job in London in new media and decided to get to back to what I really wanted to do, make movies.

    One of the the lessons I learned was to be a not-for-profit is to beg for money 24/7/365 and not be ashamed of it. The mission is all important.

  80. floyd webb said...

    @sergio part 4

    The record of our innovative programming is solid and documented. We were one of the the first festivals to do video projection and did so right along with the 16mm films in 1989. I learned to use email and could save money on telex's

    We premiered Spike Lee's She's Gotta Have It, Daughters of the Dust, Souleymane Cisse's Yeelen, and so many many films that may not have come to a mass black audience that was interested in seeing these film in the context we presented them.

    It took me years to see the festival not as a burden but something maybe even noble. Meeting working filmmakers and technicians who came with their mom's and dads learned at Blacklight they could be in this industry. People made connections and went on to work with experienced filmmakers and went on to make their own films.

    I could go on...but no. I will have to finish the book. You just continue to tell your story, I will tell mine with context, reference and verification of facts.

    You have a nice day, mank!

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