An array of great cinematic achievements will be reeling onto local screens this week, thanks to the Black Arts Alliance. Folks can revel in the excitement of the 14th annual NC Black Film Festival, which takes place from March 26 through 29. Honored guests, featured filmmakers, and more dot their full schedule, as Wilmington once again proves it reigns supreme in filmic pleasure.
The Black Arts Alliance officially formed in 1998 (founded by well-known art enthusiast Rhonda Bellamy), and eventually resulted in a festival, which celebrated black cinema, known as CineNior. It wasn’t until close to six years ago that the event was named the NC Black Film Festival.
After years as a volunteer, former Atlanta resident Charlon Turner became the festival’s director once Bellamy stepped down. During her time with the festival, she’s seen it grow in attendance to nearly 1,000 people. With a new Friday night screening for student films, Turner expects attendance to grow even more this year.
“A lot of filmmakers attend other festivals all over, but it’s all about the hospitality we show them here,” Turner says. “It’s always about how we take care of them here. It’s just something we offer here in Wilmington: that Southern hospitality.”
The North Carolina Black Film Festival occurs each year due to the diligent work of Black Arts Alliance members, all of whom are unpaid, and various other community members and organizations. This year the festival dons a new, easy-to-navigate website and advance ticket sales through Evolution Tickets.
As with every year, Cucalorus has aided the festival. They’ve volunteered to host a number of the visiting filmmakers. “Dan [Brawley] is just a huge supporter, always encouraging,” Turner tells.
The festival will open with the much-talked-about film, “Dear White People,” which will screen at the Cameron Art Museum (3201 S 17th St.). Winner of the 2014 Sundance Film Festival’s Special Jury Award for Breakthrough Talent, the film examines racial politics at a predominantly white college.
“We’re happy we’re able to bring the film because it never came out here in Wilmington,” Turner says. “We know a lot of people in our area didn’t have the opportunity to see it. The fact that we can screen it and share it in this area is great for us.”
The film will be preceded by an opening Cinemixer at 6 p.m. and Pre-Trailer Welcome at 7 p.m., which also will take place at Cameron Art Museum.
On Friday students from across the country will give a glimpse at the future of filmmaking. Sponsored by the UNCW Film Studies Department, the UNCW Upperman African American Cultural Center, and the UNCW Black Film Collective, the night will open at King Hall (on UNCW’s campus) at 5 p.m. with an opening reception. The student films will be separated into four blocks.
“In the past, we’ve had several student submissions from filmmakers across the country,” Turner details. “This is the first night we have night devoted strictly to student films. I work as an artist in residence at UNCW, and I collaborated with Todd McFadden, who’s over the Upperman African American Culture Center at UNCW. We’ve created the Black Film Collective, which allows film students the opportunity to write, produce and direct their own projects. That was kind of where the idea spurred from.”
Student filmmakers in attendance will include Brittany ““B.Monét” Fennell from New York, representing her film “Q.U.E.E.N.” The story chronicles a young girl who utilizes written word to express things too difficult to say. Eventually, she opens up to her mother, giving a relatable story that encourages young women to find their voice. The film plays in Block Three, which begins at 7:15 p.m.
Likewise, UNCW film studies student Katrina Hargrave also will be there. She participates in support of her film, “Spontaneous Combustion,” which is based on a poem by fell UNCW student Danica Kelly. The film will play as part of Block Two, which starts at 6:30 p.m.
Opening Saturday’s events, held at the Hannah Block Community Art Center (120 S 2nd St.), will be a filmmakers brunch and networking session at 10 a.m.. The event is open to the public, and admission is $10. Likewise, folks can attend a workshop, headed by Alice Fuller of Sheer Social Media and Tonita Perry of Eaddy Perry and Associates, on PR and social media marketing for films at 11 a.m. on the mainstage. Tickets to the event are $10, and it’s open to the public. As well, there will be a workshop on film distribution, presented by Lea Anderson of the Art Institute in Charlotte, at 2 p.m. in the Lavin Studio. There also will be a host of films, shorts and music videos screened.
One special screening during the family-friendly block, from 10 a.m. to noon, was made by a D.C. Virgo sixth-grader Malik Gordon. The film, entitled “Uncle Rodney,” won the middle-school category in a film competition put on in memory of Martin Luther King Jr. in January. The festival was hosted by the Cape Fear Volunteer Center, and Gordon will be present for a Q and A session.
Sunday will close events at the Cameron Art Museum. Dance in Film, with Kevin Lee-y Green and the Techmoja Dance and Theater Company, will kickoff at 3 p.m. The event will feature film-inspired dances. It also will feature a special dance performance to recognize the late Donna Green, who passed away in 2014, and all her contributions to the Black Arts Alliance. Turner tells that Green was an instrumental member of the organization, as well as the local art scene in general.
“A lot of us were close with her outside of work and the community,” Turner laments. “It’s really sad. It’s going to be very awkward to be at the Arts Center this year and she not be there. You’re used to walking in her office, and having her siting there. If you need something, [she would] take care of it. She would cook spaghetti dinner for us. Because we’re at the center all day, we don’t get a chance to get away to grab food, and she’d always make sure we had something to eat. And to be there and her not be: I really think it’s going to be an emotional time. But I know her spirit is with us, and I think she would be proud of what we’ve continued to do.”
The performances will lead up to the awards ceremony, which takes place at 4 p.m. Aside from doling out accolades, the event also will honor emerging filmmaker Harold Jackson III, whose film, “Last Night,” will endcap the festival at 4:50 p.m.
“A few years ago we brought Ava DuVernay to Wilmington, and she was just embarking on the film industry with her company Affirm,” Turner says. “And now look at who she is: She’s receiving recognition with her film, ‘Selma.’ We’re honored that we had her first, so we’re hoping that some of the people we’re bringing to the area [this year] will be people that we see in the industry as professionals in the coming years.”
For a full list of events and prices, head over to www.blackartsalliance.org. All-inclusive passes are $50, and each screening block or feature is $7 individually.
NC Black Film Festival
Thursday, March 26 – Sunday, March 29
Various locations and times