On February 7, 2013 members of the Pan African film and arts industry slowly arrived on the red carpet in various forms of casual and formal dress at the Director’s Guild on Sunset Blvd. Photographers jockeyed for positions on the carpet inside and outside the Guild as actors and filmmakers strolled across and posed on the carpet while extolling the virtues of their latest role and/or film to the press. Such was the scene opening night of the 21st Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival, the largest Black History Month event in the country.
Since its founding in 1992 by actor Danny Glover, Emmy Award-winning actor Ja’net DuBois and executive director Ayuko Babu, PAFF has grown into the largest and most prestigious Black film festival in the world. The mission of the Festival, according to the PAFF website, “is to present and showcase the broad spectrum of Black creative works, particularly those that reinforce positive images and help to destroy negative stereotypes.” This year PAFF’s mission was successfully accomplished with screenings of over 150 films featuring the creative talents of women, men and children of African descent from Africa, Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, Latin America, South America, the South Pacific and the United States.
Films shown at the Festival included the world premiere of director Ramin Niami’s “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn,” an extraordinary documentary about the blues. Also featured were the films “African Cowboy,” a narrative short about the adventures of a cowboy from Namibia in southern Africa and AlaskaLand a narrative feature film about growing up as a Nigerian American in Fairbanks, Alaska. The Festival closed with director Shola Lynch’s amazing documentary “Free Angela & All Political Prisoners,” which chronicles the life of legendary radical activist and intellectual, Angela Davis.
The screenings of “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn” and “Free Angela” were made even more special by the presence in the audience of some of the stars, directors and producers of the films. Legendary blues man Guitar Shorty, for example, was present at the screening of “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn.” He participated in a question and answer session about the blues and the film along with the film’s director Ramin Niami following the screening. Icon Angela Davis, “Free Angela” director Shola Lynch and executive producer of the film Jada Picket Smith were all present at the “Free Angela” screening the final night of the Festival.
In addition to the showcase of films, there was a night of tribute to those who have contributed positively to the image of the Pan African community. There were also, panels, workshops, a fashion show and a SpokenWordFest. Also featured at the PAFF was ArtsFest, an exhibition on the first floor of Los Angeles’ Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, featuring African artifacts and original ceramics, jewelry, mixed media, sculpture and wearable art.
The 21st annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival ended
on Presidents’ Day. Select Filmmakers were honored with awards for their films at a special awards brunch during this time. “Free Angela & All Political Prisons,” won the PAFF award for the best documentary, for example. “Foot Soldiers: Class of 1964,” a short, informative documentary about Spelman College graduates of the class of 1964 and their involvement in the Civil Right’s Movement, won the best documentary short award and the audience award for short documentary.
A review of Festival film AlaskaLand follows.
AlaskaLand is a heart-warming story of a Nigerian-American brother and sister who not only rediscover the importance of each other in their lives but also discover the importance of their Nigerian heritage.
The film tells the story of Chuckwuma and his younger sister Chidinma. Chukwuma is a young Nigerian-American man struggling to find his way in Fairbanks, Alaska and American culture in general. During his self-discovery process, he hangs out with the wrong friends, takes drugs and drops out of school.
His parents, two successful engineering professors at a local university, are at the end of their rope with Chukwuma and his trouble making and failures. After Chukwuma fails to come home to his 14-year-old sister Chidinma’s birthday celebration, his parents take off in their car in a rage and search for him. While searching, they are both killed in a car crash. After their parents die, the sibling’s uncle takes Chidinma to live with him and his family in Nigeria while Chukwuma tries to make a life for himself in Fairbanks.
Chukwuma tries to re-enroll in school but walks out during the process after staff members remind him what a great man his father was and point out Chukwuma’s troubled past. Upset, Chukwuma storms out and goes over to a friend’s house who laces Chukwuma’s joint with PCP. Smoking the joint causes Chukwuma to hallucinate and run uncontrollably through the woods and then to another house. The owner of the house mistakes him for a home invader and shoots him, landing the young Nigerian-American in the hospital.
Chukwuma’s sister and uncle come back from Nigeria to take care of him. His sister, whom he hasn’t been in contact with since their parent’s death, moves in with him. After an initial awkwardness with each other, they start to bond and start behaving like brother and sister. They have a snowball fight, for example, tease each other, bicker and reminisce about their mother and father.
While they’re getting to know each other, Chidinma reveals that she has learned many things about Nigerian culture and their Nigerian family and tries to share them with her brother.
By the end of the film, Chukwuma, is forced to make an important decision about the next stage in his life. Will he remain in Alaska or return with his uncle and sister to Nigeria?
AlaskaLand is Nigerian-American writer/director Chinonye Chukwu’s first feature film. She filmed AlaskaLand in just two weeks in Fairbanks, Alaska. Chukwu grew up in Alaska and is the daughter of two engineers. Although the film is not autobiographical, the filmmaker says it does try to give audience members an idea of what it’s like growing up in Alaska as a Nigerian-American. Chukwu does an excellent job of letting viewers know about not only the alienation and confusion some Nigerian-Americans feel but also about the strong role Nigerian culture can and does play in their lives in America. She also does a wonderful job portraying the bond between the brother and sister, Chukwuma and Chidinma. Chukwuma’s teasing his sister about her hair during a snowball fight and the knowing looks Chidinma gives her brother at times throughout the film are priceless.
Also effective is the filmmaker’s use of hip-hop and African music throughout the story. The music helps drive the plot and punctuate moments of Chukwuma and Chidinma’s personal struggles and transformations.
Click on the following links “Babe’s and Ricky’s Inn,” Free Angela and all Political Prisoners” and “AlaskaLand” for trailers of all three films on YouTube. Visit The Neighborhood News video section for a video featuring the works of artists exhibiting in the PAFF ArtFest and scenes from the “Babe and Ricky’s Inn blues jam after party.