Screen scene: Afrikana Independent Film Festival comes to town

Second Street Gallery partners with the Afrikana Independent Film Festival for a series of screenings that begins with the documentary BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez (pictured) on October 30. Photo: Attie & Goldwater Productions Second Street Gallery partners with the Afrikana Independent Film Festival for a series of screenings that begins with the documentary BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez (pictured) on October 30. Photo: Attie & Goldwater Productions

There’s a film festival coming to town, but it’s not the one you’re thinking of.

Beginning on October 30, the Richmond- based Afrikana Independent Film Festival will launch a series of screenings at Second Street Gallery.

“Afrikana started with the mission of showcasing cinematic works of art from people of color from around the world, with a focus on the global black narrative,” says founder and creative director Enjoli Moon.

While plans for the multi-day festival set in Richmond continue to take shape, Moon launched the monthly Noir Cinema Series in late 2014 as a way to present free screenings of independent films, augmented by in-person discussions with the filmmakers. Now in its second season, the series has hosted 10 screenings at a growing list of venues including Ghostprint Gallery, Balliceaux, 1708 Gallery and the Byrd Theatre, as well as outdoor venues such as the Tredegar Iron Works.

“Enjoli had been so successful with getting galleries in Richmond to support what she was doing, I thought that it would be something that would add a layer of programming,” says Second Street curator Tosha Grantham.

And a rich layer it will be, as the featured film for the inaugural screening will be BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, a full-length documentary about the titular African-American poet.

Since releasing her first collection of poetry in 1969, Sanchez has published more than 15 works—primarily poetry and children’s books—and her work is anthologized widely. She is also the recipient of prestigious poetry awards, including the Robert Frost Medal and the Langston Hughes Poetry Award. Just as importantly, Sanchez incorporates her art into her work as an outspoken activist, as a member of the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and onstage as a Def Poetry Jam performer.

Sanchez is unafraid of stutters and twitches in her poems, keying in anxiety by adding extra letters and words to mimic speech patterns and embracing the resulting discomfort as a way to give voice to some of the lived realities of gender and race. It seems impossible to separate her politics from her pen. Her poetry and performances are not for the faint of heart, but her words are sharp and their force is powerful. The poet describes herself as “a woman with razor blades between my teeth.”

As a documentary about Sanchez’s life and work, BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez mixes traditional biographical storytelling with footage of performances and readings. Earlier this year, the film was an official selection at a variety of festivals, including the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. It’s the second documentary from the team of Janet Goldwater, Barbara Attie and Sabrina Schmidt. Prior to that, Goldwater and Attie had been making documentaries together for more than 20 years, earning Pew Fellowships in the arts for their work. Goldwater will also be in attendance at the upcoming screening and will participate in an audience discussion.

In addition to its strength as a documentary, BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez connects with the current exhibition at SSG, “Beyond Classification.” On display through November 20, the show features photography and videos made by eight Egyptian women, exploring themes of gender, religion, modernity and contemporary art. Both the exhibition and the inaugural Noir Cinema Series screening will feature work made by women, celebrating women’s voices as political forces, and both tie in the theme of sustainability.

“The season itself looks at these different ideas of sustainability that artists are working with, whether they are cultural, visual, musical or related to social change,” says Grantham. “So, here it’s the aspects of culture that are sustainable in an environment of revolution.”

The second Charlottesville screening in the series will feature short films on November 13, including El Khateeb and Trials of Spring. Both films also connect with the same exhibition themes, respectively celebrating the golden age of Egyptian cinema and documenting the Arab Spring uprisings.

In between the two Noir Cinema Series screenings, yet more filmmakers will present work at SSG as part of next week’s Virginia Film Festival and its Digital Media Gallery offerings. According to Grantham, the timing isn’t accidental, and one of the goals of the screenings is to “promote the Virginia Film Festival in advance and keep it going after it’s done.”

Through these diverse offerings as well as other community programming throughout the month, the SSG staff try to squash the stereotype of a contemporary art gallery. “We’re a gallery but we’re also a civic space,” says Grantham. “We’re free and open to the public. We want people to come here and feel really comfortable.”

Moon and Grantham are also interested in fostering a stronger connection between the arts communities in Charlottesville and Richmond. “We would love to be able to engage the Charlottesville community more,” says Moon.

Along with that goal, Moon is optimistic that the inaugural Afrikana Independent Film Festival will take place next summer. To help support that goal, she plans to launch a crowdfunding campaign in addition to hosting monthly Noir Cinema screenings with suggested donations that go to support her larger efforts.

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