From Mar. 15-24, Atlantans are given the opportunity to interact and engage with filmmakers and industry professionals as well as some rising black artists at the37th Annual Atlanta Film Festival.
The Atlanta Film Festival (ATLFF) is one of the largest and longest-running film festivals in the country, now in its fourth decade originating back to 1976. ATLFF is one of only two-dozen Academy Award qualifying festivals in the country, where independent and international films are shown at the local level before being propelled to the global stage.
Known for its general lack of African American films, this year’s festival showcased the screenings of two black movies that provided audiences with eye-opening experiences and in-person dialog with some of the persons involved with the production of the works presented.
Monday evening showcased the viewing of ‘Wolf,’ starring a majority black cast of Irma P. Hall (known for her roles as a family matriarch; she appeared in Soul Food, andThe Ladykillers), Eugene Lee (Lackawanna Blues, Coach Carter) and newcomers Mikala Gibson, Shelton Jolivette and Jordan Cooper.
The 2012 release, filmed in San Antonio, centers a young adolescent boy (Cooper) and his family, a father (Jolivette) who is a big rig trucker always on the road and his mother (Gibson), a month away from becoming a psychiatrist.
The family’s core is shaken when it is discovered that their son has been sexually molested by their most trusted confidant, their pastor. Struggling with betrayal and observing their son’s obsession with his abuser, the family must overcome tragedy and trauma in a very tough to watch, but superb piece of work.
“I always do research on my characters, that’s how I was trained and I had to interview a lot of mothers,” said Mikala Gibson. “You see so many people talking about black people being atheists and a lot of it is because they have left the church just for this reason.”
The narrative feature was directed and written by Ya’Ke Smith, a professor from Texas, who is considered to be one of this generation’s next film directors to watch.
“I’m really trying to get this into churches,” said Smith. “There’s been a little bit of resistance when we screen. There will be a pastor that says ‘Yeah, I wanna screen that in my church!’ and then I never hear from then again, but it’s been very positive from those who have been in the house.”
‘Wolf’ shines light on a taboo subject that has lurked in the shadows for years within the black church community, which made it a tough pill for audience members to swallow.
“Every good actor acts and every great actor becomes,” said Shelton Jolivette. “It was not easy to pick up the script and become that person on the screen. That was not me.”
Many films at this year’s Atlanta Film Festival were being shown at the city’s oldest cinema, The Plaza Theatre. Built in 1939, The Plaza has been home to several independent, classic and cult motion pictures shown year-round as opposed to its counterparts which feature more mainstream films. The theatre currently has two screens, a large downstairs auditorium which seats 375 and an upstairs theatre that seats 175 people.
On the other side of the Black cinema platter, Tuesday night, festival attendees were welcomed to “Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp.”
Produced by rapper/actor Ice-T, the documentary follows the unruly life of legendary Chicago pimp Iceberg Slim (1918-1992). Slim was known for reinventing himself from a pimp to the author of seven groundbreaking books, which pioneered what is known as ‘street-wise writing.’ The genre explored the world of the ghetto in poetic detail, making him a cultural icon.
Along with archival footage of Slim during his ‘pimping days’ and his writing, the film includes interviews from friends and colleagues such as comedians Katt Williams, Chris Rock, Snoop Dogg and music mogul Quincy Jones.
Audience members have the opportunity to vote for the best film after every showing, with an award being given to the motion picture with the best achievement in animated or live action films.
Films receiving awards will move on to other festivals to be considered to be nominated in the Academy Awards in 2014.