When the American Black Film Festival, an annual staple every summer in South Beach, left South Florida for New York this year, it left a void in the tri-county area: We were poised to have no festivals dedicated to African-American filmmaking. Until Lizabeth Martin (pictured) stepped in.
The associate professor of communications at Palm Beach State College saw this void, and jumped to fill it—modestly at first. “Initially, because I am an educator, I was looking to do one day of workshops and panel discussions,” she says. “I wanted to be sure that in our summer, we had the same kind of offerings the [ABFF] presented over the years. It grew to something much more. I needed to have a competition, so it grew to three days.”
She’s talking about the Boca Black Film Festival, the inaugural three-day event she founded and organized as her summer project. It will run July 17 to 19 at the Boca Raton Marriott, with each jam-packed day centered on a theme relevant to black cinema: Thursday's is “Preserving a Legacy,” Friday's is “The Grit and the Grind,” and Saturday will close with “The Art of the Hustle.” More than 40 events will help illuminate the state of African-American filmmaking as well provide workshop and casting opportunities for local and professionals looking to network or break into the business. “Instead of waiting for people to do things for us, we have the talent and people here and the backing of the film commissions,” Martin says. “We need to create these opportunities here.”
Some of the panel discussions and dialogues include “Black Images in Film & Media” (5:30 p.m. Thursday); “Culture, Heritage & Legacy: Two Films and Two Perspectives” (6:30 p.m. Thursday); and “State of Black Cinema: Industry Practices & Issues” (11 a.m. Saturday).
“The biggest discussion is that 100 years ago, when these films started, they were called ‘race films,’” Martin says. “Now they’re called black films. But they appeal to a number of universal life experiences, just like any other films. In actuality, black people go to all kinds of films. And yet a small percentage of films we attend feature a black actor or cast or storyline. There needs to be a representation of positive images.”
The first annual Boca Black Film Festival will certainly provide one, especially across its eclectic handful of screenings, the result a submission process open to the community until July 1. Here is a look at some of this new festival’s offerings.
“Oscar Micheaux: The Czar of Black Hollywood” (7:30 p.m. Thursday)
This documentary explores the tumultuous career of Micheaux, perhaps the earliest black filmmaker, who wrote, directed and produced some 37 movies and helped bridge the gap from silents to talkies. He was a true pioneer but was underappreciated for something like a century; “The Czar of Black Hollywood” helps explain why. (Pictured is Lorenzo Tucker, one of Micheaux's most frequently used actors.)
“Intuition” (noon Friday)
Secrets and lies threaten a coupling in this moody love triangle between a therapist, his fiancée, and his latest patient—an orphaned man with a troubled past.
“The Black Miami” (3:30 p.m. Friday)
Directors Carlton Smith and Michael Williams adapted Marvin Dunn’s book, “Black Miami in the 20th Century,” into this documentary, exploring the often hidden history of African-American influence on Dade County across the centuries, from slave routes to race riots.
“Spyderwoman, the Kiss of Death” (9 a.m. Saturday)
Start your weekend on a thrilling note with this Miami-set chiller about psycho cops, Russian mobsters and genetically mutated, venomous hybrids from the Amazon loosed in Miami.
For a schedule of events, workshops, screenings and parties, visit bocablackfilm.com. Festival passes range from a $10 screenings pass to an all-access festival pass for $200. The Boca Raton Marriott is at 5150 Town Center Circle.