by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey
The SF Black Film Festival is one of the film festivals that I most look forward to in the Bay Area every year. This year it is from June 12-15 at various theaters in San Francisco.
It was founded by the late Ave’ Montague, and now it’s under the direction of her son, Kali O’Ray. Last year’s festival featured dynamic documentaries about the legendary writer Iceberg Slim, as well as one on the prolific San Francisco born funk band leader Sly.
The year before, I saw a great movie called “The Hive” by the much sought after Black director Robert Townsend. Every year I’ve seen great films that don’t have the promotional budgets to reach a wider audience without the help of a festival like SFBFF.
I am excited to be going this year, and I hope to see you there. Here is Kali O’Ray in his own words.
M.O.I.: Can you tell people the history of the San Francisco Black Film Festival? How was it founded?
Kali: The SFBFF started as the brainchild of my mother, Ave’ Montague. My mother really appreciated the arts, and the stage and the big screen were two of her favorites.
When I was much younger she started a small business that distributed Black movies and TV shows. Now remember, this was at a time before DVDs and Netflix. This was at a time when you had to order special content and Black content was especially hard to find.
From this venture she hosted a small film festival to supplement the San Francisco Juneteenth, and from that moment the San Francisco Black Film Festival was birthed. That was 16 years ago.
M.O.I. JR: Who are some of the headlining people who have attended the festival in the past? What were some of the major flicks that you have premiered?
Kali: I have not been to every film festival because near its beginning is when I spent my time in college down South. Some of the headliners at the festivals I attended or remember were Spike Lee, Robert Townsend, Billy D Williams, Danny Glover, Taraji P. Henson, just to name some of the top off of my head.
As far as movies go, we have premiered many of the Black movies from a decade ago. I am noticing a new trend where movies go from the film festival circuit straight to online streaming or DVD. The festivals are becoming a way for people to gain exposure and a fan base to give their content more value.
It is no longer necessary to go to the big screen to make an impact. This is still the goal of some, but people are realizing that the California Gold Rush is online. As online streaming becomes more popular plus accessible, so will the competition for content which is already including independent film.
I am finding that many deals are being struck by the many companies who are seeking new content to compete for your dollar. I have been off cable for a year and getting ALL my content from the internet. There isn’t much that I miss through the countless online streaming services available. I also get to view seasons and shows on my time, when I am ready.
And now, some of the exclusives for streaming networks such as HULU or Netflix have become huge hits. I would bet dollars to donuts that the near future involves streaming taking over and bypassing the boob tube.
M.O.I. JR: What will some of the highlights be this year?
Kali: The biggest highlight of this year will be a better organized future. The ducks are lining up and that means great things for the SFBFF.
We have gotten a couple of offers for our content, and we’re looking into streaming Black films year round. We have a niche to fill, and we are getting closer to seeing that vision.
The SFBFF gets countless films that most will not view because we often have only a couple of chances to screen them. After that moment, many of these films will be harder to locate.
And if you miss the buzz, you may not know about certain films unless you pay very close attention to independent films. These are great films that need a platform and a voice to let others know of their existence.
We want to be that voice and that platform. This would give us the option to show the thousands of films that do not get a deal but are well worth your time to see.
In addition to film, there will be many supplements to this year’s festival such as workshops and seminars. It is the mission of the SFBFF to introduce you to film as well as offer knowledge about the film business.
This is a place to get those missing pieces for your project or learn how to get your film completed DIY style. The playing field is getting much better and all you need is a good story and knowing how to film it.
M.O.I. JR: San Francisco at one time was over 16 percent Black; now it is less than 5 percent Black. What makes the SF Black Film Festival important when looking at this fact?
Kali: The festival is important for Black representation in San Francisco. It is important to celebrate our inclusion, no matter what the numbers may state. It is also important to share what is going on in the rest of the diaspora with San Francisco.
The Black films that come out every year are like checking the pulse of what it means to be Black in America. These movies tell a story of the relevance of our contribution and legacy on a yearly basis.
We are, in fact, archiving the Black experience in real time. I love what I do with the SFBFF and feel blessed to be a part of it. This is living to me and gives me breath every day.
There is nothing I want to do more than bring films and the Black experience to San Francisco and the Bay Area. These stories deserve to be heard. The Black experience is, without argument, the American experience … picture that.
“Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions”
M.O.I. JR: San Francisco has a number of independent institutions for the Black community like the SF Black Film Fest, KPOO radio station, the SF Bay View newspaper; why do people need to support these institutions?
Kali: These institutions need to be supported to keep San Francisco as diverse as possible. Not just Blacks, but minorities as a whole make up what people love about this city. Growing up here, the diversity is what I loved about San Francisco.
These institutions are important because they are the few remaining, which shows how the out-migration is hurting San Francisco. We need to support these institutions that have supported us for many years to keep them afloat.
If they were to all disappear, then would you miss them? We all like to see something that looks like us and that we can understand. We need these places for that if nothing else … to feel a part of something. A place to represent.
“’Til Infinity: The Souls of Mischief Documentary”
M.O.I. JR: How did you feel about last year’s Black movies like “The Butler,” “12 Years a Slave” and “Fruitvale Station,” which depicted Black people as spectators of history and victims, being the only Black films to be critically acclaimed in the lame-stream media?
Kali: I enjoyed all of those films and I am always glad when Black actors are getting work. I often wish that we were the ones financially backing these movies so we could receive a bigger piece of the pie. I am glad to at least see some Black films being made but still would like to see more.
I was not fond of the slavery theme that has been on the big screen recently. I went to go see “12 Years a Slave” with a minority Black audience. I must say that I did like the movie and the cinematography but felt very uncomfortable watching with the audience that I did. It would have been a much different experience with a Black audience.
It gave me the feeling of being in high school when I had to watch “Roots” for Black History Month at a Catholic school I attended. “Your name is Toby!” Who wants to hear “Nigger this” and “Nigger that” at school. Yes, it is true we were slaves here in America, but stop making that our only history.
“Black and Cuba” (made by Blacks at Yale)
M.O.I. JR: What kind of films do you like to promote at the SF Black Film Festival?
Kali: We like to show a little of everything at the festival. Films that make you laugh and films that make you cry. We enjoy “green” films and films about healthy living.
We also like to promote positive movies that give a different look at Blacks in America. Roles that make you reach for the sky and rearrange your thought process.
Films can heal and films can teach as well. We try to let you encounter all of this at the festival and give you the ultimate experience and something that resonates long after you leave. Media is powerful and we try not to abuse the power of media with negative visions; we use the power to uplift and change your train of thought.
M.O.I. JR: You just attended the Oakland International Film Fest. What did you think about it? What were some of the things you liked?
Kali: I enjoy the festival every year and really like what Dave (Roach) is doing with it. I like to go and seek out films as well as view other films that we do not get. Dave is a great guy and gives off great energy, so the experience is always delightful.
It is also a great place to meet others in the industry and trade stories or methods to the madness. I am proud of what he is doing over there in Oakland and look forward to next year’s as well.
“That Daughter’s Crazy” (Richard Pryor’s daughter, Rain Pryor)
M.O.I. JR: How can people get more info on the SF Black Film Fest?
Kali: Go to sfbff.org where we will be posting the schedule and special events for this year’s festival. Also check out facebook.com/sfblackfilmfestival to be abreast of films as we start to qualify them. Here you can see trailers as well as synopsis as we accept the films.
“Devil in the Detail”
The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and the newly released “Unfinished Business: Block Reportin’ 2” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, at www.blockreportradio.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Changing Face of Harlem”
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“Chainwheel” by Joe Marshall’s son