The San Francisco Black Film Festival enriched thousands of moviegoers, left them eager for more

by The People’s Minister of Information JR The San Francisco Black Film Festival has been the best Black oriented event in the Bay Area this year. The plethora of worthy films that screened this year was phenomenal. The crowds were great; the whole Bay Area came out, young and old, and a diverse number of people of nationalities besides Black also supported the festival this year in great numbers.

Interviews on the Red Carpet were conducted by Conchetta. This was her third year volunteering for the San Francisco Black Film Festival – and what a great look! She epitomizes the youthful, exciting, gutsy spirit of the festival. – Photo: Val Kai
Interviews on the Red Carpet were conducted by Conchetta. This was her third year volunteering for the San Francisco Black Film Festival – and what a great look! She epitomizes the youthful, exciting, gutsy spirit of the festival. – Photo: Val Kai
Conchetta, on her job, interviews man-about-town, clothier and friend of Mayor Willie Brown, Wilkes Bashford, on opening night. He came to see “America Is Still the Place.” – Photo: Armando
Conchetta, on her job, interviews man-about-town, clothier and friend of Mayor Willie Brown, Wilkes Bashford, on opening night. He came to see “America Is Still the Place.” – Photo: Armando

San Francisco is the West Coast’s cultural capital, and the SF Black Film Festival is helping Frisco live up to that image, even though Black San Franciscans are being foreclosed on, evicted and moved out of the city with breakneck speed. The San Francisco Black Film Festival is about exploring the Black experience around the world, and expanding viewers’ thoughts and feelings about Black people past the brain-numbing racist stereotypes that are perpetuated on television, in the movies and in the music – but also in all media in the United States and virtually around the world. I am glad that I participated every day of the film festival, but the truth still stands that I did not get to see all of the movies in the festival that I wanted to see. I guess that is the mark of a successful film festival, to always leave the viewer wanting more.

Celebrities arrive in style on opening night. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell
Celebrities arrive in style on opening night. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

I sat down with the co-director of the San Francisco Black Film Festival, Kali O’Ray, and talked about the happenings at this year’s triumphant San Francisco Black Film Festival. Check him out in his own words. M.O.I. JR: Which films did the best at the San Francisco Film Festival this year? Why did each of those films get the attention that they got in your opinion? Kali O’Ray: This year there was a plethora of films that did well. Whereas you usually have great films that you really want people to see, the films sold themselves this year. The trailers were very efficient and we all know that really helps sell a film and get people involved.

Charleston Pierce, who plays Charlie Walker in “America Is Still the Place,” and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed pose on the Red Carpet on opening night, all smiles in anticipation of a great show. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell
Charleston Pierce, who plays a role in “America Is Still the Place,” and San Francisco Board of Supervisors President London Breed pose on the Red Carpet on opening night, all smiles in anticipation of a great show. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell
Local Eritrean-American filmmaker Sephora Waldu, right, and her sister, Dallol Waldu, were part of the sold-out crowd at SFBFF on opening night. – Photo: Armando
Local Eritrean-American filmmaker Sephora Waldu, right, and her sister, Dallol Waldu, were part of the sold-out crowd at SFBFF on opening night. – Photo: Armando

There were many filmmakers who were here to support their films, and that always make the filmgoers’ experience that much more enriching. We usually do so-so with online ticket sales and better at the door, but this year we saw an increase in online sales. I do not know if that speaks for the times or speaks to the fact that people wanted to make sure they didn’t miss the opportunity to see the films they were most interested in. The festival also screens films in blocks, which gives the end user a chance to see something that wasn’t even on their radar, and this really helps us to spread these great movies by offering something else to view with your first choice.

Local TV anchor Carolyn Tyler and her nephew are interviewed by publicist Jackie Wright, who vigorously promoted the festival. – Photo: Diallo Mwathi Jeffery
Local TV anchor Carolyn Tyler and her nephew are interviewed by publicist Jackie Wright, who vigorously promoted the festival. – Photo: Diallo Mwathi Jeffery

I think many of the films we had this year were very strong and had content that anyone could enjoy. With films like “America Is Still the Place,” “Njinga: Queen of Angola,” “Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay,” “Hagereseb,” “Driving While Black,” “Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise” and three films directly from Cannes – “LadyLike,” “Zola” and “Bragg N. East” – these were some hard hitting films that really helped the festival succeed this year. And not to mention the great interviews and support from so many people who loved the subject matter. M.O.I. JR: What were the highlights of the San Francisco Film Festival this year? Kali O’Ray: There were many highlights to this year’s film festival, but I have to say the most significant one was the screening of “In an Ideal World.” I say this because the movie followed a group of inmates from Soledad who were at the beginning stages of cell integration in the prison.

Patrick Gilles, director of “America Is Still the Place,” and Charlie Walker, author of the autobiography the film is based on, are interviewed at African Plural Art during a press conference. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell
Patrick Gilles, director of “America Is Still the Place,” and Charlie Walker, author of the autobiography the film is based on, are interviewed at African Plural Art during a press conference. – Photo: Johnnie Burrell

The story itself was very heavy but three of the subjects have gotten out on parole and they were there for the screening. Since so many people are affected by the prison system, whether directly or indirectly, the turnout was significant and the Q&A had to last at least another hour after the movie ended. This was a very special moment, and you could feel the love and concern for the film in the air. It was a very special moment and screening for all involved. I also must mention that the opening film, “America Is Still the Place,” and closing night film, “Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay,” were very well attended films, from the Bay Area. Opening night was beautiful, with beautiful people and most of the cast from the movie. And for the closer, “Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay,” the whole Bay Area came out to see this film close the festival. I must say, Mac Dre still has a plethora of fans in the Bay who still care about him. And not to mention that Sway jumped in for the narration and his mother, Mac Wanda, was there to fill in the blanks about her son, Mac Dre.

The festival closed with an explosion of enthusiasm for “Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay,” packing the Boom Boom Room. That’s Dre’s mother, Mac Wanda, to the left in the white shirt and black jacket. – Photo: D. Ray Archer
The festival closed with an explosion of enthusiasm for “Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay,” packing the Boom Boom Room. That’s Dre’s mother, Mac Wanda, to the left in the white shirt and black jacket. – Photo: D. Ray Archer

M.O.I. JR: What were some of your personal favorite films from the festival? Kali O’Ray: My personal favorites were “Njinga: Queen of Angola,” “Hagereseb,” “Farming a Legacy,” “Circus Without Borders,” “Driving While Black,” “Dice,” “Spit” and “Ladylike” – not because they were necessarily the best films offered but I really enjoyed the content. As a matter of fact, I feel these films are well rounded and have a pulse on what it is to be Black in 2015. The stories will stand the test of time, and if you get a chance to see any of them I would recommend that you check these great films out. M.O.I. JR: What did you think about the success of the film, “America Is Still the Place,” on opening night and “Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay” on closing night?

San Francisco Black Film Festival co-directors Kali O’Ray, son of festival founder Ave Montegue, and Katera Crossley, his wife, are already pillars of the Black community. – Photo: Val Kai
San Francisco Black Film Festival co-directors Kali O’Ray, son of festival founder Avé Montague, and Katera Crossley, his wife, are already pillars of the Black community. – Photo: Val Kai

Kali O’Ray: We were blessed to get these great films, and they really helped us get the word out regarding the festival. Both were really well put together and caught on like a firestorm. Both are Bay Area films, so we love to support those, and not to mention the quality of the two films. One was a feature and one was a documentary, and they were well received and supported by the media. Because of the support by the media, we were able to get the word out on these films and have a successful turnout for both of the films. The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and “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 blockreportradio@gmail.com.

SFBFF Awards

AVE MONTAGUE AWARD
Winner                        Njinga: Queen of Angola

FEATURES
Winner                        America is Still the Place
Runner-up                   Knuckle Head
Honorable Mention     My Name is David

Nominated                  Four-Way Stop

DOCUMENTARIES
Winner                        Lee Scratch Perry’s Vision of Paradise
Runner-up                   In An Ideal World
Honorable Mention     Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay

Nominated                  Point of Pride
Nominated                  Farming A Legacy

FOREIGN
Winner                        Shortage of Children
Runner-up                   Save
Honorable Mention     King of Guangzhou

Nominated                  Time Traveler

AFRICAN
Winner                        Njinga: Queen of Angola
Runner-up                   Zola

SHORT
Winner                        Hagereseb
Runner-up                   LadyLike
Honorable Mention     Dice

Nominated                  Spit
Nominated                  Free Pass
Nominated                  Double Negative

STUDENT
Winner                        Stairways
Runner-up                   Standing8
Honorable Mention     The Youth

Nominated                  The Mermaid
Nominated                  (re)Breathe
Nominated                  David’s Reverie

COMEDY
Winner                        Driving While Black (DWB)

LOCAL
Winner                        America is Still the Place
Runner-up                   In An Ideal World
Honorable Mention     Moses

Nominated                  Point of Pride
Nominated                  1440 And Counting
Nominated                  Rites

LGBT
Winner                        Out in the Night
Runner-up                   Alaska is a Drag
Honorable Mention     Black is Blue

PEOPLE’S CHOICE
Winner                        Mac Dre: Legend of the Bay
Runner-up                   America is Still the Place
Honorable Mention     In an Ideal World

Nominated                  Hagereseb
Nominated                  Point of Pride
Nominated                  Stairways

MUSIC VIDEO
Winner                        Black Lives Matter

FIRST TIME FILMMAKER
Winner                        Four-Way Stop
Runner-up                   King of Guangzhou
Honorable Mention     Rites

Nominated                  LadyLike
Nominated                  Dice
Nominated                  The Mermaid
Nominated                  Spit
Nominated                  Charlotte
Nominated                  DayBlack
Nominated                  1440 And Counting
Nominated                  Time Traveler

BEST CONCEPT
Winner                        DayBlack
Runner-up                   Spit
Honorable Mention     Pull Your Pants Up