The Oakland International Film Festival is back

by The People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

The Oakland International Film Festival is one of the premiere multi-cultural annual events in the Bay Area. Every year this festival educates Oakland and the surrounding area about the world around us, locally and internationally.

In 2012, “Operation Small Axe,” a documentary about Oakland’s response to the police murders of Oscar Grant and Lovelle Mixon, premiered at this festival. The late great filmmaker Sam Greenlee of “The Spook Who Sat by the Door” fame also showed his film and spoke at the same festival that legendary rapper Mac Mall screened his revolutionary video “Rebel Against All There Is.” It was a great festival. That was the last one that I was available to attend from beginning to end.

The Oakland International Film Festival is one of the premiere multi-cultural annual events in the Bay Area.

This year, on April 7 at the Grand Lake, “Queen Njinga, Queen of Angola” will be screening. It is about the legendary Angolan queen who resisted the Portuguese. This is one of the best foreign films I have ever seen.

In “Ghost Town to Havana,” the Oakland Royals play Ciudad Habana.
In “Ghost Town to Havana,” the Oakland Royals play Ciudad Habana.

“Ghost Town to Havana” is another must-see film that will be screening this year. It’s about a baseball team from Ghost Town, a neighborhood in Oakland, and their trip to Cuba to play another youth team and all the drama and happiness that comes along with a coach and a teenage West Oakland team having a chance to expand their minds beyond the confines of their surroundings.

I sat down with David Roach, the director of the Oakland International Film Festival, to discuss this year’s line-up and his take on what has been happening on the cinema scene and in Hollywood recently.

M.O.I. JR: What are some of the headlining films of this year’s film festival?

David Roach: We have just finished our call for entries, so we are still deciding our complete lineup this year. A few feature film headliners that come to mind are the narrative “Njinga, Rainha de Angola,” and the feature documentary “Ghost Town to Havana.” These films feed into part of our mission of promoting inspiring stores of the past, present and future.

While filmmakers often create fictitious characters to tell stories of leadership and courage, “Njinga, Rainha de Angola,” is based on a true story of one of the greatest military warriors of all time, Queen Njinga (often spelled Nzinga). Born in the late 1500s, she fought against the Portuguese invasion of her country, Ndongo (now called Angola) for 40-plus years.

A few feature film headliners are the narrative “Njinga, Rainha de Angola,” and the feature documentary “Ghost Town to Havana.”

A film made about such a great individual is long overdue. We are excited to screen it during this year’s festival at the Grand Lake Theater on April 7. The documentary, “Ghost Town to Havana,” is a story that shows how the community can be served by any caring person who is willing to step up. In this case, filmmaker Eugene Corr connects baseball coaches to aspiring youth to play together and learn the power of teamwork.

M.O.I. JR: How did you feel about this year’s entries in comparison to years past?

David Roach: We are very excited about this year’s entries in comparison to previous years – mainly because of the relations we are building in Spain, Mexico, Germany and even Russia this year. This year, we will attempt to show a mix of short films from these regions along with some films made by Oakland filmmakers.

For example, the short film, “We Could Have, We Should Have, We Didn’t,” tells a story of race that could have taken place in New York or any other city in the U.S, but it was shot in Germany. Because of these kinds of connections we’ve made this year and the pool of films from these regions, I believe we will be able to give our viewers a better sense of the world around us.

M.O.I. JR: There was a lot of complaining about racism this year by Blacks in Hollywood in regards to the Oscars. How do you feel about 2015’s Black movies?

David Roach: One of my motivations for starting the Oakland International Film Festival was related to some of the sentiments I have picked up from some of the Blacks in Hollywood I believe you are referring to. I had produced a feature film, “Sydney Byrd, Private Eye,” with my brothers Paul and Mack.

After setting up personal screenings and trying to reach executives and distributors in Los Angeles, attending The Sundance Film Festival and the American Film Market in search of film distributors, I saw disparities not only in who would receive the Oscars, but disparities in practically every arena in the film industry.

One of my motivations for starting the Oakland International Film Festival was related to some of the sentiments I have picked up from some of the Blacks in Hollywood.

So, instead of talking about how they treated us when we walked into those environments and events, we decided to create The Oakland International Film Festival and hopefully grow something that can help filmmakers network and promote the people who make them, as we thought Hollywoood should. I felt like there were some really good films made this year, but still too few.

M.O.I. JR: What international films are you excited about this year in the Oakland International Film Fest?

A scene from “Think of Calvin”
A scene from “Think of Calvin”

David Roach: A lot of short films excite me this year. A few thriller shorts to look for – “Foxes,” “The Chicken,” “The Cloud View” and “Loose Cannon” – all took you just where they wanted you to go. Oakland filmmakers Juan Davis’s “Rebel Child,” Helder Pedro’s “The Someone,” Kelly Amis’s “Think of Calvin” and Robert Philipson’s “Body and Soul” demonstrate to the world that Oakland is producing compelling stories utilizing various genres to storytell.

We are all excited to screen a number of animated films this year: “Claire & The Keys,” “The Cosmos and B,” to name a couple. Also, this year, we have witnessed more films made by women or show a woman either questioning her role or taking matters into her own hand. The films “Sisters,” “On the Beach,” “Aureole,” “Me the President,” “An Educated Woman” and “New Generation Queens” show women very differently than mainstream media.

M.O.I. JR: Do you have any exciting documentaries this year?

David Roach: Too many exciting docs to mention them all here. “Exploration of a Cooperative” tells the story of one of the largest African American food cooperatives in America. “Bridging the Divide: Tom Bradley and the Politics of Race” and “Think of Calvin” highlight discrimination in America and how some have had to address it to get things done.

M.O.I. JR: Where will the Oakland International Film Festival be this year?

David Roach: The festival will begin with a “Filmmakers Take Over Jack London Square” on April 5. We will host several events at various venues there throughout the day. On Wednesday, we will be screening films at Holy Names University.

On Thursday, we are hosting screenings at the Grand Lake Theater. On Friday, April 8, we’re at Oakland’s Impact Hub, and on Saturday, we will host screeners at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle, located on 14th Street in downtown Oakland.

M.O.I. JR: Who are some of the sponsors?

David Roach: Some of our sponsors are Made in Oakland.Net, 1stSaturdays.com, the official monthly volunteer recruitment day, Commercial Image Design Group, Block Report Radio, Supreme Pictures Entertainment, ElevenFour Productions, Support Oakland Artist, Kulture Freedom, Cultural Links, LA Hitz Media, Wright Enterprises, Youth Aid, Geoffrey’s Inner Circle.

M.O.I. JR: Where can people get more info about the upcoming Oakland International Film Fest?

David Roach: Our website is http://oiff.org for additional information. Also, follow us on Twitter.com/oiff.

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.