In the San Francisco Black Film Festival XXIII, the legacy continues June 17-20: ‘Healing the World One Film at a Time’

Cree Ray and Kali Ray Jr., children and successors of SFBFF Director Kali O’Ray

by Jackie Wright

The San Francisco Black Film Festival, founded by the late San Francisco arts impresario, Ave Montague, increasingly gives a platform for emerging multicultural filmmakers and established Hollywood filmmakers to display work reflecting the African Diaspora and to interact with each other as the festival stimulates tourism.

In tribute to the late Kali O’Ray, festival director, who died unexpectedly in August 2020 while carrying on the family tradition of the founder, his mother, Ave Montague, since she passed away in 2009, now O’Ray’s children, Cree Ray and Kali Ray Jr., are added to the leadership. They, along with Katera Crossley, Kali O’Ray’s widow, are the co-directors of this year’s 23rd SF Black Film Festival

SFBFF goes beyond entertainment. The evolving brand as it increases tourism has become an economic platform for workforce development with its partnership with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women San Francisco Chapter Doris Ward Workforce Development Program.

This year, the festival runs from Thursday, June 17, through Sunday, June 20, presenting a scintillating array of fascinating films. Visit www.sfbff.org for tickets and more festival details.

Sponsors and community leaders backing the festival include the SF Giants; African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council; National Coalition of 100 Black Women, Inc., San Francisco Chapter; SFJAZZ; San Francisco African American Chamber of Commerce; AfroSolo; The Big Black Brunch; LeBlanc and Associates; San Francisco Housing Development Corp.; SFBLOC; ILLUMINATE; New Orleans South Africa Connection (NOSACONN, Inc.); Durban International Film Festival; Durban FilmMart and more.

The new millennial leadership of the San Francisco Black Film Festival

Cree Ray: Growing up in San Francisco and being the granddaughter of Ave Montague, founder of the San Francisco Black Film Festival, Cree Ray was exposed to the arts at an early age. From film to music and fashion, Cree loves how art is an outlet to exemplify one’s true self – and nobody ever tells the same story. When her father, Kali O’Ray, who had succeeded his mother, Ave Montague, as director of the San Francisco Black Film Festival, passed away in August of 2020, Cree saw how important it was to continue the family legacy. At 30 years of age, Cree is excited to be the manifestation of the new era of the SFBFF and looks forward to leading its continued growth. Cree Ray’s years as a manager at Nordstrom’s in San Diego and San Francisco will help the development of the San Francisco Black Film Festival.

Kali Ray Jr.: Born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia, Kali Ray Jr., 26, has just the ambition and background experience to step into the role of co-director with his sister Cree to help move forward the vision of his grandmother, the late arts impresario Ave Montague, and his father, the late talented graphic artist Kali O’Ray, who was a graduate of Clark College in Atlanta. Attending Georgia State, also in Atlanta, Kali Jr. focused on videography, photography and visual arts, which are his passion. Kali Jr.’s heart for film was noted in 2012 by actor, producer and humanitarian Robert Townsend, who while screening his film “In the Hive” that opened the 2012 San Francisco Black Film Festival, saw his work with his father Kali Jr. and commended the Ray family for their intergenerational work. The Ray family’s commitment to an open and positive narrative about the African Diaspora by multicultural filmmakers continues the prophetic observation of Townsend.

Ave Montague (1945-2009), arts impresario, fashion industry executive and publicist, founded the San Francisco Black Film Festival in 1998 as a 501c3 nonprofit with the artistic vision to provide a platform for Black filmmakers, screenwriters and actors to present their art. As a competitive film festival, SFBFF identifies filmmakers, screenwriters and actors emerging as talents as well as established artists who are contributing to the cinematic legacy of African Americans. SFBFF conscientiously expands the notions of “Black film-making” to a global perspective. The organization is multicultural and inclusive of all in the expression of the African Diaspora experience. The San Francisco Black Film Festival has screened more than 10,000 films from around the world. Kali O’Ray and his wife Katera Crossley, both formerly of Atlanta, Georgia, co-directed the San Francisco Black Film Festival until O’Ray’s untimely death Aug. 7, 2020. Now the festival is directed by O’Ray’s children Cree Ray and Kali Ray Jr. along with their stepmother, Katera Crossley.

The mission of the San Francisco Black Film Festival is to celebrate African American cinema and the African Cultural Diaspora and to showcase a diverse collection of films – from emerging and established filmmakers. This is accomplished by presenting Black films, which reinforce positive images and dispel negative stereotypes, and providing film artists from the Bay Area in particular and around the world in general, a forum for their work to be viewed and discussed. The San Francisco Black Film Festival believes film can lead to a better understanding of and communication between peoples of diverse cultures, races and lifestyles, while simultaneously serving as a vehicle to initiate dialogue on the important issues of our times. For more information about the San Francisco Black Film Festival, visit www.sfbff.org.

Jackie Wright is the president of Wright Enterprises, a full service public relations firm serving the corporate, non-profit and government sectors. A seasoned media and public relations professional, Wright has over 20 years of media experience, including more than a decade of award-winning journalism experience in radio, television and print communications, and holds degrees in both journalism and drama from the University of Georgia. She can be reached at jackiewright@wrightnow.biz or twitter.com/wrightenternow.