The 20th annual Oakland International Film Festival is Sept. 15-24

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Sam Greenlee, author of “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” OIFF Director David Roach, and journalist JR Valrey – each in his own world – share a bench during a break in the film festival on April 8, 2012, at the Oakland Museum. 

by People’s Minister of Information JR Valrey

One of the biggest events in Oakland annually is the Oakland International Film Festival, and this year it will be celebrating its 20th birthday with exquisite cinematic taste by hosting 30 films from Sept. 15-24, screening all over Oakland. There will be free screenings at selected locations. 

Some of the places that the Oakland International Festival will utilize for their cinematic voyage this year to screen movies and network will include the Grand Lake Theater by the beautiful man-made Lake Merritt as well as the elegant Cuban restaurant Cana, the Freedom Farmers’ Market in West Oakland, Liberation Park in East Oakland, and also the historic Fox Theater in downtown Oakland. Some of the films selected to screen in the festival this year are locally made and others come from places as far away as India and Spain. 

David Roach, the founding director of the Oakland International Film Festival, gives the community an update as to what will be happening this year at one of Oakland’s marquee events. 

JR Valrey: What is playing on opening night? 

David Roach: The night kicks off at 6:00-8:30 p.m. at the Grand Lake Theater with a short film “Sweet Biriyani” from India, followed by two other short films, “Into The Archives of Billy X” and “The Space in Between,” followed by the feature film, “The Sleeping Negro.” 

The next film session will begin at 9:15 p.m. and run to 11:30 p.m. starting with the short film “Human Trash” from Spain and the feature documentary “Pen to the Pencil,” followed by the short film “PUSH!

JR Valrey: What are some of the locally made films that were selected this year? 

David Roach: Quite a few were films made in Oakland or by Oakland filmmakers. “Pen to the Pencil,” directed by James Calhoun and Jamar Collins, tells the story of DeAndre Drake: We all have a destination in life. But before you can reach it we all have to travel the journey. 

In this documentary you will see the journey DeAndre Drake took from the streets of Oakland to prison and back to the streets of Oakland as an esteemed artist who loves his city. His journey takes us down many roads, turns and detours, and how art became his saving grace that led him to his present place on the map of life.

PUSH!” is another film by Oakland filmmaker Sanelle Sibanda, who is from Zimbabwe. It tells the story of a country fighting an invisible enemy. Two immigrant brothers, Zugu and Manhe, suddenly find themselves face-to-face with the virus, and Zugu must make fast decisions to save a life. 

It all happened at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California – a magical place where cannabis history was made, falling right in place with Oakland’s rich history of civil resistance.

We will also screen two films from Oakland filmmaker Damien McDuffie: “Into The Archives of Billy X” and “Into the Archives: The First Monument.” Both short films take a closer look at the Black Panther Party. 

Also, two short films from Adrian L. Burrell, “Game Gods” and “Cousin,” will be screened. “The Space in Between” by Oakland’s own Vaughn Arterberry and “Sign the Show” by Cat Brewer tells the story of deaf culture, access and entertainment, bringing together entertainers, the Deaf and Hard of Hearing (HOH) community, and American Sign Language (ASL) interpreters to discuss accessibility at live performances in a humorous, heartfelt and insightful way. 

Free Nias” is a short film by Chi Chi Cannon that follows Nias, who is overwhelmed with anxiety and confined to the house by an ankle bracelet. Nias, a young Black man, decides to break free and go on one long night adventure. These are just a few films by Oakland filmmakers that come to mind. 

Also, it’s not made by an Oakland filmmaker, but it is an Oakland story. The film, “The American Pot Story : Oaksterdam,”is a documentary about how change transpires in America. It is the account of “a small group of concerned committed citizens” (per Margaret Mead) who took a huge risk in order to bring about a massive shift in public perception. 

It all happened at Oaksterdam University in Oakland, California – a magical place where cannabis history was made, falling right in place with Oakland’s rich history of civil resistance. Today when we see celebrities and corporations get into the cannabis business, it’s easy to forget how many millions of people unjustly suffered and still suffer because of the American drug policy. 

The American Pot Story : Oaksterdam” is not just an important historical chronicle of a campaign that brought into the mainstream a taboo topic; it’s also an inspiring reminder of how democracy can work when people come together in an effort to fulfill our pledge to liberty and justice for all. “The American Pot Story: Oaksterdam” is our closing film at Oakland’s own Fox Theater.

JR Valrey: What are some of the international films that were selected to be in the film festival this year?

David Roach: Promise Through Lifetime” is a feature film out of China that we are featuring this year at the Grand Lake Theater. “Promise Through Lifetime” tells the story of a mountain village primary school in China, where three generations of teachers pledged to stay for a lifetime to educate and support the poor students. 

Promise Through Lifetime” is the only foreign feature film that we are showcasing this year. The film fits our call, for films that inspire others. To see the sacrifices human beings have made before us to promote education for children in hard to reach areas is truly inspirational for all of us.

The short films, “I’m Lina,” “Sweet Biriyani and Human Waste,” are out of Spain, India and Spain, respectively.

Together, these international films will shed some light that we in Oakland, we in the United States, share this planet with so many people. Let’s do a better job of acknowledging and appreciating other cultures and other people from around the world.

JR Valrey: What are some of the events that you have scheduled surrounding the film festival? 

David Roach: Each day we will be hosting filmmaker conversations surrounding this year’s film selections. On Saturday, Sept. 17, we will host free outdoor screenings at the Freedom Farmers Market. We are promoting folks to come out to shop at the market to support Black farmers. 

Someone once said a picture is worth a thousand words; there are 24 pictures in every second of a film.

On Sunday, Sept. 18, we will be at the Black Cultural Zone in East Oakland at Liberation Park for another night of free outdoor screenings and filmmaker mixers. We are also partnering with Hip Hop TV to host a pre-festival reception in West Oakland and a Metaverse conversation, also in West Oakland at the HiiiWave. We are hosting interviews and receptions at Cana Bar and Parlor and M2 and we have other plans in the works. Stay abrest at http://oiff.org and social media- Facebook.com/oiff.org and Twitter.com/oiff

JR Valrey: What is the importance of a film festival for a community? 

David Roach: I can’t speak for other film festivals. We attempt to connect as many dots in the Oakland community to Oakland and to the world through film. Film is such a powerful medium; it’s how the global community communicates. To host a film festival dedicated to these independent stories enables us to be an outlet for filmmakers who are normally not given this opportunity.

The dots we seek to connect are places, restaurants, community theaters, cultural centers, libraries, clubs to remind Oakland and the world that Oakland, California, is here, along with its stories, its narrative. 

Some might say, any event that brings people together may be defined as important, but film is different. It gives the audience the same reference point for discussion. After the film is over, the conversation begins. The big picture of the Oakland International Film Festival is to show to the world that we are one world. 

Meaning many things: That we share one planet is one of them. Everybody needs food. Everybody wants the best for their children. And everybody is a human being. Can we find inspiration from others around the world? We believe so. Can we learn how other people build self-sufficient communities? 

Film is becoming the chosen medium to not just tell people how to do something, but to demonstrate, by showing them, how to do something. Someone once said a picture is worth a thousand words; there are 24 pictures in every second of a film. So, one can imagine how many words are in every TikTok or YouTube video, let alone a film festival with 30 plus films from Oakland filmmakers and filmmakers from around the world. 

Why are film festivals important? All these words, through the moving image, enables us to improve our understanding towards each other. When we improve communication between people, we increase the chances of some form of understanding. 

What is the importance for filmmakers? Many up and coming filmmakers put everything they have into telling their stories and have very little left to promote audiences to see their work. That’s where we come in. We give them a platform to share their talent each and every year. 

JR Valrey: How long has the Oakland International Film Fest been in existence? 

David Roach: This year will market our 20th year. What is the story behind how it started? With my brothers Paul Roach and Dr. Mack Roach II, I co-produced the feature film, “Sydney Byrd, Private Eye.” In pursuit of attaining a distribution deal, we rented local theaters and invited film executives, press etc. to attend. It was lot of work and very expensive. 

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David Roach accepts his well-deserved award at the Bay View’s first Black Media Appreciation Night on Nov. 26, 2012. The awards were hand-crafted by Hunters Point’s own Malik Seneferu. – Photo: Scott Braley

We later applied to various film festivals and were accepted to a few of them. They gave us a free theater to screen our film and added their marketing to our marketing to get people into those theater seats. This experience of having our film in a film festival is something we wanted to bring to Oakland. 

That’s when the idea of the Oakland International Film Festival came to mind. I was crossing the Bay Bridge and noticed the sign I have seen a thousand times that reads, “Welcome to Oakland” . . .  and I thought, “Welcome to the Oakland International Film Festival!” 

JR Valrey: What are some of the major highlights from over the years of the Oakland International Film Festival? 

David Roach: For me, each year has had some special moments. Eight years ago, we were honored to have Sam Greenlee, author of “The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” to attend our festival and to conduct a question and answer session at the Oakland Museum, followed by a party at the Era Lounge featuring Kev Choice and others. Sam was around 72 then. We sat next to each other at the bar and Sam said to me, “Roach, I’m having a great time.” 

Each year, a filmmaker will share with me a special thrill they felt to see their film on a big screen. Five years ago, we celebrated our 15th year. We were so honored to host a special “Roots” program, to honor the 40 years since Alex Haley’s “Roots.” Mr. Louis Gossett Jr., Lawrence Hilton-Jacobs, Mario Van Peebles and others joined us for this special celebration.

JR Valrey: Where can people get more information about the films and events surrounding the Oakland International Film Festival? 

David Roach: People can find out more information at http://oiff.org Where can people get tickets? They can purchase tickets at http://oiff.org/tickets.

JR Valrey, journalist, author, filmmaker and founder of Black New World Media, heads the SF Bay View’s Oakland Bureau. He can be reached at blockreportradio@gmail.com or on Facebook. Visit www.BlackNewWorldMedia.com to read more.