The Oakland International Film Festival runs through Sept. 23 

OIFF-logo-21st-w-White-background--1400x1393, The Oakland International Film Festival runs through Sept. 23 , Featured World News & Views
The Oakland International Film Festival kicks off Sept. 14 and runs through Sept. 23, 2023.

by Zaire Saunders

Films upholding the status quo aren’t uncommon. Due to this fact and that humanity isn’t monolithic, it is important to promote films that don’t reduce the complex lives of humanity. Film has a prominent role in swaying the masses and its messaging, production and design should never be taken for granted. 

For 21 years, the Oakland International Film Festival has allotted space for diverse stories, themes and characters to enter our collective consciousness. So I decided to speak with David Roach, ​​co-founder and director of the Oakland International Film Festival, to understand more about the festival.

Zaire Saunders: Without too much spoiling, what is the theme of the film festival?

David Roach: This year’s festival has two main themes. One theme is called “Rediscover Oakland.” Rediscover Oakland speaks to our journey of presenting the Oakland International Film Festival since COVID. During and after COVID, a few businesses that became prime locations for us to host our events and screenings went out of business. As we continue to fill in the holes these businesses have left, we are rediscovering Oakland through the Oakland International Film Festival, intending to raise more awareness about these businesses and Oakland in general.

The other theme is called “Familyhood.” Familyhood is a community development vision that defines schools as the center of the community’s development and the production of alumni  – who return to mentor the student government association. The goal of Familyhood is to increase  local control by the residents of the community by building its leadership locally, through the school’s student government association. 

In search of other projects or programs promoting youth leadership and community control, OIFF21 is opening up with a film, “Salut Gadou,” which is a fictitious tribute to the Saint-Jean-Baptiste neighborhood’s history of community involvement in downtown Quebec. It is based on a novel of the same name by Malcolm Reid, published in 1982. Reid’s novel was inspired by the neighborhood’s Saint-Gabriel movement in 1976 and the operation to rescue what is now the community’s youth center.

Zaire Saunders: Can you tell me the history of how the film festival was started? 

David Roach: I co-produced a film called “Sydney Byrd, Private Eye” with my brothers. 

Once the film was complete, we four-walled movie theaters – meaning, we rented theaters and invited film executives and other key people to see our film. We also contacted different film companies and distributors and attended various film events, such as the Sundance Film Festival, in pursuit of making a distribution deal. 

We eventually had our film selected into various film festivals. We experienced first hand the benefits of being in a film festival. For example, they covered the cost of renting a theater. They also marketed the films for the public to attend. And being selected by the film festival helped validate that the film was good. 

After these experiences and understanding the value a film festival can bring to filmmakers, the idea of the Oakland International Film Festival came to mind. I was driving across the Bay Bridge, coming back from the San Francisco International Film Festival after standing in line to see and meet the Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene. On the bridge the sign read, “Welcome to Oakland.” I thought, “The Oakland International Film Festival.”

wehavejustbegun-400, The Oakland International Film Festival runs through Sept. 23 , Featured World News & Views
“We Have Just Begun” tells the story of the Elaine Massacre of 1919. The film screens opening night Sept. 14, at the Grand Lake Theater during the 6:00-8:30 p.m. session

Zaire Saunders: What’s the process for getting your film into the festival? 

David Roach: Most of our films are submitted through a film festival platform called Film Freeway. Various individuals – or juries –  judge and review, giving feedback on the films. Some films we hear about from other film festivals that fit our criteria of promoting the empowerment of all people, especially Black people, who have traditionally been stereotyped and under-served  in media, to be docile, self-destructive and dependent on the powers that be. We seek films that seek solutions to these ills.

Zaire Saunders: How can people tune in to the film festival? 

David Roach: They can tune in by visiting our site: and attending some of the screenings and other events. They can also follow us on and

Zaire Saunders:  As co-founder of the OIFF21, what do you love most about films? 

David Roach: Wow. This is a big question. One of my favorite films is “ The Spook Who Sat by the Door.” We had the honor of screening the film and having the writer, the late Sam Greenlee, join us for the screening. 

What I enjoy most about film was demonstrated in the film, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.” To promote an uprising in America, or rather, an African-American community being in control of its own destiny, he wrote a fictional story to show how it could possibly happen. There are other films, like “Buck and the Preacher,” directed by Sidney Poitier, which is also a fictional story but shows the life of “Buck,” a wagon master. If it were not for this film, many of us may not know what wagon masters are. 

I mention this because one of the joys of  hosting the Oakland International Film Festival is the discussions after the screenings and – most of the time – the filmmaker being present to tell their journey of creating the film we all just watched.

Zaire Saunders is the copy editor and reporter for the SF Bay View Community Journalism Program, which is funded by the California State Library.