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Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival

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by Brooks Robards, Martha’s Vineyard Times

The Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival, now in its sixth year, was launched in 2002 by Run and Shoot Filmworks (RSF), the husband-and-wife team Stephanie Tavares-Rance and Floyd Rance III. Their company statement explains: “We wanted to create a haven where filmmakers of color could convene, share ideas, and showcase their works in a beautiful setting.”

The two producers are veterans in the entertainment industry. Ms. Tavares-Rance spent 10 years working in music on award winning projects such as those with Frank Sinatra (Duets I, II), Prince, Jon Secada, Gloria Estefan, and others, before going on to work in films. Likewise, Mr. Floyd worked with filmmaker Spike Lee, photographed and directed projects for HBO projects and NBC Sports, among other credits.

The African-American Film Festival has expanded to five days, and includes more than 45 screenings with support from HBO and Universal Pictures. Sponsored by RSF, the Festival starts Tuesday, August 5, and will run through Saturday, August 9, with screenings of documentaries, film shorts, and feature films at the Mansion House and Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven, and Edgartown Entertainment Cinema.

Headlining this year’s festival are two episodes from “The Backyardigans,” a popular children’s TV show by Nickelodeon, and a screening of the Universal Pictures film, “The Express,” starring Rob Brown and Dennis Quaid, followed by a question and answer session with some of the actors.

Janice Burgess, creator of “The Backyardigans,” will attend the Saturday, August 9 screening of “The Backyardians” at 10 am, and answer questions.

She describes “The Backyardigans” as a musical adventure story for pre-school children.

New York based, Ms. Burgess became interested in designing programming for pre-school children after working as an executive for Nickelodeon Junior. “The more that I worked to understand and produce content for that age group, the more I liked it,” she says. “Everything is interesting to them — or not. You have room to go anywhere your imagination will take you.”

“The Express” (scheduled for general release in October), will be shown at 7 pm on Thursday, August 7, at Edgartown Cinema. It is a biopic based on the life of the late college football star Ernie Davis, the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy. Mr. Davis died of leukemia in 1963. The film’s director, Gary Flederer, also made “Runaway Jury” and worked on such TV shows as “October Road,” “Blind Justice,” and “The Evidence.”

The majority of full-length films at the festival are documentaries. The award-winning documentary, “This Is the Life,” about the hip-hop music movement, will be shown at the Mansion House on Tuesday, August 5, at 2:30 pm. Based on the book by Nicky Cruz, “Run Baby Run” will follow at 4:30 p.m.

A special screening planned for Wednesday night at 8 pm at the Mansion House is “The Night James Brown Saved Boston.” This documentary tells the story of how a 1968 James Brown concert kept Boston from erupting into racial violence after the assassination of Martin Luther King.

On Thursday, August 7, the Festival will feature two documentaries: “Don’t Hate: Strippers Fight the Government,” at 12 noon at the Mansion House; and “African Underground: Democracy in Dakar,” at 2:30 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. The feature film, “Something Is Killing Tate,” will follow “African Underground” at the Katharine Cornell at 4:30 pm.

A series of documentaries has been paired with shorts on Friday, August 8, at the Mansion House. Starting at 10 am, “Clean Mic: Laughing Till It Hurts,” will screen, followed at 12 noon by “A Pillar of Salt: The Angry Woman Syndrome.” “Disappearing Voices: The Decline of Black Radio,” plays at 2 pm, the feature, “Doing the LA Thing” plays at 4 pm, and three short films will screen at 6 pm.

On Saturday, August 9, “The Black List,” an HBO film about 22 celebrated African-Americans, will play at 12:30 pm at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. “Truth Hall,” a fiction film about college friends who get together for their best friend’s wedding, will follow at 2:30.

The Film Festival will culminate Saturday night with the HBO Short Film Competition, featuring five films ranging in length from nine to 20 minutes. A reception for attendees will take place on Thursday at 5 pm on the rooftop of the Mansion House, and parties will be held nightly at Lola’s after screenings. For information on tickets, contact the Mansion House.


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