The Diaspora Festival of Black and Independent Film, an annual event held by the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History that features the work of independent Black filmmakers, will run virtually through Oct. 8 this year.
Participants can stream the films for free online before joining a virtual discussion with filmmakers and scholars. Registration is free but required.
Stone Center Director Joseph Jordan hopes the short films selected will inspire conversations about the cultures and challenges of the African diaspora.
“An important aspect of the film festival program and series is to empower audiences with knowledge that oftentimes is not readily available, not because it isn’t out there, but rather because it hasn’t been curated for them, as is our festival,” Jordan said in a press release.
The first two films — “Residue,” directed by Merawi Gerima, and “Across the Tracks,” directed by Michael Cooke and Kimberly Y. James — have already been screened. Ashley Brim’s “An Act of Terror” will be screened Oct. 1, followed by Talibah Newman’s “Sweet Honey Chile’” on Oct. 8.
'Her Story Hasn’t Stopped'
“An Act of Terror” (2017) depicts the true story of Virginia Christian, a 16-year-old Black girl who was tried for murder in the Jim Crow South.
The director, Ashley Brim, started research for the film shortly after the police shooting of Korryn Gaines.
“Her story hasn't stopped,” Brim said. “For us making the short, it was always going to be, 'why are we telling the story right now?' And it felt really important to be talking about.”
Brim and her co-writer, Rachel Rush, used archived documents and articles from the murder trial to craft a detailed narrative.
“I think our goal is to really put you in her shoes, no matter who you were when you came to watch the film,” Brim said.
A Personal Connection
“Sweet Honey Chile’” (2013) tells the story of Benjamin “Honey” Davis, a young boy navigating his own identity and the death of his grandfather. His mystical neighbor, Mr. Jolene, helps him lay his grandfather to rest and learn to express himself in the process.
Director Talibah Newman said she drew inspiration for Mr. Jolene from her own childhood.
“The relationship between Mr. Jolene and Benjamin is actually patterned after a lot of the relationships that I've had in my life,” Newman said. “My relationship with my mother and my relationship with certain people in the community who helped to raise us and take care of us and guide us and who sought to help protect us spiritually.”
Newman’s mother is a priestess of the West African religion Ifá, which was a major part of both her upbringing and the film.
“A lot of the cultural elements, the traditional African religious elements that you see in the film are from my experience of growing up within the world and the culture and tradition of Ifá,” Newman said.
The film is dedicated to Newman’s grandfather, David “Fathead” Newman, a jazz saxophonist best known for his collaborations with Ray Charles. Before his death in 2009, David Newman lived in Woodstock, New York, close to where “Sweet Honey Chile’” was shot.
“A lot of what I experienced through visiting my grandparents and also visiting him when he was sick was just this intense connection to the nature that they lived in,” Newman said. “I wanted to capture that in Sweet Honey Chile' as well.”
Newman hopes that her film helps audiences challenge their assumptions and biases, especially around sexual orientation and gender expression.
“I want people to face the things that they fear," she said. "I want to face the unknown with my artwork."
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