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Hayti Heritage Film Festival centers Black stories and preserves history

Hayti Heritage Film Festival

A poster from the 2018 Haiti Heritage Film Festival shows how it highlights Black culture through film. Photo courtesy of Angela Lee.

From March 7-9, the 29th Hayti Heritage Film Festival in Durham will center Black stories around the theme "Homecoming" with 39 different film screenings and teaching workshops.

“Because we are a southern town, Black southern films became our tagline, and we wanted to preserve the rich history and legacy of those stories — not only of the Hayti community, but the larger Southern Black experience,” the festival's director, Tyra Dixon, said.

The festival is hosted in the Hayti Heritage Center in Durham. The center is one of the last standing buildings of Hayti, once a self-sustaining Black community that was demolished by the construction of Highway 147 in the 1970s

The festival’s genre of Black Southern film includes not only the American South, but the Global South, showing films within the global African diaspora such as Burkina Faso and Puerto Rico.

Courtney Reid-Eaton is a visual artist collaborating with the festival's featured organization Black Feminist Film School. For her, showcasing Black Southern film is important because media and histories taught in school for generations have presented Black and brown people's humanity without fullness. Reid-Eaton said that white supremacist culture is centered on the normativity and neutrality of whiteness, a concept they said is not real.

“Having the opportunity to see Black films by Black filmmakers gives us more access to our experiences of interiority — how we are fully, how we are more wholly, who we are as people of this particular culture, this African diasporic culture in the world, what that looks like," she said. 

The festival will hold workshops in various forms of production such as lighting, directing and blocking, in order to curate the next generation of filmmakers and storytellers, Dixon said. This year’s schedule includes an evolutionary filmmaking workshop by Black Feminist Film School and a masterclass with actor Omar J. Dorsey.

There will also be a panel highlighting Black perspectives in film and video post-production presented by Post in Black, a podcast showcasing Black excellence behind the lens, according to their website. The podcast's host David Hunter Jr. will speak with UNC alums Landon Bost and Jazmine Bunch about their experience in the post-production industry.

Bost said the Hayti Heritage Film Festival was one of his favorite festivals to attend — his documentary for Media and Journalism 681: Documentary Projects, "Black Saviors," was filmed down the street from the Hayti Heritage Center and screened in last year’s festival. Bost called this a full circle moment.

He also said the Hayti Heritage Film Festival is much more tight-knit than larger festivals.

“It's that perfect size between bringing in good work to a film festival and prominent people who are doing good things in the space, but it's not so overwhelming where you get there and there's no way you'll be able to talk to the person who worked on that film or to other filmmakers,” Bost said.

Bunch said the festival will be the perfect time for her to come back to her home state, given this year’s theme.

For Dixon, homecoming suggests a reconnection to land, legacy and family relations. 

For Reid-Eaton, it can also represent a spiritual homecoming.

For Hunter, it’s an ode to his alma mater, Hampton University, a historically Black college. 

“I went to an HBCU — homecoming is where it's at,” Hunter said. “It is where we have our livelihood shown, you have people from 50 years ago to present day connecting, and you all relate."

This event will be Bunch’s first ever film festival. She said she is excited to network and see creations within the Southern Black film genre.

“That's who I am," she said. "So I love to see representation on screen and to see my own personal story, even if it wasn't me who created it, it is someone who probably has a similar experience as me. So being able to actually be immersed in that, I think it's going to be an amazing weekend and amazing experience.”

A full list of events and information can be found on the festival's website

@dthlifestyle |

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