LOS ANGELES-The Pan African film Festival (PAFF) has hit a whole new threshold: 25 years. Every year, the festival seems to get better and better with the quality of films being shown as the African Diaspora receives an overdue examination of the rich filmmaking that have eluded mainstream media’s attention list.
One of the more interesting component of PAFF (running through Feb. 20) is the compilation of movies gathered exclusively for the film festival. Not only does the film festival introduce a variety of new films and film shorts that tell the stories of African Americans and the rich linage of people of color, there is an over abundance of movies that have a chance of coming to life again in front of a whole new audience.
While more recent commodities like “King of the Dancehall,” “The Preacher’s Son,” “Media,” and “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” are the absolute draws because of their mainstream starring power, it is films like “41st & Central: The Untold Story of the L.A. Black Panthers,” “9 Rides,” “Beah: A Black Woman Speaks” “A Place of Our Own” and Hunter Gatherer” that makes the festival thrive.
You know that film you always wanted to see but never got around to seeing it, well chances are it just might be playing at PAFF. Throughout the years, PAFF has done an excellent job of getting and showcasing films about the past, present and in the future, stories of black people or people of color. How many film festivals are going to replay the documentary of legendary playwright “August Wilson: The Ground in Which I Stand?” How about “Slavery by Another Name?”
One of the more distinguishable aspects of PAFF is that many of the films have a tinge of social justice attached to them. Yes, there are comedic and romantic films spread throughout the film festival. But by and large, whether the plot of a film centers around a military coup somewhere in Africa, the resistance movement here in the United States and abroad, or focuses on a new generation of youths wanting to have their voices heard, social injustice becomes a running theme.
You are not going to find that at too many other film festivals. That may be the reason why USA Today noted PAFF in 2015 as the No. 3 film festival in the country. That’s some pretty heavy stuff. For founders and actors Danny Glover (Color Purple, Amistad, Lethal Weapon films) and Ja’net DuBois (Good Times) and PAFF Executive Director Ayuko Babu that kind of acknowledgement from one of the top media brands out there had to represent a recognition breakthrough for the film festival.
Even though PAFF has had rich celebrity talent such as Nate Parker, Omari Hardwick, Loretta Devine, Mo’Nique and Alfre Woodard come through and attended the film festival in various capacities, it has struggled over the years to gain a foothold among the heavy dose of film festivals spread throughout the month of February. The month of February is known to be Black History Month.
But with the constant proliferation of Super Bowl Sunday, the Grammys, the Academy Awards, the NAACP Image Awards and other film festivals, it is easy for PAFF and the history of black Americans to get lost in the shuffle of priority for the masses. Despite all of the noise banging around it, PAFF has managed not only to survive, but the film festival has grown in leaps and bounds.
The same goes for black history. It is not going anywhere. This is what make PAFF unique. It is a celebration of culture, black culture to be more specific. PAFF presents a platform for individuals of color to see themselves behind and in front of the camera, a hallmark that doesn’t get highlighted as it should. But the marker of success has been established for PAFF. Now it is continuing to build upon its own rich tradition.
Nick Cannon’s “King of the Dancehall” Los Angeles premiere on opening night of the film festival is a prime example of the steps that PAFF has taken over the years when it comes to integrating itself into mainstream affection. Cannon, who stars and directed “King of the Dancehall,” made his way to walk the red carpet, sat and watched the screening of his movie and took part in the Q & A session following the conclusion of the 1 hour and 45-minute drama that also stars Whoopi Goldberg, Busta Rhimes and Louis Gossett Jr.
Adding luster to the evening was the film festival paying homage Woodard with the 2017 PAFF Lifetime Achievement Award. It was a fitting honor for such a great actress like Woodard (Crooklyn, Luke Cage, Something New, True Blood), who is the chief reason why some people go to the movies in the first place. This is what makes PAFF special.