Entertainment Lead Story Movies West Edition

Nation’s largest black film fest to open in L.A.

LOS ANGELES – The nation’s largest black film festival kicks off in South L.A. this week as thousands of art, film and music buffs flock to Southern California to celebrate and explore African-American life, history and culture.

From Feb. 7-18, more than 170 films from 40 countries in 26 languages will be screened at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, all focused on exploring narratives that increase cultural awareness and bridge diverse communities from the African diaspora, festival organizers said.

The annual festival, co-founded by award-winning actor Danny Glover, is the largest event of its kind dedicated to film, art, music and creative expression by black people, organizers said.

“It’s been a privilege to be a platform for many filmmakers and talent to share their unique stories through the lens of their own experiences, visions and creative artistry,” said Ayuko Babu, the festival’s executive director and co-founder.

“Amazing Grace,” a 1972 documentary featuring Aretha Franklin and her L.A.-based recording of a gospel album, is the festival’s opening night film on Feb. 7. “Little Woods,” a modern-day Western starring Tessa Thompson, is the centerpiece film on Feb. 13. The closing night film on Feb. 17 has yet to be announced.

Other feature films include: “Where Hands Touch,” a romance film starring Amandla Stenberg; “Buffalo Soldiers: A Quest for Freedom,” directed by the Isabelle Brothers; and “Ali’s Comeback: The Untold Story,” which reveals behind-the-scenes efforts to get Muhammad Ali reinstated into boxing after he refused induction into the U.S. Army.

Babu said the festival’s goal is not only to celebrate black culture, but also to provide a creative space for the development and expression of black storylines through film, poetry, art and music. It also is intended to help show movie distributors the popularity and potential profitability of black narratives.

“The ongoing challenge is … whose story gets told on the small screen and big screen?” he said. “The Pan African Film Festival is a way of showing distributors the stories that matter to people of color.”

In the festival’s 26-year history, scores of filmmakers or celebrities have appeared or contributed works, organizers said, including Denzel Washington, Kevin Hart, Taraji P. Henson, Ava Duvernay, Jamie Foxx, Will Packer and Ryan Coogler, among many others.

This year’s celebrity guests include Bobby Brown, Danny Glover, Erica Campbell, Kelly Price, Laurence Fishburne, LA Reid, Loretta Devine, Nate Parker, Terrence J, and Tyrese, among others.

Held at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the festival also will feature industry-related panel discussions and speakers. The festival’s ArtFest will feature an eclectic mix of paintings, sculptures, fashion, jewelry and African artifacts.

Other events include select free screenings during the week for senior citizens, a comedy night on Feb. 11 hosted by J. Anthony Brown and a fashion show on Feb. 17.

For more information, visit the festival’s website at www.paff.org.