|Rethinking emancipation with the power of film|
Guardian National Correspondent
Published: Aug 04, 2012
Emancipation Day, celebrating the criminalization of slavery, is more than just a long weekend with a day off work, yet many don’t stop to reflect on what this means.
Now, however, a group of community-based organizations are coming together to put on an annual event during Emancipation Day weekend to redefine what it means to celebrate the day.
The Black Power Community Film Festival, held by the Indaba Project and the Movement for Change organization, will screen throughout this weekend a selection of thought-provoking, educational and revolutionary films and documentaries, as well as moderated discussions, in the Hay Street, Fowler Street and Mason’s Addition areas.
The project, says festival coordinator and member of Indaba Noelle Nicolls, came out of the nonprofit community-based organization’s biannual lecture series, which brought in speakers from all around the world – including leading scholars on African identity and history – to give talks under the theme “Nyon Nyor Nyan?” (Who Are We?). Now, in partnering with Movement for Change, the Black Power Community Film Festival will be an annual event that will add to these conversations.
“Film is a very powerful medium,” said Nicolls. “There are so many good films and documentaries that the community is not exposed to – we want to create exposure for the community to acknowledge that they don’t have access to through normal channels of education and socialization.”
“I think as we grow, we’re going to have a more objective means of selecting films, like with a jury,” she added. “This time it was very personal – we stuck with films in our recent memory that had moved us and that we wanted to share with the community.”
The result is a mix of feature films, short films and documentaries made both locally and internationally for a wide range of audiences.
Last night at the Hay Street Basketball Court, the film festival kicked off with a screening of Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X”. Today, on the Fowler Street Basketball Court, the children’s matinee will screen “Kirikou and the Sorceress” at 2 p.m., while “The Interrupters” will be shown at 6 p.m. and “Motherland” at 8:30 p.m. On Sunday August 5 at Mason’s Addition Park, the festival will screen “The Price of Being a Man” at 7 p.m., and there will be a Junkanoo rushout by the Saxons at 10 p.m.
Holding The Black Power Community Film Festival as an annual event every Emancipation Day weekend also gives them a chance to recontextualize the holiday. Rather than view Emancipation Day as almost a memorial day-like celebration, says Nicholls, it should be seen as a chance to reflect on the history surrounding the day as a way of moving positively forward – an ongoing process that the community is still engaged in.
“Emancipation as it’s celebrated is a day a proclamation was signed, but really and truly, it is more than that – there was a whole resistance movement amongst enslaved Africans that led to an emancipation movement and we still don’t even know those stories enough that we can draw inspiration from those stories,” she said.
“So in the post-emancipation period and beyond, how have things evolved, how have things stayed the same, where are the areas we still need to grow?” she asked. “This is really about bringing knowledge to all of these questions in order to grow, and to create dialogue around them so that the commemoration around emancipation isn’t just a static event but rather a time to reflect and engage in community dialogue about the active work we still need to do.”
Indeed, the film festival is just another event that ties into the Indaba Project’s motto “Teach them to fish”. The nonprofit organization committed to community and nation building was founded in 1994 by Thomas Cleare and Ian Maura. Through their events – like their core after-school program which tutors 40 children in the Fowler Street area three days a week in academics, social development and creative activities – the Indaba Project empowers the community to be responsible for its own development.
“I hope the viewers and participants walk away with a deeper understanding of what we call ‘sankofa’, which means ‘Go back and fetch it’,” said Nicholls. “We want people to understand that they have to go and fetch the knowledge of their past, they have to connect with that to be able to understand themselves and who we are as a community. Hopefully the films will help bring them get closer to understanding that philosophy in their own personal way.”
“Also I hope that they walk away with a sense of responsibility to the community and how we need to work together to grow as a community that shares a collective past and has a collective vision for the future.”
The Black Power Film Festival will continue this Emancipation Day weekend with films and discussions free and open to the public. Today, Saturday August 4, on the Fowler Street Basketball Court, the children’s matinee will screen “Kirikou and the Sorceress” at 2 p.m., while “The Interrupters” will be shown at 6 p.m. and “Motherland” at 8:30 p.m. On Sunday August 5 at Mason’s Addition Park, the festival will screen “The Price of Being a Man” at 7 p.m. and a Junkanoo rushout (Saxons) at 10 p.m.
IF THERE IS RAINFALL; the screenings will all take place on Fowler Street under the tent.