Sunday, November 23, 2014
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By Joy Childs
Sentinel Contributing Writer


Though it was shorter in length, had no centerpiece film and featured fewer entries than in previous years, the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) was still the No. 1 film destination during Black History Month. And in its 19th year, there was no shortage of enthusiasm at its three major events.

Opening night saw the yearly mob scene at the Culver Plaza Theatres, with red carpet celebrities from TV, film and stage intermingling with festival buffs and media folk. PAFF Executive Director Ayuko Babu reached out to the packed audience, strongly encouraging folks to financially support PAFF, to go out and encourage their friends to support it, and to identify corporations and elected officials to financially support it.

Actor Nate Parker, best known for his lead role as Henry Lowe in "The Great Debaters," served as celebrity host.  He first thanked this year's sponsors, among them Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa,  Bernard Parks, Jan Perry and Herb Wesson; and Wells Fargo, Macy's, the City of Los Angeles, the African Channel and South African Airways.

"What this film festival does," Parker stated, " is it connects the Diaspora . . . and shows us in a positive light." Then it was on to the festival opener, "35 and Ticking," written and directed by Russ Parr.  As the title suggests, two men and two women, close friends since childhood, are 30-somethings, and each of their life clocks are ticking. One of the females is a successful sportscaster  (Nicole Ari Parker) who's looking for the right man; her best friend (Tamala Jones), a seemingly happily married woman of three years, desperately wants children though her hubby (Dondré Whitfield) does not. There's the good brother (Keith Robinson) who's working hard to support his two kids and a wife (Jill Marie Jones) that doesn't want to be a mother; and there's the single guy (Kevin Hart) with a unique 'delivery' job, who's smitten with a beauty (Meagan Good) he meets at a club.

There are plot twists and turns, some amusing dialogue and some jammin' but unidentified hip-hop music that keeps the plot flowing.  Whether the audience thought it was good, bad or were indifferent, if for no other reason, the movie should be sought out, as there's something good to be said about the pure visual of Black folks kissing and hugging and making up and  . . .

And you will have to seek it out, as it lacks a distribution deal presently.  Even though Parr got a lot of positive feedback from those who stayed around after the screening, he was very frank about what his film lacks:  "It's all about distribution . . . Hopefully, there will come a time when we don't have to beg . . ."

Given that the film was executive produced by comedians Kym Whitley and Mike Epps (both of whom also starred in the film) and Parr, it's particularly remarkable that Parr was able to attract the breadth of Black talent beyond the main stars-and to complete principal photography in 15 days. Others featured are Tamala Jones, Darius McCrary, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Clifton Powell, Aaron D. Spears and Luenell Campbell.

Afterwards, most of the cast very generously participated in a Q&A before the audience adjourned to the opening night after-party at nearby Gyenari's for Korean cuisine.

Further east, at the Nate Holden Performing Arts Center on West Washington Boulevard, was where the second major event took place on the next night.  Hosted by Nate Parker, Seyi Brown and Eno Georgette Inwek (the latter two from the Africa Channel), the PAFF Night of Tribute paid homage to a number of distinguished Africans and African Americans.  The highest achievements were presented to two distinguished ladies: The Lifetime Achievement Awards went to Phylicia Rashad and Hope Foye.

Most know of Rashad from her TV and stage work-and all have marked their calendars for her Los Angeles directorial debut of "A Raisin in the Sun" (for which she won the Tony award a few years back) in March at the Nate Holden.

Many did not know of Foye but should: She's a notable soprano who, along with Paul Robeson and W.E.B. Dubois, risked her career to sing about and fight against social injustice during the McCarthy Era of the 1940s and '50s .  Truly an unsung heroine, at 89, she can still wow a crowd, as she and her long-standing cellist did.

Other awardees were actor Lamman Rucker (Canada Lee Award); actress Tessa Thompson (Beah Richards Awards); actor Hlomla Dandala of South Africa (TAC Creative Achievement Award); and author Ngugi wa Thiong'o of Kenya (recipient of the first ever TAC Literary Achievement Award); and Councilperson Jan Perry (Community Service Award).

The Night was sponsored by the Africa Channel, with music provided by South Africa's own Jonathan Butler and his attractive look-alike daughter Jodie.
Another romantic comedy closed out the PAFF where the festival had begun, at the Culver Plaza Theatres. "DWB: Dating While Black" is the tale of two guys who get laid off and, while looking for new jobs, become friends.  One's a womanizer who ostensibly sets out to teach the other guy-the proverbial good brother-how to succeed with women.   Writer/producer/director Van Elder guarantees that "everybody that watches that film will find something in each character that they can relate to."

Asked, What inspired him to write it?, he responded, "It was inspired by many conversations with my inner circle of friends, both male and female . . .  and some personal experiences mixed in there. Van Elder's name may be familiar from his other two feature films, "Divine Intervention" (2007) and "Issues" (2006). Both received limited theatrical release, though they were subsequently released on DVD and cable.

Regarding distribution of "DWB," Elder says, "We're gonna get this one out there. . .  I think this one has the makings of a cult following. . ."
The one thing that PAFF literature and everyone stresses at every turn on PAFF's behalf is the need for financial support from the community in order to get distribution deals for films screened at the festival.  For the Russ Parrs and the Van Elders among us, it is absolutely essential for us to throw our full support behind these films and the PAFF- so that it can celebrate the big 20 next year.

Category: News


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