It’s one day — Saturday, June 24th at the American Film Institute — but it’s an important moment where storytellers stand up to be counted and heard, and it’s the audience’s job to listen. This year the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West (BADWEST) will host their 11th annual “Day of Black Docs” an event that is zealously embraced by industry and community.
Held at the American Film Institute (AFI) Mark Goodson Theater, with $20 tickets for the all-day, the event sells out very quickly.
This year there are three feature length award-winning documentaries and a short documentary that will be screened which include Sundance Film Festival winner “WHOSE STREETS?”, “CHASING TRANE” the definitive documentary film about musician John Coltrane, “BY BLOOD”, which chronicles American Indians of African descent as they battle to regain their tribal citizenship and “BULLDOGGING: THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COWBOY PROJECT,” a film exploring the historic contributions of Black cowboys to Western culture rounds out the day.
To get the conversation flowing in the right and positive direction, post-screening panel discussions with filmmakers will be moderated by Nana Gyamfi, the well-known human and civil-rights defense attorney and fiery radio host of the weekly radio show “Uprising the Asafo Edition.” Gyamfi is also a professor of Pan-African studies at California State University, Los Angeles.
BADWest co-chairperson Denise Hamilton says that their committee made a decision to choose films with a clear and firm moral fiber, offering this: “These combined films showcase the past and present reality of Blacks in this country, while also demonstrating our amazing resilience and creativity in the midst of it all,”She said.
“Our struggles, as well as our contributions to American culture, have played a major role in defining the moral conscience of this country, whether it be our relationship to indigenous people, forging ahead in creative arenas, or being in the forefront of demanding justice – and it’s captured in this event.”
“WHOSE STREETS?” – The Sundance Film Festival winner and feature film debut of writer-director Sabaah Folayan and co-director Damon Davis is about the Ferguson uprising. For this generation, the battle is not for civil rights, but for the right to live.
“CHASING TRANE: THE JOHN COLTRANE DOCUMENTARY” is a thought-provoking, uplifting, powerful film about an outside-the-box thinker whose boundary-shattering music continues to impact and influence people around the world. This compelling portrait of a remarkable artist reveals the critical experiences and challenges that shaped the life of John Coltrane and his revolutionary sound. It is a story of demons and darkness, of persistence and redemption. But, above all else, it is the incredible journey of a spiritual warrior who found himself, found God, and in the process, created an extraordinary body of work that transcends all barriers of race, religion, age and geography. – These words — spoken by Academy Award winner Denzel Washington – illuminate what John Coltrane was thinking and feeling at critical moments throughout his life and career.
Written and directed by critically-acclaimed documentary filmmaker John Scheinfeld, the film was produced with the full participation of the Coltrane family and the support of the record labels that collectively own the Coltrane catalog.
“BY BLOOD” chronicles American Indians of African descent as they battle in the court to regain tribal citizenship. Americans are familiar with the removal of Cherokees in the infamous “Trial of Tears,” but the involvement of African Americans is far less known. When the U.S. Indian Removal Act forced Native Americans to relinquish their native land and move west, countless slaves followed them into the frontier, bound and shackled. The documentary chronicles Freedman descendants Roshon Jones and his children Sylvia Davis and Marilyn Vann as well as civil-rights advocates David Cornsilk and Jon Velie whose roles illustrate tenuous race relations across Oklahoma. Ultimately the documentary illustrates how federal encroachment over Indian territories led to Oklahoma’s statehood and fueled its violent history. The film is directed by Marcos Barbery & Sam Russell.
“BULLDOGGING: THE AFRICAN AMERICAN COWBOY PROJECT” is a collaboration between producer/director Elizabeth Bayne and photographer Edward Cushenberry. This short documentary film explores the historic contributions of Black cowboys to Western culture, and we meet the men and women who keep the legacy alive.
Q&A guest panelists include the producer Dave Harding and editor/co-producer Peter Lynch, “Chasing Trane.”
The financial reward for documentary films is nothing compared to the upwind of high financial return connected with feature films and television. To excel in this genre is a sheer labor of love in which patience is more than a simple virtue, it’s a job skill requirement. Formed in 2003, BADWest is a collective of documentary filmmakers of African descent who advocate for the recognition and professional advancement of Black documentary filmmakers.
Day of Black Docs is co-sponsored by the International Documentary Association (IDA), California Association of African American Superintendents and Administrators (CAAASA) and Momentous Insurance Brokerage.
Here is what the Black Docs collective’s David M. Massey and Denise Hamilton, co-chairs, and officers of BADWest had to offer on why it’s critical for African and African-Americans to tell our stories and what the future might look like for the art of documentary filmmaking.
Q: Why is it important that WE tell our stories ourselves or is that important at all?
It is extremely important that people of color be in the forefront of telling their stories. Historically, Blacks have continually witnessed people from outside our culture tell stories that misrepresent our reality, exclude our perspectives, and ignore important facts. In addition, we’ve seen the misappropriation of our culture when handled by others who lack the knowledge or even interest to get the facts straight. It has, unfortunately, been in the interest of a white supremacy to continually denigrate our reality and portray us in a negative light. For these reasons, we must insist that our voices be included in whatever dialogue exists around our narrative.
In this new global community, we also see a need to identify and work with others who have resources that have traditionally been closed to us. Recognizing the multitude of stories to be shared, we acknowledge the significance of having important stories brought to light whenever they can, if they’re told with respect and understanding. That’s why we’re open to the artistic freedom of storytelling done collaboratively with others – as long as they’re told with deference. Ultimately, we are the purveyors of our history, our culture, and should continually demand to be so. – Denise Hamilton
Q: Where do u see the future of docs?
The future is bright for documentary filmmaking for three main reasons. Documentaries, in general, cost less to produce than narrative filmmaking. Another reason is filmmaking technology has become less expensive and thus, documentaries are becoming more popular especially among people of color. Lastly, distribution with streaming companies and social media platforms give filmmakers more outlets to display their stories without Hollywood’s permission.
African American filmmakers aren’t just using the documentary genre to tell their stories on the grassroots level. This was evident at this year’s Academy Awards ceremony when four Black directors, Ezra Edelman, Ava DuVernay, Raoul Peck, and Roger Ross Williams were nominated in the feature documentary category. Edelman won the Oscar with his comprehensive five-part documentary series, O.J.: Made in America.-David Massey
Tickets for the all-day event are $20, and advance purchase is highly recommended at www.dayofblackdocs.org. Free parking at the AFI lot.