Call it the little film fest that could.
Two years ago, Enjoli Moon’s goal as creative director was to spend a year holding monthly film events before presenting Richmond’s first Afrikana Independent Film Festival. Like most well laid plans, it didn’t go that way.
The Noir Cinema series, a monthly showcase celebrating global black culture through short films made by a directors of color, quickly gained a diverse following as much for the lively post-film discussions with the filmmakers as for the venues — a rotating list of Richmond’s galleries.
Upping the ante to show full-length films, Moon teamed with Feast RVA for several sold-out Movies and Mimosas brunches. And during the past two summers she screened films outdoors at Tredegar under the banner of Starry Night Cinema.
Last fall, Afrikana played host to its first Evening with an Icon, bringing black arts movement poet Sonia Sanchez to a sold-out Grace Street Theater.
“Learning more about the black independent film world, making connections and pulling off one-night events took a lot,” Moon says from a booth at Croaker’s Spot, the title sponsor of the Afrikana Film Fest. “I realized that doing a multiday event would require time, commitment and a strong team.”
She’s been building her team of ambassadors since day one. Malaika Stirrup, Afrikana’s director of communications, was looking for something social and artistic with the potential to expand her Richmond cultural experience when she got involved, but her commitment quickly escalated.
“I wanted to be a part of a movement that enveloped the cool, social, artistic and cultural aspects of RVA that I had yet to be introduced to,” she says. “It took me deeper into a city that I had only lived and worked in up to that point. I got to see the richness and feel the vibe through native Richmonders as well as those who were like me — seeking a place to call a home away from home.”
Two years in, the team is ready for its close-up. The Afrikana Independent Film Festival debuts Sept. 15-18 at numerous locations across Richmond such as the Valentine, the Grace Street Theater, Candela Books and Gallery, the Hippodrome, ADA Gallery, Black Iris, Soleil, Art 180, Elegba Folklore Society, the Bijou and the Black History Museum.
“These venues are what progressive Richmond says they’re about,” Moon says of Richmond’s goal to be a diverse and inclusive city. “They’re open-minded, open-hearted and willing to open their doors to fresh ideas. For them to be pioneers, in a way, is really something.”
The festival runs three days and screens more than 30 films from four continents, with artists’ talks, parties, happy hours, meet and greets and workshops between screenings.
Because it’s the 30th anniversary, Spike Lee’s seminal film, “She’s Gotta Have It” will be shown. It will be followed by an artist’s talk with Monty Ross, who co-produced the film with Lee, with whom he founded Forty Acres and a Mule Filmworks.
Last year’s biography “Miles Ahead,” starring Don Cheadle, also will show, along with a talk by pianist Robert Glasper, the composer of the movie’s score. Saturday night’s afterparty features Patrick Denard Douthit, aka rapper and producer 9th Wonder, and a fellow in the hip-hop archive at Harvard University.
A weekend pass allows unlimited access to the festival’s packed schedule, while individual tickets will be available for certain films. The goal is to attract a diverse audience to drive home the power of film and how it can pierce preconceived ideas and highlight humanity. Afrikana Independent Film Festival is a movement, according to Stirrup.
She says it’s one that’s dedicated “to showcasing the black experience and all its facets in a way that entertains, educates and sparks discussion regarding everything from current events to social plights and just the overall rhythm of the black experience.”
Moon adds that the goal is to empower people of all colors with ideas.
“I think there are people in this city who are really serious about transcending its history and want to see Richmond reach its potential. But we can’t maximize its potential if everyone doesn’t have a seat at the table.” S
Afrikana Independent Film Festival runs Sept. 15-18 at various locations. For times and information visit afrikanafilmfestival.org.