African Heritage Film Festival

In celebration of the rich and diverse ethnic populations of Arkansas, Old Town Theatres Centre, Inc. and Film Festivals of Southern Arkansas, thought it not only about time, but completely appropriate to institute the African Heritage Film Festival as a sister celebration to its very successful Pine Bluff Film Festival.

Kathy Majewska of OTTC says, "The majority population of Pine Bluff is African-American and many of us in Pine Bluff thought we should do something to help celebrate the varied cultures of our friends, neighbors and relatives by presenting this event for Black History Month this coming February."

In co-operation with the University of Arkansas - Pine Bluff and Southeast Arkansas College, OTTC presented a wide variety of films as well as live events from February 9th - February 12th, 2006.

"We thought it important to spread our wings a bit, and ask the Universities and Colleges of the area to help present some of the events," continued Ms. Majewska. "This way, we could combine resources and benefit from the mutual publicity of each screening and attraction and by doing so reach a greater audience. People in Pine Bluff need to come together as a real community more often in both social and political settings, and this seemed like as good a time and a way as any. Something to help bring us all closer. With communication comes discussion and understanding and everyone's lives can be enriched and enlarged. I see only positive things coming from this first venture. And all events are free to the public!"

Starting off the celebration, Dr. Kaleybra Morehead, coordinating the event for SEARK, screened the French language documentary The Voyage. The film explores, quite vividly, the extraordinary and tragic saga of 267 Congolese, brought to Brussels for the 1897 World's Fair. One hundred years later, Congolese compatriots return to the scene of these events and question the "Whites" of today on the incredible story of that "human zoo". The film was screened on February 9th at 1:15PM at McGeorge Hall on the SEARK campus.

The festivities continued on Saturday, February 11th at The Community Theatre in Pine Bluff. Starting at 11AM, four unique films that cover a wide range of the African Diaspora were screened. First up was the 1941 film Blood of Jesus, directed, written and starring one of the most active of all African-American film makers of that era, Spencer Williams. The film, produced for just $5,000 during an era when black film-makers produced films for a black audience exclusively, Blood of Jesus is a vivid example of what is now known as the "Race Film." Its southern rural Baptist storyline reached out to a disenfranchised audience with great success. Along with Oscar Micheaux, Mr. Williams was one of the prime movers of the era.

At Noon came a screening of Cabin in the Sky. The first film directed by Vincent Minnelli, the movie is a glorious rendition of the hit Broadway musical. It features stellar performances and singing by Ethel Waters, Eddie Anderson, Lena Horne, Rex Ingram, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington. It is a musical fantasy done on a grand scale - and something rare for Hollywood as it features an all black cast, one of only a handful of features so done by the big studios in their heyday.

The next film, Black Girl(La Noire de...), has the distinction of being the first Black-African Feature film ever released and as such its importance is unquestioned. Directed by Ousmane Sembene of Senegal, it is a tragic tale of a young woman leaving her country to work in France, only to face anguish, disappointment and prejudice. Black Girl won a prize at the 1967 Cannes Film Festival. The screening started at 2PM and was immediately followed by Borom Sarret, a short film by the same director.

At 4PM we were proud to show Black Orpheus. This film is an acclaimed depiction of the legend of Orpheus and Eurydice - but set during Carnival in Rio. An important and infectious film, it changed the world of music overnight with its emphasis on Samba and Bossa Nova which permeates the alluring soundtrack. The cast is superb and affecting and the color photography breathtaking.

Continuing on that Saturday evening, February 11th were the first of the live events. Under the coordination of Dr. Joanna P. Edwards, UAPB hosted an evening with the Academy Award nominated actress Juanita Moore - co-star of the 1959 film Imitation of Life. The refreshingly candid actress was presented at UAPB's School of Business Auditorium for a "meet and greet" reception at 6:30PM. Following the screening of her film at 7PM, Ms. Moore was interviewed on stage by Dr. Foster Hirsch of New York. Dr. Hirsch has been interviewing stars for over a decade at the Pine Bluff Film Festival.

Sunday, February 12th marked the end of the Festival with a special screening at The Community Theatre of Lady Day - The Many Faces of Billie Holiday. This documentary features several full performances by the legendary singer. Directly following the screening, we presented, live on stage, chanteuse LaSheena Virginia Tyler, who sang her repertoire of Billie Holiday songs. Currently a student at the University of Arkansas - Little Rock, Ms. Tyler is a member of the UALR Gospel Chorale directed by Dr. Sharon Young. She has been a singer all her life and is looking forward to this exiting show.

Ms. Majewska adds in closing, "I hope everyone, no matter what their skin color, or ethnic background, enjoyed what we had to offer. It was a fun, educational and exhilarating experience for all, so let us celebrate the richness of our community together now, and for many years to come."