by Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn
As diversity debates wage on in Hollywood, the Pan African Film Festival spotlights an array of stories and storytellers conveying broad narratives from the world’s African diaspora, with more than a dozen documentaries, narrative features, or shorts by women directors being presented during the 12-day cinematic bonanza which starts this week at the Rave Cinemas 15 Baldwin Hills in Los Angeles. Many of these filmmakers are already making noise in independent circles, and Hollywood would do well to pay attention to these emerging voices. Here are eight directors – and their films – we’re excitedly watching.
Lacey Schwartz, Little White Lie
Since the world premiere of Little White Lie at the Jewish Film Festival last summer, critics and audiences on the indie film festival circuit have universally applauded Lacey Schwartz’s engaging documentary narrative of growing up white and Jewish, and the odyssey of racial identity that began after discovering her biological father was black. The film, which marks her directorial debut, offers a moving look at the legacy of family secrets and lies as she explores the questions of how and why she passed for white, as well the hard conversations that followed with family and friends. Schwartz is also executive producer of the Ethiopian narrative film Difret, an audience darling of the 2014 Sundance and Berlin Film Festivals. It will also premiere at the Pan African Film Fest on Monday, Feb. 9 at 6:55 p.m. As head of the New York-based production company, Truth Aid, Schwartz has worked on a variety of projects for MTV, BET, and @radical.media. Little White Lie will be broadcast on PBS in March.
PAFF premiere: Friday, Feb. 6; 5:40 p.m.
Carol Bash, Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band
PAFF Premiere: Friday, Feb. 6; 5:45 p.m.
Destiny Ekaragha, Gone Too Far
PAFF Premiere: Friday, Feb. 6; 7:20 p.m.
Nefertite Nguvu, In The Morning
PAFF Premiere: Friday, Feb. 6; 7:45 p.m.
Erica A. Watson, Roubado
Even before her graduation from USC’s School of Cinematic Arts last spring, 26-year-old writer-director Erica A. Watson was already a seasoned veteran of the illustrious Cannes Film Festival, having attended for five consecutive years with films in the Short Film Corner, and as a participant of the Marche du Film. It was during one of her Festival visits, in 2011, that a chance meeting with a young photographer inspired her short film, Roubado, the story of an introverted Afro-Portuguese teen growing up in the south of France. Agonized by his parents’ recent breakup, his only solace is through his photography. Watson is currently a directing fellow at Film Independent’s Project Involve and was in-residence at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival in January as a Sundance Knight Fellow. At 19, she co-founded Hyphenation Nation Productions, a film production company based in her hometown of Detroit that produced 10 short films and 5 episodes of the “Conversations in Cannes,” an interview series which aired from 2007 to 2011. Roubado is her 2014 thesis project.
PAFF premiere: Sunday, Feb. 8; 5:15 p.m.
Ashley D. Ellis, Fixed
Director Ashley D. Ellis tackles homophobia in the African American community with her uniquely nuanced short, Fixed. The story follows the trail of mysterious circumstances leading to the death of a severely-closeted young man. Using a multidimensional perspective, Ellis deeply explores his internal and outward struggles with flashbacks retracing his life in both the LGBT and broader black communities. Ellis’ passion for stories involving human rights, social justice and conservation spurred the founding of Emerald City Arts, a media and arts collective designed to create meaningful content with like-minded collaborators. She completed her first short, If I Had a Son, in 2013 and dove right into Fixed in the fall of that year with writer and executive producer Porcha Evans. The Center for Black Equity, a social justice network empowering the black LBGT community, praised the film as a “commendable work” and a notable catalyst for discourse to create a change in attitudes about black gay men.
PAFF premiere: Sunday, Feb. 8; 9:53 p.m.
Kiara C. Jones, Christmas Wedding Baby
PAFF premiere: Tuesday, Feb. 10; 6:50 p.m.
Rachelle Salnave, La Belle Vie (The Good Life)
PAFF premiere: Wednesday, Feb. 11; 7:40 p.m.
Visit paff.org for encore screening dates/times, and for additional information on these films and others.
Janice Rhoshalle Littlejohn is an L.A.-based journalist covering media and entertainment (television and film, in particular), and the convergence of art and culture. She is co-author of Swirling: How to Date, Mate, and Relate Mixing Race, Culture, and Creed, and is co-writing an interracial romance, Lovers in Their Right Mind, with Navid Negahban (American Sniper, Homeland) attached to produce and star. She is currently producing the jazz documentary, “…but can she play?” Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram @janicerhoshalle.