Film : 55 reasons to attend African-American Festival
Entering its seventh year, the Martha's Vineyard African-American Film Festival is screening a bumper crop of 55 films through Saturday, August 8. The festival is based at Vineyard Haven's Mansion House, with additional screenings at the Katharine Cornell Theatre.
Sponsors Stephanie and Floyd Rance of Run and Shoot Filmworks have attracted the big-name clout of HBO, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, and others as sponsors. The result brings a roster of high-quality films from promising newcomers like Edward Osei-Gyimah, as well as from award-winning documentarist and Oak Bluffs summer resident Stanley Nelson.
Mr. Osei-Gyimah will make his first visit to the Island to present his short film "Kwame," on Saturday, August 8, at 6:30 pm. Playing at the Katharine Cornell Theatre, "Kwame" is one of five finalists in the HBO Short Film competition scheduled that night. It is also a finalist in the "Nothing Is Impossible" Producer's awards, sponsored for the first time this year by Saatchi & Saatchi.
Mr. Osei-Gyimah's uncle, Kwame, who served as a captain in the Ghanaian army, lends his name to the film. The storyline is based on actual events, although the real Kwame lives in England, where the filmmaker grew up.
As an exile living in Los Angeles 20 years after a military junta took over in Ghana, the film's Kwame Opoku, played by Benjamin Ochieng, is a cab driver dealing with repressed memories of painful experiences. When he meets an Hispanic-American woman, Roxanne, he discovers someone whose feelings mirror his own but for different reasons. Played by Jessica Diz, the drug-addicted Roxanne is grieving over the infant she lost.
"Kwame has no family in Los Angeles," Mr. Osei-Gyimah explained in a recent telephone interview. "He is isolated and alone. The story follows the progression of their relationship."
After attending Warwick University, the filmmaker studied at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. "Kwame" is his thesis film and has traveled the festival circuit from Shanghai to Atlanta and Mexico. It won Best Narrative Film at the 2009 Pan-African Film Festival and an Audience Award at the 2009 Newport Beach Film Festival.
Although he grew up in London, Mr. Osei-Gyimah has deep-rooted family connections to Ghana. "Until the recent downturn, Ghana has the ninth fastest-growing economy in the world. It is considered the jewel of West Africa," the filmmaker observes.
He is at work editing two other independent films, "Finding God in the City of Angels," and "Girls in the Band," as well as preparing several new feature scripts of his own.
Documentary filmmaker Stanley Nelson's, "Wounded Knee," will play at noon on Thursday, August 6. The film about the American Indian movement is a segment from the PBS "American Experience" series "We Shall Remain."
Mr. Nelson is part of a family of long-time Oak Bluffs summer residents. The recipient of a prestigious MacArthur Fellowship, he has produced and/or directed "Jonestown: The Life and Death of People's Temple," "Marcus Garvey," and "The Murder of Emmett Till," which won a Sundance Special Jury Prize, among other films in a long career.
Other highlights of the festival include "The Nine Lives of Marion Barry," an HBO film directed by Dana Flor and Toby Oppenheimer. It will screen Saturday night at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. A half-hour excerpt of the forthcoming Walt Disney animated film, "The Princess and the Frog" will play later in the evening at a location to be announced.
Two Oak Bluffs restaurants, Mediterranean and C'est la Vie, will host festival post screening parties, and the Oak Bluffs art gallery Cousen Rose will hold a reception.
Martha's Vineyard African-American Film Festival, Wed., August 5, through Sat., August 8. Prices vary according the number of films being viewed. Student rates. For all 55 films: Pre-registration, $185; on-site registration, $250. Go to www.mvaaff.com for details. More information at Mansion House, 508-693-3220, ext 216.
Brooks Robards writes on art, film, theater and books for The Times.