The M.V. African American Film Festival returns to the Island for its 19th year. Beginning on Friday, August 6, it runs for nine days, ending on Saturday, August 14. The festival was cancelled last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “Coming out of the 2020 pandemic, we wanted to come back big,” said festival co-founder Stephanie Tavares-Rance.
A special preview of the not-to-be-missed film “Respect,” featuring Oscar winner Jennifer Hudson as Aretha Franklin, the “Queen of Soul,” will play on Friday, July 30, at the Performing Arts Center at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Hudson will appear after the film in a Color of Conversation event, along with the film’s South African American director, Liesl Tommy. Supporting actors include Forest Whitaker, Marlon Wayans, and Mary J. Blige.
“Respect” tells the story of the late Aretha Franklin’s career. It begins with her as a child singing gospel in her father’s Detroit New Bethel Baptist Church. She made her first record at 18 years old and eventually became an international superstar. ”We couldn’t be more excited to kick off this year’s festival with the film ‘Respect,’” said Tavares-Rance.
More than 70 feature films, documentaries and shorts by African American filmmakers and actors will play during the festival’s nine days, along with other events. “Memoirs of a Black Girl” launches the festival, along with a series of shorts, on Friday, August 6. This film is a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl who becomes a finalist for a scholarship. Others at her high school confront her, and she must learn to survive. Director Thato Rantao Mwosa won the Emerging Filmmaker Award in the 2005 Roxbury Film Festival.
Black Entertainment Television brings two episodes of “The Couch” to the festival on Saturday, August 7. In the first, a psychology major gets involved with a homeless woman who has bipolar disorder. In the second episode, a woman experiences a mid-life crisis with clinical depression, anxiety, and COVID-19. Also on Saturday are the films “Dr. Glenda Glover, International President of Alpha Delta Alpha Sorority,” “Twenty Pearls: The Story of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority,” and “The Honorable Judge Kimberly Esmond Adams.”
Sunday, August 8, brings “I Promise,” about LeBron James’s groundbreaking Ohio public school, and “Summer of Soul,” about the 1969 Harlem cultural festival. “The Mind and Body Reboot,” a special three-day yoga movement and soul workshop, will be offered Monday, August 9, to Wednesday, August 11. It will be led by celebrity trainer, former ballet dancer and ordained minister Robert Brace. Also on Monday will be the film “Life & Life,” about musician Reggie Austin’s recovery from a murder conviction.
“The Passing On,” about the three professions that led slaves to the American dream — preacher, teacher, and undertaker — will be screened on Tuesday, August 17. Also on Tuesday is “Maya and Her Lover,” which tells the story of a woman recovering from a domineering father who finds a younger man for her lover.
More films on Tuesday include “Betye Saar,” a 94-year-old artist of the same name who finds success late in life. Tuesday’s “Last Night in Rozzie” concerns a N.Y. lawyer who returns to his Boston hometown to see his dying friend and have him meet his son.
HBO Max will stream “Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground,” a documentary by Sophia Nahli Allison that looks at archival footage of the original film on Wednesday, August 11. This special screening will be followed by a discussion with Allison, the film’s director; video, and music director Melina Matsoukas and Patrisse Cullors, co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement who recently stepped down to work on other projects. Another HBO Max film on Wednesday is “My Name is Pauli Murray,” about the activist responsible for litigation about race and gender equity.
At Garde East, on Thursday, August 12, a Power of Visibility speed mentoring event will provide a platform for multicultural talent from HBO and HBO Max. A film set for Thursday is “Death of a Telemarketer,” about a telemarketer who preys on a mark with surprising results. “The One and Only Dick Gregory” is a documentary playing on Thursday about the well-known comedian and activist. Another event scheduled on Thursday is a party at the Cardboard Box in Oak Bluffs with DJ Chris Washington. HBO offers “The Legend of the Underground” about the discrimination in Nigeria on Thursday.
Friday, August 13, brings “Liam White,” about a novelist with only a few months to live. “Truth to Power: Barbara Lee Speaks for Me” also plays on Friday and concerns the human rights activist who worked for the Black Panther Party. Another documentary scheduled on Friday is “Bitchin’: The Sound and Fury of Rick James.” This film describes the legendary rock star and his history.
Closing the festival on Saturday, August 14, are several feature films. “Balloon Man,” directed by Chantal Potter, tells the story of the first African American hot-air balloon master. The second film, “Caged Birds,” is Fredrick Leach’s story of three teenagers trapped by a murder cover-up. “Obama: In Pursuit of a More Perfect Union” is a HBO documentary series in three parts, scheduled for Saturday. A series of shorts are also scheduled.
A number of commercial sponsors, including Netflix, HBO Max, and Black Entertainment Television, provide films for the festival. The festival’s signature panel discussions, the Color of Conversation, are presented throughout the event’s nine days.
The Academy Award-accredited festival is produced by Run & Shoot Filmworks, whose goal is to support African American filmmakers and actors from across the world. Established in 2002, Filmworks is producer of the M.V. African American Film Festival and the Color of Conversation Film Festival.
All films and events will be held at the Performing Arts Center at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. Registration, information, and tickets are available daily at 10 am and online by visiting mvaaff.com.