Virtual Possibilities: San Francisco Black Film Festival Adapts to Covid-19

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Hip-hop musical 'It's a Wonderful Plight' makes its film fest debut virtually this summer.

For more than 20 years, the San Francisco Black Film Festival has been “healing the world one film at a time” with African-American cinema that reinforces positive images and dispels negative stereotypes while showcasing a diverse collection of films from both emerging and established filmmakers.

In 2020, amid the worldwide Covid-19 pandemic, the multicultural festival adopts the theme “Virtually, It’s Possible” to screen its online film program from June 18 through August 2.

“Given our changed world, the San Francisco Black Film Festival has adjusted based on our new reality,” says Kali O’Ray, festival co-director and son of festival-founder Ave Montague. 

“The Coronavirus, although regrettable, has resulted in some positive things as we are cloistered in our homes, young and old,” O’Ray says. “Devouring media together creates family discussions and growth. Workers are breaking out of the ‘brick and mortar’ of going back to work and that is a path for entertainment as well, especially among young people, as I see it.”

The San Francisco Black Film Festival always takes place in conjunction with Juneteenth, the oldest nationally-celebrated commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States, which occurs annually on June 19.

This year is no different, with SFBFF’s virtual version opening on June 18. This year’s staggered-online film-release schedule features a variety of independent films ranging from drama to comedy that will each be available to stream over a two-week period.  The Festival will also revisit some of the most popular films from its 22-year history. 

“There is that old saying that something is virtually impossible; yet the San Francisco Black Film Festival is ‘Virtually, Possible,’” said Katera Crossley, who co-directs the festival with her husband O’Ray.  

“The San Francisco Black Film Festival is flipping the script during this grave time in America and the world,” Crossley says. “The show must go on despite the worldwide pandemic. We are celebrating 22 years of bringing films from the African Diaspora from around the world to San Francisco to create positive dialogue between people about universal human experiences and as a result giving people a better understanding of each other.”

Films scheduled to screen virtually in this year’s festival include hip-hop musical It’s a Wonderful Plight, which manages to attack the serious issues of racism and systemic oppression in a light-hearted way; mystery-thriller The Birth of Deceit, the feature-film debut from rising director Yaw Agyapong; writer-director Derrick Perry’s dramatic Pink Opaque, which tackles themes of love, family, hardships and life in Los Angeles; the arresting 2015 dark comedy Driving While Black, based on the real-life experiences of writer and lead actor Dominique Purdy; the 2013 biographical drama Nzinga, Queen of Angola, about a 17th-century warrior woman who fights against Portuguese colonizers for the independence of Angola in Central Africa; and many other films both new and old.

When Ave Montague­—an arts publicist and manager and a fashion executive—founded the nonprofit San Francisco Black Film Festival in 1998, she wanted to create a platform for Black filmmakers, screenwriters and actors to present their art. Now run by O’Ray and Crossley, the festival continues to remain an inclusive and multicultural expression of the African-Diaspora experience. As a competitive film festival, SFBFF has screened more than 10,000 films from around the world and continues to seek out emerging filmmakers, screenwriters and actors and celebrate established artists and contributors to the cinematic legacy of African Americans; expanding the notions of Black filmmaking on a global scale.

San Francisco Black Film Festival sponsors include, to date, San Francisco Arts Commission, California Arts Commission, Bill Graham Productions, Mayor London Breed, Key to the City of San Francisco, KPOO, KPFA, San Francisco BayView Newspaper, The Boom Boom Room, New Community Leadership Foundation, Inc., LaHitz Media, Film Bread and Wright Enterprises.

For more information about San Francisco Black Film Festival XXII, visit sfbff.org.

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