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Hamptons Life

Black Film Festival Aims To Open Eyes And Broaden Minds

Publication: The East Hampton Press & The Southampton Press
By Michelle Trauring   Oct 31, 2011 11:17 AM
Nov 1, 2011 9:54 AM

When Brenda Simmons tells new acquaintances that she was born and raised in Southampton, she is often met with looks of shock.

“Honestly, I’ve been in areas outside of this community talking to people and they never even thought there was a black community in Southampton Village,” Ms. Simmons said during a telephone interview last week.

It is her goal to change that, she said. And she has made strides toward eliminating that misconception by showing people that there is a bustling African-American heritage here. She has been chipping away at the myth by co-founding the African-American Museum of the East End and the “East End Black Film Festival,” which will celebrate its sixth year on Saturday, November 5, at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton.

“Our community is changing and I think it’s a great way to add to the culture of the community,” Ms. Simmons said. “We belong here and we have a part here in this community. We’re looking to give people a way to embrace our culture. We have a lot to offer.”

The film festival—which will screen seven movies ranging from family-geared shorts to heavy-hitting features at the Parrish Art Museum—will be preceded by two nights of celebrations at the Southampton Cultural Center, on Thursday and Friday, November 3 and 4.

“These programs offer a rich and diverse menu of African-American culture to the entire East End community,” wrote the Parrish Art Museum’s Director of Adult Programs, Mark Segal in an email last week.

The first program, planned for Thursday, November 3, at the Southampton Cultural Center, features a screening of “Dear Daddy,” a documentary about eight young African-American girls who had either very little or no connection with their fathers. That film will be followed by a panel discussion that will include filmmaker Janks Morton.

During night two, on Friday, the Southampton Cultural Center will be turned into a café-like setting with spoken word by six poets, including Ms. Simmons, and live jazz.

“Friday night is going to be just having a blast,” Ms. Simmons said. “It really is. This is something we’d love to do on a regular basis, especially during the wintertime. It gets boring out here.”

On Saturday, the film festival at the Parrish Art Museum will kick off at 12:30 p.m. with the family films “Whitewash,” a 26-minute animated short about a young black girl whose face is painted white, and “Champagne,” which follows an African-American girl whose mother is incarcerated for murder.

A common thread through all of the films in the festival, including these two animated shorts, is that they tackle issues that generally stay off the discussion table out of discomfort, Ms. Simmons said. But they should be talked about, she added, saying that the festival creates a comfortable, professional forum to broach these issues.

“It’s not that we want children to know about racism, but we want them to understand about racism,” she said. “It’s not that we’re trying to instill that it’s here, but at the same time, it’s very important to prepare children, to give them the reality that, unfortunately, it still exists. Unfortunately.”

The remaining films—including shorts “Trouble in the Water,” “DNR,” “Hairpiece” and the 1929 classic “Hallelujah”—will screen back to back with short intermissions, Ms. Simmons said.

Two narrative features round out the program. The first of which, “Cooley High,” tails two students through Chicago in 1964 as they wander their neighborhood, drifting in and out of their classes at Cooley Vocational High School.

“‘Cooley High’ is just a fun film,” Ms. Simmons said. “It’s something that I think a lot of the community can relate to. And plus, it’s about high school kids, so those kids can relate to it, as well.”

The festival’s closing movie, “Night Catches Us,” is the story of a man who returns to the Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age in the late 1970s in the midst of the Black Power movement. The feature film stars Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington.

“It’s a look at something we’re not familiar with,” Ms. Simmons said. “I think people maybe misunderstood that era and what it was all about. It’s another way of looking at it, to really understand the conflicts of it.”

The three-day festival is not geared toward just an African-American audience, but to all, Ms. Simmons emphasized, and it is a program unlike any other she’s seen on the East End, she said. Previously, she’s had to travel into Manhattan for this kind of lineup, she said.

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