Like all art mediums, film is ripe with multiple genres. When it comes to pure escapism, we have a litany of films and genres to choose from. We will always have car chases, star-crossed lovers, and super humans saving the world but there are films, usually dramas and documentaries, out there that are more intent on facing the truths we can’t escape. Unless guised in a smart horror film like Jordan Peele’s Get Out, race and race relations films have always been bitter pills that many audiences prefer to ingest at home than in public. The first time I watched Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing it was in 1990 and that was at home. The press at the time warned of potential riots in the theater, particularly if you were a white audience member. When The New Yorker’s David Denby wrote, “The end of this movie is a shambles, and if some audiences go wild, he’s [Lee] partly responsible.” In his 1989 review, Denby essentially said stay away if you prefer living. His words, and others of its ilk, worked on most white audiences. It’s hard to believe that was nearly 30 years ago. That such paranoia peddling could work on keeping people away from a film that was as much about opening dialogue is mystifying. More mystifying is that it still works to this day. That whole unwillingness-to-open-a-dialogue thing should change.
Jon Hale, a professor of education and history at the College of Charleston, and Benjamin Hedin, accomplished scholar on the civil rights movement would obviously like to be a part of that change. Their mission statement adorns the bottom of the festival’s website: “Celebrating film’s power to shape and inspire social change.” With sponsorships by South Carolina Humanities, The College Of Charleston, Avalon Films and International African American Museum, the Charleston Civil Rights Film Festival, in its first year, will showcase shorts, features, and documentaries that explore the long history of the freedom struggle in America as well as engaging with the community to promote fresh approaches to activism.
The festival will take place over the course of three days, starting this Thursday evening with the American Theater’s screening of the documentary Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre, 1968 followed by a discussion with director Judy Richardson and College Of Charleston historian Mari N. Crabtree.
While there will be premieres of Stanley Nelson’s documentary Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, and a shorts program consisting of Redemption Song, The Barber from Birmingham, and I Am a Man, there will be a master workshop with award-winning producers and directors Benjamin Hedin and Tim Fennell at the College Of Charleston as well as a public workshop devoted to using film and social media at Burke High School.
One film of personal interest is Two Trains Runnin’, Sam Pollard’s documentary. Narrated by Common, and featuring the music of Gary Clark Jr., Pollard’s film, taking place during the height of the American civil rights movement, is about the search for two forgotten Delta blues singers, Skip James and Son House throughout the backroads of Mississippi. The film Slate magazine’s Clayton Dillard, has been called a film that “teeters on reaching a higher plane of meaning simply through the efficiency of its information” achieves it’s goals of detailing the film’s two threads via interviews, archival footage, and animated reenactments.
On the advisory board, one name will stand out to mainstream film audiences, Danny Glover. The man known to most of today’s audiences as Albert from Steven Spielberg’s The Color Purple adaptation and Roger Murtaugh in the Lethal Weapon film series, will be in attendance after a Saturday Night Burke High School screening of Freedom Song, a 2000 film, starring and produced by Glover. Based on true stories of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi, Freedom Song details a young man, Owen Walker (Vicellous Reon Shannon), as he attempts to break the cycle of segregation much to the consternation of his father (Glover). The film will close out the festival with an introduction by Mayor John Tecklenburg while Glover, International African American Museum CEO Michael Moore, and civil rights activists Dave Dennis and Judy Richardson will lead a discussion afterwards.