The world comes calling at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival

The psychological thriller "Vipaka" will open the 21st Pan African Film Festival.
(Pan African Film Festival)

Ayuko Babu, a co-founder and executive director of the 21st Pan African Film & Arts Festival, believes it is a good time for black filmmakers around the world.

“Everywhere there is a resurgence of black films,” Babu said. “With technology the way it is now, wherever there is a black community there are people making films. They want to tell their stories. As a result of the slave trade and colonization, Africans are split all over the world, so therefore a little bit of their story is everywhere.”

Film festival: An article about the Pan-African Film Festival in the Feb. 7 Calendar section called the film “War Witch” a documentary. It is a narrative feature that has been nominated for an Academy Award for best foreign language film.


Over the next 12 days, the largest U.S. black film festival will screen 154 movies representing 34 countries including the U.S., Belize, Cuba, South Africa and Egypt, mostly at the Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15 at the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza in Los Angeles. “We get countries that are not often represented,” said Babu.

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Last year the film festival drew an audience of 30,000, while the international arts festival attracted some 75,000 patrons.

The festival’s opening night gala on Thursday at the Directors Guild of America Theater features the Los Angeles premiere of “Vipaka,” which is described as a voodoo psycho thriller. Oscar winner Forest Whitaker and Anthony Mackie star; Whitaker is also a producer of the film.


The following evening at the Taglyan Complex in Hollywood, the Pan African Film Festival is combining its Night of Tribute with the African American Film Critics Assn.'s awards ceremony. At the event, the PAFF will give its Rising Star Award to Omari Hardwick and Nicole Beharie and a Lifetime Achievement honor to actress Lynn Whitfield. The critic’s group will give the Pan African festival its inaugural Special Achievement Award in a film festival category.

The festival, said AAFCA President Gil Robertson, is “a wonderful opportunity for the international African film community to come together to celebrate.” Robertson noted that the critics group also presents a panel at the festival in which they help filmmakers perfect their pitch.


Among the festival’s highlights are Canada’s Oscar-nominated documentary “War Witch” and “Red White Black & Blue,” a documentary from the U.S and New Zealand about students from South Central Los Angeles who go to New Zealand to play rugby.

On the feature side, Babu highlighted the South African drama “Otelo Burning,” about three black South Africans who learn how to surf during the height of the apartheid struggle in 1989, as well as “Alaskaland,” a U.S. production about a group of young Nigerians living with their parents in Alaska.


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“Iceberg Slim: Portrait of a Pimp,” a documentary about the pimp-turned-writer, is getting three screenings, including the Saturday Night Special showcase. “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners,” a documentary chronicling the politics and actions that caused political activist Angela Davis to be labeled a terrorist 40 years ago, is closing the festival. Both films were well-received in Toronto last September and have distribution.


“Having your film in any festival that is prestigious is important,” noted “Iceberg Slim” director Jorge Hinojosa, who has been rapper-actor Ice-T’s manager for 28 years. Ice-T appears in the documentary and is one of the producers.

“I had a lot of Los Angeles festivals I could have submitted it to but the one I focused on was the Pan African,” Hinojosa said. “Ice-T and I are both from Los Angeles and Iceberg Slim lived the last half of his life in Los Angeles.”


“Free Angela,” was executive produced by Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Jay-Z.

“This is the story of how she became Angela Davis,” director Shola Lynch said. She noted that it took eight years to get funding for the film because of its political nature.


“People are beginning to understand that if you want to see an array of black films from around the world you have to go to this kind of festival,” said Babu. “If you go to larger well-known festivals like Sundance you only have a few black films, but here you have 150.”


The 21st Pan African Film Festival

When: Thursday-Feb. 18


Where: Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15/Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, 4020 Marlton Ave., Los Angeles




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