By Cynthia Gibson
CRENSHAW — The largest black film festival covering the African diaspora makes its annual return to the Cinemark Baldwin Hills XD and Crenshaw Plaza, Feb. 6-19.
“PAFF Inspires” is the theme for the 32nd Pan African Film & Arts Festival featuring more than 200 films from 54 countries in 28 languages, including 68 world premieres and 25 North American premieres.
“PAFF aims to inspire the next generation of filmmakers and creatives to continue to share their voices of authenticity and inspire others to do the same,” said PAFF host J’Tasha St. Cyr.
PAFF 2024 celebrity ambassadors include the star of last year’s closing night film “To Live & Die and Live” Amin Joseph (“Snowfall”), comedian Cedric the Entertainer, actress Novi Brown (“Tyler Perry’s Sistas”), former NBA player Jon Salley, rapper and actor Jahking Gillory (“The Chi”), and actor Johnell Young (“Wu-Tang: An American Saga”).
The world premiere of Affion Crocket’s comedy “A Hip Hop Story” is PAFF’s opening night feature film Feb. 7, at the Writers Guild Theater in Beverly Hills. A yoga-posing rap mogul tells the story of joining forces with a few of rap music’s elite performers in an attempt to save hip hop.
The film stars Crockett (“Wild ‘N Out,” “Blackish”), Cedric the Entertainer, Damaine Radcliff (“Glory Road,” “Rambo: Last Blood”), Jevin Smith, Damien Dante Wayans, Lil Rel Howery, Wayne Brady, Lil Mama, and Norm Nixon Jr.
According to the festival’s Executive Director Ayuko Babu, the social commentary of “A Hip Hop Story” exemplifies the festival’s mission.
“Our goal is to entertain folks for about 10 days, so they can get some energy, get some insight, get some spirit and get some reflective knowledge, to be able to get up and get back out in the world and have a better perspective,” Babu said.
The festival’s centerpiece film, Theodros Teshome’s “For the Love of the Motherland” (Ethiopia) will screen Feb. 15 at the Directors Guild of America with subsequent screenings at Cinemark Baldwin Hills. The film tells the story of Hayelom and Lielt whose love faces an unexpected turn when they join opposing forces in the takeover of Ethiopia’s central government.
Mario Van Peebles’ “Outlaw Posse” is the closing night film Feb. 18, with an encore screening Feb. 19 at Cinemark Baldwin Hills. The western is set against the American wild west in the late 1800s, where Chief (Van Peebles) is the leader of a posse of Black cowboys in search of truth and justice.
In conjunction with the film festival, the Pan African Film Festival ARTfest also returns with original works of art from around the globe. Spanning both levels inside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, the ARTfest features creative works using oil on canvas, watercolor and pastels, acrylic paper, glass, ceramics, metal, cloth, plastic, wax, wire, leather and stone. In addition to fine art and one-of-a-kind crafts, the ARTfest also features designer and traditional fashions, jewelry, home décor and fashion accessories.
According to ARTfest Director/Curator Allohn Agbenya, what makes an art festival worth seeing year after year is a mix of returning artists that have built a clientele over the years and new and emerging artists who bring a fresh aesthetic.
“It takes time to build a customer base,” Agbenya said. “A festival cannot thrive if you’re only picking new artists all the time. People want what’s new, but they also look forward to coming in to see works from their favorite artists.”
Inspired by the late Los Angeles-born filmmaker, the John Singleton embRACE L.A. Short Film Competition returns to the film festival for a third year. Los Angeles screenwriters, directors and producers are invited to submit their live-action short narrative scripts. Three winners are awarded $20,000 each for the production and completion of a live-action narrative short film.
According to the competition’s Executive Producer Sherri G. Sneed, the goal of the competition is to encourage and ignite Black filmmakers who desire to continue Singleton’s dedication to centering on Black characters with humanizing stories in their creative approach.
“We’re committed to fostering inclusivity and amplifying Black voices in film,” Sneed said. “Our program aims to empower emerging Black filmmakers, providing not just a grant but resources, support and a platform to share powerful narratives.”
Other festival events and special programs include a spoken word fest Feb. 17, a fashion show Feb. 18, and a student fest, comedy showcase, children’s festival, senior connections and filmmakers’ award brunch Feb. 19.
Hollywood veterans Danny Glover (“The Color Purple,” “Lethal Weapon”), the late Ja’Net DuBois (“Good Times”), and Executive Director Babu established the Pan African Film Festival in 1992 as a repository for the African diaspora arts community to highlight stories and preserve the cinematic creativity of the Pan African culture.
The first festival was held six months after the 1992 Los Angeles civil unrest sparked by the police beating of Rodney King.
“At that time and even more so now, we just felt we needed to tell our own story and spread it among Black people and the best way was through film,” Babu said. “We felt we needed to involve ourselves in that whole struggle of who controls our image and how to get those images to influence young filmmakers.”
For more information on the 2024 PAFF, including individual tickets, passes and a digital film guide, visit paff.org or call 310-337-4737.