Film festival announces winners at closing ceremony

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer

CRENSHAW — The 30th Pan African Film and Arts Festival concluded with the announcement of the juried film award winners at the Filmmakers Award Brunch held May 2, the morning after the official close of the festival.

Sixteen films received awards in the categories of Jury, Programmers and Audience. A special award category honoring PAFF co-founder Ja’Net Dubois was added following her death in 2019.

The 13-day film festival featured more than 200 films from 55 countries in 18 languages. Eighty percent of the films were directed by filmmakers of African descent.

“This year’s film roster reflects the times that we are in,” said festival General Manager Asantewe Olatunji. “Many focus on social justice issues such as gender equality, police and community relations and the changing lifestyle norms.”

Mahamat-Saleh Haroun won the Jury Award in the Best Feature Narrative for “Lingui, the Sacred Bonds,” the story of a woman exiled from her family for being an unwed single mother.

The Programmers’ Award in the Documentary category was presented to Wayne G. Saunders for “Race Today,” the story of a Black magazine that was the voice of the United Kingdom’s Black radical movement in the late 1960s and 70s.

“The Dream Whisperer,” directed by Eric Drath, and “Ferguson Rises,” directed by Mobolaji Olambiwonnu, tied for the Audience Award: Feature Documentary.

“The Dream Whisperer” is the story of New York Knicks basketball player Dick Barnett’s battle to get his college team into the basketball hall of fame.

“Ferguson Rises” is the story of the residents of Ferguson, Missouri, a small town that became the flash point for a modern-day civil rights movement after the death of Michael Brown Jr.

Constance Marks’ “Grandpa Was an Emperor” won the Ja’Net DuBois Award in the documentary film category. The story chronicles the journey of the great-granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia’s search for answers about the collapse of her family’s 3,000-year dynasty.

Thousands of film fans flocked to the Cinemark 15 Baldwin Hills Theater and the Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza for the first in-person festival since 2019. In addition to films from around the world, the festival showcased a range of Black creativity.

Thirty-year veteran Sali Richardson-Whitfield discussed her work as an actress before transitioning to the director’s chair as a part of PAFF Institute. The institute included more than two dozen presentations, workshops, panel discussions and seminars, most focused on entertainment and the creative industry.

Institute features included, “Being Your Authentic Self: A Conversation with Tabitha Brown,” “Black Creators in Hollywood: Above the Line,” Behind the Music: The Influence of Music in Movies and Film,” and “Visionaries of the Next Generation: Kids in the Industry.”

The festival’s Artfest featured 65 artists from around the African diaspora. Artfest Director/Curator Allohn Agbenya said the date change from February to April caused a conflict for many of the artists scheduled to attend the festival. This year’s artfest coincided with the Jazz and Heritage Festival in New Orleans.

Notwithstanding the lower turnout of artists, Agbenya said regular artfest customers were eager to see new art and artists in person and that support from the community is important to the success of the festival.

“All Artists Have Seat at the Table,” sponsored in conjuction with Ikea was a new element to the Artfest. Agbenya, along with Sandra Zebi, Marvin Obasogie Aimiuwu, Aziz Diagne and Charles A. Bibbs, used their unique artistry to transform wood tables and chairs into works of art.

“The dining table is the universal space for gathering,” said Kevin Matthews, regional marketing manager for IKEA U.S. “Ikea’s sustainable and accessible furniture provided the perfect blank slate for the artists to illustrate PAFF’s rich legacy and commitment to bringing people together to share the Black experience.”

Park Mesa resident Ivory Rose Chamveshi was overwhelmed with the festival’s breadth of art and culture.

“I’ve just been so full,” Chamveshi said. “Seeing all the different movies and also the arts festival, learning more about Stocker Street Creative, seeing community organizers, the creatives, African American elected officials. It’s just a beautiful thing.”

Cynthia Gibson is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at