By Cynthia Gibson
LEIMERT PARK — The legacy of the late African American filmmaker John Singleton will be honored at the Pan African Film and Arts Festival through a short film competition named in his honor.
The John Singleton Short Film Competition is the festival’s centerpiece, midway between opening night and closing night. Winners of the competition will be announced April 27, a day before the third anniversary of Singleton’s death from a stroke in 2019.
At 24, Singleton was the youngest person and the first African American to be nominated for a best director Academy Award for his 1991 coming-of-age drama “Boyz in the Hood.” He also was nominated for best original screenplay.
The film was based on Singleton’s experiences growing up in South Los Angeles in the 1980s.
PAFF Executive Director Ayuko Babu said Singleton had traveled to Burkina Faso with festival producers and was a longtime supporter.
“He died so suddenly and so tragically,” Babu said. “He was a young person. We wanted to salute him and do something he was really passionate about: helping to develop young filmmakers,”
The competition was sponsored by Los Angeles Council President Emeritus Herb Wesson and his embRACE LA initiative to support the diverse viewpoints points and creativity of Black filmmakers.
According to Babu, there were more than 100 short film scripts submitted to the competition. Judges and advisers for the submissions included “Hustle & Flow” producer Stephanie Allain, casting director Robi Reed and executive producers Paul Hall and Preston Holmes. Judges selected three winners who were awarded $20,000 each to develop their film.
“Amaru,” directed by Brandon Hammond and Jenesis Scott, is the story of an African-American teenager who discovers he has superpowers after injuring two police officers who were brutalizing an unarmed Black man.
The dystopian “Contraban,” directed by Chelsea Hicks, tells the story of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color banned from reproducing after becoming the majority in America.
In the adventure, “The Lifted” by Shayla Racquel, two long-time best friends attempt to rescue a woman they believe to be in danger in a car share ride, when things take a bad turn.
“We’re very excited and proud about the quality of the films that came in,” Babu said. “Every film was incredible, taking into account the budget and the fact that they had to stop during COVID and then try to regroup.”
In addition to the Singleton award, the film festival is featuring several spotlight screenings including the Nate Parker Foundation and a USC short film showcase on April 24 and a virtual screening commemorating the 50th anniversary of the classic Black western “Buck and the Preacher,” directed by Sidney Poitier on April 28.
Episodes 1 and 2 of the new Showtime series “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” staring Chiwetel Ejiofor (“12 Years a Slave”) and Naomi Harris (“Moonlight”), will be shown April 23. Ejiofor plays a mysterious alien who lands on earth with a mission to bring water back to save his home planet and along the way discovers the nuances of being human.
The festival’s opening night April 19 featured “Remember Me: The Mahalia Jackson Story.” Directed by Denise Dowse, the film recounted the life and ascent of gospel singer Mahalia Jackson and her search to balance her gift, love and activism in the civil rights movement.
Recording artist Ledisi stared as the gospel icon. It was the second time Ledisi was tapped to portray Jackson. She was also cast as Jackson in Ava DuVernay’s 2014 historical drama, “Selma.”
During a post-screening discussion with the cast, Ledisi shared that this time she felt a lot more pressure in the lead role and was grateful for the support and encouragement of veteran actors like Janet Hubert, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Vanessa A. Williams and Columbus Short, who played the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
“No one coddled me, which I loved,” Ledisi said. “They let me become Mahalia. And that was because they are so strong in who they are. That helped me with my voice as well.
“You’ve got all these major players and they all just stood back a little bit and let me have space to be me.”
There will be an encore presentation of “Remember Me” April 29.
In addition to more than 200 films from 55 countries, the film festival will feature over a dozen workshops, panel discussions and seminars. The festival’s companion Artfest, located in the Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza, features more than 100 established and emerging artists and craftspeople from all over the Black Diaspora.
Other festival highlights include PAFF Studentfest, Children’s Festival, PAFF Spokenword in collaboration with Diverse Verses LA, and PAFF-LOL Comedy Night.
All PAFF screenings will take place at the Cinemark Baldwin Hill Crenshaw Plaza.
For a full list of screenings and other activities and their locations, visit Paff.org.
Cynthia Gibson is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.