Pan African Film Festival concludes with awards brunch

By Cynthia Gibson

Contributing Writer

BALDWIN HILLS — Thirteen days of film, fine art, entertainment, education and inspiration concluded Feb.19 with the Pan African Film and Arts Festival Filmmakers Award Brunch.

Filmmakers from around the world were recognized for their vision and creativity.

“We Grown Now,” starring Jurnee Smollett, S. Epatha Merkerson and Lil Rel Howery and directed by Minhal Baig, took home the festival jury’s Best Feature Narrative prize.

“We Grown Now” tells the story of best friends Malik and Eric, who traverse Chicago, looking to escape the mundaneness of school and the hardships of growing up in public housing. Their unbreakable bond is challenged when tragedy shakes their community just as they are learning to fly.

The documentary “Max Roach: The Drum Also Waltzes” about musician Max Roach, whose far-reaching ambitions were inspired and challenged by the inequities of the society around him, won the jury’s Best Feature Documentary.

The closing night film, Mario Van Peebles’ sequel to his hit western film “Posse,” shared the festival’s Audience Favorite Award for Narrative Feature and earned the Programmers’ Award for Best Narrative Feature.

“Outlaw Posse” starts in 1908 when Chief returns from years of hiding in Mexico to claim stolen gold hidden in the hills of Montana.

The Ethiopian drama “Doka” tied with “Outlaw Posse” for Audience Favorite Narrative Feature.

Set in present-day Ethiopia, “Doka” tells the story of a young nurse whose life is upended when a violent regional conflict erupts shortly after she arrives in a rural town to start a new job.

The Bob Marley biopic “Bob Marley: One Love,” directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green, won the Ja’Net Dubois Festival Award for Best Narrative Feature.

Veteran actor and director Bill Duke was awarded PAFF’s Ja’net Du Bois’ lifetime achievement award for his “unwavering commitment to portraying diverse narratives and empowering marginalized voices,” PAFF co-founder Ayuko Babu said.

The award is named in honor of the late “Good Times” actress and PAFF co-founder Ja’Net Du Bois.  The award honors individuals who have made exceptional contributions to the arts, culture and society at large.

In addition to dozens of theater screenings, the final weekend offered educational and behind-the-scenes opportunities through PAFF Institutes.

Celebrity ambassador Amin Joseph (“Snowfall”) moderated “Main Men Making Moves,” a panel discussion on the challenges and responsibilities of being number one talent on a film’s call sheet. 

Joseph led a lively and frank discourse with actors Terayle Hill (“Judas and the Black Messiah”), Andra Fuller (“Deuces”), and Jay Reeves (“All American”) around leadership roles on set. Topics included how to approach intimate scenes with actresses, managing difficult conversation with directors, maintaining standards and integrity in role selection and how to use leading man status as a platform for social change. 

”I’m going to handle myself in a professional manner at all costs on set. I’m there to do a job,” Fuller said regarding using his platform. “But before I am a leading man, I am a Black man. I will forever carry myself as an upstanding Black man. I’m going to speak out on issues, I’m going to let my voice be heard because I feel a duty to speak up when it comes to social injustices.” 

The PAFF Institute panel, “Leading Ladies in Film,” was moderated by celebrity ambassador Novi Brown (“Tyler Perry’s Sistas”).  

Actresses Victoria Ekanoye (“Sense and Sensibility”), Vanessa Estelle Willians (“Soul Food”), and producer Nicki Micheaux (“Summer of Violence”) and Brown engaged in a free-flowing discussion ranging from the variety of roles in front and behind the camera available now to women, career journeys, the impact of the MeToo and Time’s Up movements and balancing a personal and professional life.

The panel unanimously agreed that mentors were critical to moving to the next level in their careers.

“Anytime you’re in the presence of someone who is a step further in their career, you want to get those nuggets,” Micheaux said.  “You don’t have to know them. I looked online for actors whose careers I admired, and I read their story.  They became my inspiration to see the path. Go on YouTube. Listen to their story. They will tell you. You know what they say, success leaves clues.”

Co-founder and executive director Auko Babu said that bringing different art forms together, educating people and creating dialog is an important part of the festival.   

“We’re trying to get people to understand that you need to listen to everybody and everybody’s story and don’t get caught up that your story is the only story,” Babu said. That’s the only way you can grow.”