By Cynthia Gibson
BALDWIN HILLS — “PAFF Reimagined, Experience a New Story,” is not only a name, but the theme that runs throughout the 2023 Pan African Film Festival and Art Fest, according to its Executive Producer Ayuko Babu. The festival opens Feb. 9 and continues through Feb. 20 at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills & XD and Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
“We try to get people to understand that you need to listen to everybody’s story and not to get caught up that your story is the only story,” Babu said. “We try to present different viewpoints. Films, art and programs that make people say, ‘I never thought about that, that way.’”
In its 31st year, the film festival is the nation’s largest Black History Month event, screening more than 150 feature-length and short films developed by or about people of African descent.
New stories and perspectives abound throughout this year’s festival, beginning with the opening night feature, “Chevalier,” the true-inspired story of Joseph Bologne, the son of an enslaved woman and a French plantation owner who in the 17th century became one of the most celebrated violinist-composers of his time.
Babu spoke about a few of the festival’s feature films that introduced a new reimagined outlook and perception.
“Little Richard: I am Everything,” shines a light on the Black, queer origins of rock ’n’ roll and presents the genre’s origin, Richard Wayne Penniman, better known as Little Richard, in a nuanced light.
“He was always torn between the sacred, the spiritual God and the profane, which is the devil ‘shake your butt all night and party’ music,” Babu said. “He went back and forth. It’s a good insight into Black people and our dilemmas.”
The film includes testimonials from musicians and cultural figures, Black and queer scholars, Richard’s family and friends, and interviews with the artist himself reclaiming a history that Richard said was willfully appropriated by mainstream artists and institutions.
In what was considered one of the trials of the century, Black Panther leader Huey P. Newton faced the death penalty for killing a white policeman in an early morning traffic stop in 1968 Oakland. The documentary short, “American Justice on Trial: People v. Newton” introduces a new generation to Newton whose legal team put racism on trial with an unprecedented outcome.
“We thought that was an important film,” Babu said. “There’s a lot of young people don’t know who Huey Newton is. Even if they have heard about him, they still don’t know what he did and why his name has continued through history.
“When the panther party was following the police in the streets in this country, police brutality went down 80% because there was a consequence. People need to know that.”
The documentary “Wade in the Water: A Journey into Black Surfing and Aquatic Culture,” reclaims the 1,000-year-old tradition of Black surfing. Weaving historical accounts with modern-day testimonials, the film dismantles the racial barriers of conventional surf culture, and explores the overlooked history of Black surfing’s legacy and highlights the next generation of Black surfers.
“The Africologist: Chronicles of Africa” delves into Africology, an academic study of the history and culture of African people. The futuristic documentary swings between two distinct canvases — on the one hand, there is the science-fictional, three-dimensional animated realm of the Africologist, a computer-generated fictional woman; and on the other hand, the real-world, scientific and factual representation of an African researcher. Viewers take a trip through space and time discover Africa’s true past and contributions to humankind.
“This is what art does, make you stop and thing and pay attention and understand,” Babu said. “Only through the art, through the film, through the music, etc. can you stop and look at yourself and your place in the world.”
Film isn’t the only type of art being reimagined at PAFF 2023. In partnership with home furnishing store IKEA, “All Artists have a Seat at the Table” exhibit is back for a second year. Seven artists from Nigeria, Senegal, Brazil and America were invited to reimagine a raw wooden IKEA Ivar chairs and Ingo table and transform them into individual custom artworks that represent imaginative stories.
The exhibition is curated by PAFF ArtFest director Allohn Agbenya, a Ghanaian contemporary artist. The livable furniture will be on display through Feb. 20 inside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.
PAFF Institute provides a behind-the-scenes look at the film and entertainment industry. According to Babu, “Studio Production Design, Sustainability and Construction,” “Production Industry Ventures Legal Insights – Contracts, Negotiations and Intellectual Property,” “The Art and Science of Virtual Productions,” and “Creative Venture Leasing, Financing and Investment,” were incorporated in PAFF Institute to provide a platform for education and inspiration.
“At the Pan African Film Festival, we show people all these stories and programs together for 10 days so they can get some energy, get some insight, get some spirit and reflective knowledge, and be able to get up and get back out in the world with a little better perspective,” Babu said.
For more information on the 2023 PAFF, including individual tickets, passes and a digital film guide visit paff.org.