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NOFF 2014: Black Filmmakers Descend on New Orleans for Academy-Funded Film Initiative

October 25, 2014


The New Orleans Film Festival came to a close this week with over 33,000 attendees turning out for two weeks of screenings, panel discussions and special events. This year, the festival launched an initiative funded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences to spotlight black film, with filmmakers flying in from across the country to screen their work, speak at festival events, and participate in a mentorship program bringing local filmmakers together with industry leaders.

Five up-and-coming New Orleans filmmakers – Brian Nelson, Jonathan Jackson, Kiel Adrian Scott, Lizzie Ford-Madrid, and CJ Hunt – were chosen to participate in the Emerging Voices mentorship program, where they received one-on-one meetings with established filmmakers like documentary director Dawn Porter ("Gideon's Army") and producer Effie Brown ("Dear White People").

National Black Programming Consortium's Interim Executive Director Leslie Fields-Cruz and Digital Director Christian Ugbode also attended to give an in-depth introduction to #NBPC360, Black Public Media's new program to fund serial content centered on the black experience. The program will award grants between $50,000 and $150,000 to produce new content over the next year. NPBC will also hold webinars and digital office hours in the next few months to help guide producers and content creators through the development and application process.

On Saturday, the festival hosted a discussion on black film featuring filmmakers Effie Brown ("Dear White People"), Thomas Allen Harris ("Through A Lens Darkly"), Garrett Bradley ("Below Dreams") and Malik Vitthal ("Imperial Dreams"), moderated by yours truly. Speaking to a crowd of mostly aspiring filmmakers, the panelists emphasized the need to connect directly with audiences through grassroots community engagement, transmedia, and even crowdfunding.

Harris, whose latest film started with the idea for a photography book, explained how he grew the project into a personal essay film and traveling roadshow called Digital Diaspora Family Reunion, which has amassed over 4,000 photographs that had never been seen before on film.

"I feel like my films are influenced by my relationship to the Diaspora - Ousmane Sembene, Pier Paolo Pasolini - and artists who've worked within the filmmaking space," said Harris. "For me this is a personal film, it's a transmedia film, but it's also a historical document."

Harris credits the roadshow with helping to boost theatrical sales at Film Forum, where the run of the documentary was extended three times.

"When you're making a movie you need to have a plan," added Brown. "Everybody is an artist at heart but you've got to realize, are you making this movie for you and your mother, or for whom? Everybody has an audience and a niche. When you're making your movie, think of how you want to get it out into the world because we all want to share our stories."

The festival wound down with an awards brunch Sunday where Bradley received both the Special Jury Award and Cinematography Award for Best Louisiana Feature for "Below Dreams." Another filmmaker of interest to this site, Frances Bodomo, was the Jury winner for Best Narrative short for her sci fi short "Afronauts."

Find the full list of festival winners here.

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