Over a nine month gestation, the San Antonio Black International Film Festival has reached its full potential. After a successful one-day “soft launch” in February, the festival will now take what its founder hopes will be a regular fall slot beginning Thursday, Oct. 10, at various downtown venues, with nearly 60 films to be screened over four days.
“We turned this baby around in less than nine months,” said Ada Babino, festival founder and director, via e-mail. “Very short gestation period, minimal labor pains, and a relatively comprehensive birth plan.”
With the help of board members and colleagues, Babino enlisted the Carver Community Cultural Center, the Institute of Texan Cultures (ITC), University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), the Arneson River Theater, the Carver Library, and Cherrity Bar as venues for screenings, workshops, and other events.
The venue partners have been “extremely open and welcoming,” Babino said, and their participation allowed the festival to become even bigger than she had initially intended.
A traditional red carpet ceremony opens the festival Thursday evening. The featured film is #truth by Los Angeles filmmaker Charles Murray. It centers on an instance of social media bullying that leads to suicide. The lead character is a journalist who investigates the aftermath, basically in the role of a detective, Murray said.
Among Murray’s favorite movies are All the President’s Men (1976) and Absence of Malice (1981), films that featured white investigative journalists. “How many movies have black journalists in them, as a lead?” he asked pointedly.
While he grew up relating to white leads in films that held meaning for him, Murray is purposeful in making movies “to just show folks that look like me.” With experience as a producer and writer for Netflix, HBO, and his own feature-length films, Murray sees a Hollywood system that has generally overlooked black characters in lead roles, apart from star vehicles for A-list actors such as Will Smith and Denzel Washington.
It’s difficult for Murray to square America’s love of foreign filmmaking with lower regard for what Murray called “American foreign filmmaking,” which is “regional filmmaking, filmmaking of color, of people who live in the same neighborhood as you, but because of their background, they see things slightly differently from you.
“So you have to have these film festivals so these people can have a voice,” he said, lauding Babino for creating San Antonio’s festival.
“How do these films get seen unless people like Ada brave that path?” he said. Murray will attend the #truth screening, which will be followed by an onstage conversation with Murray and writer Cary Clack.
The festival’s first full day is Friday, with a full slate of screenings from 9 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. at the ITC, with screenings all day Saturday.
Babino created themes to group films together, such as “Overcoming ‘isms,’ Bad Hair and Other Social Constructs,” and a “Films in the Round” program featuring short films, and “social cinema on issues important to black life, love [and] liberty,” according to the festival’s website.
“I hope that people are open to come and explore,” she said. “A lot of the films that we’ve got in competition are dealing with social issues that are impacting them [currently],” she said, such as the social media bullying examined in #truth, black politics in South Carolina, the onset of dementia, and lighter topics like romance.
In all, 55 filmmakers submitted their work to the open call over a three-month period. Thirty-three films were chosen for the festival competition, up for awards such as Best Actor, Best Documentary Short, and an Audience Choice award, to be given out at a Sunday brunch awards ceremony Oct. 13. San Antonio filmmakers D.W. Goodloe, Cedric Thomas Smith, and Michael Jackson will join in the competition, alongside a list of international filmmakers from locations as diverse as Iran, Turkey, Canada, and Bengal.
While members of the black community will have a chance to see themselves reflected in various short films, documentaries, and narrative films, others can learn more about communities that might be unfamiliar to them, Babino said. Post-screening discussions, such as the panel on African American Cinematic history Friday at 11:30 a.m. at the ITC, will give audiences a chance to ask questions and dissect issues they see in the films.
“I’m into dialogue and creating conversations across cultures,” Babino said, stating a primary reason for the festival.
“I think [the festival] will connect the dots in terms of bringing cultures together,” she said. “It’s important to have a world view,” which “brings about a better understanding and respect for cultures and people.”
Film culture also attracts stars. San Antonio native Mikala Gibson, who played the recurring role of Doris in television’s Fear the Walking Dead, will take part in an actor’s panel discussion Friday at 1:30 p.m., along with talent agent Angela Bennett and Michael S. Maponga, an actor and owner of AfroLandTV.com.
AfroLandTV will also serve as co-sponsor of the Cinema Under the Stars Closing Night Pan African Film Showcase, 6:30 p.m. Saturday at the Arneson River Theater. The outdoor screening is free and open to the public, as are several other events throughout the festival, including a digital media workshop Friday at the Carver Library.
Opening night passes, day passes for screenings, “block” passes for themed screenings, and passes for a Friday master class with filmmaker Haile Gerima are available on the SABIFF website.