by Ron Wynn
Since 2006, the International Black Film Festival of Nashville has debuted several top shorts, documentaries and features by both African-American and African filmmakers. But the modestly funded festival, run largely by volunteers and sometimes subject to last-minute venue shifts, has always had to scramble for resources. This year, the IBFFN faced a tough decision as time approached for the annual event. The difficult economic climate resulted in some sponsorship defections and hesitation, and no one wanted to see the festival presented haphazardly.
Rather than cancel it altogether, the IBFFN opted for a new approach. Thus the 2012 festival, which will run Dec. 13-16, will be the first presented completely online. This represents what founders hope will be an overall expansion in terms of content, as next year's event will have platforms both online and in traditional live venues.
"The economy has been so difficult that we heard from a lot of our sponsors they were having tough times," says IBFFN head Hazel Joyner-Smith, who founded the festival in 2006. "We certainly didn't want to cancel it, but we also weren't going to have something that wasn't in keeping with the standards that we've previously set in terms of providing exposure and a platform for quality black independent, shorts and foreign films.
"At the same time, we've been exploring how to utilize the digital platform and expand our activities in that area. So we decided this would be the year where we could do two things. We can and are still in the process of finding new festival partners. We're also expanding our digital presence, and sharpening it so that it enhances the complete festival presentation, and we can have both online and theatrical presentations in 2013."
Viewers will access the films through the IBFFN website, for a daily admission of $8. That opens the festival to audiences far beyond the city limits — something Joyner-Smith is particularly excited about, as getting more international attention and participation has long been part of the festival's mission. The 2012 online festival also serves as a prelude to the expanded 2013 event, which will include a spring/summer series of films and other events tentatively scheduled to begin in May.
This year's online edition showcases 20 selections — narrative features, shorts, documentaries, even a musical — which arrive in some cases after successful screenings in other cities. ... A provocative premise drives Matt Dunnerstick's The Custom Mary (Dec. 13), which proposes a highly dubious partnership of religion and science. Two preachers team with scientists in a cloning experiment that purports to use the blood of Jesus; in Dunnerstick's variation on the Nativity story, mother Mary is a Latina churchgoer (Alicia Sixtos) who takes comfort in the company of African-American low-rider Joe (James Jolly). The setting is contemporary Los Angeles, and its array of storefronts and other backdrops form an unforgiving modern-day Holy City.