Now in its fifth year, the International Black Film Festival of Nashville has emerged as a destination for high-profile films and industry seminars. This year's event, which continues through Oct. 9 at the AT&T Building and other venues, will offer more than 30 films, plus workshops and extended interview/conversations. It's also bringing in a roster of distinguished guests, among them actor/director Bill Duke, acclaimed African filmmaker Gaston Kaboré, veteran film and TV star Isaiah Washington, and syndicated radio host Michael Baisden.
Yet perhaps the biggest indication of the IBFF's status is the international recognition given its CEO and founder Hazel Joyner-Smith earlier this month. Joyner-Smith was bestowed the rank of chevalier (knight) in France's Ordre des Arts et des Lettres for lifelong contributions in furthering the arts in France and throughout the world, as well as her role in expanding the scope and range of Music City's artistic scene. For her work, she's been added to a prestigious list of previous American recipients that includes Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Ornette Coleman and Paul Auster.
"Ms. Joyner-Smith has not only strengthened the cooperation between France and the United States — by inviting French and French speaking movie makers to the IBFFN and developing a young artists training program with the Cannes Film Festival — but she has worked tirelessly to make the world a better place," said Pascale Le Deunff, consul general of France in Atlanta, in a public statement. "She is a renaissance woman who highly deserves this recognition."
That sets an especially high bar for this year's IBFFN, divided into programming categories such as Music & Film, Faith & Film and International Night. While several outstanding films are scheduled, three selections in particular — some undoubtedly controversial — show how far the festival has come in maturation and importance — starting with the premiere that opened the festival on Wednesday, Oct. 5, Pierre Bagley's From the Rough, a film that combines world-class talent with local interest.
It details, though in fictional settings, the story of pioneering Tennessee State University golf coach Catana Starks, who was tabbed by TSU athletic director Bill Thomas to coach the men's team in 1986 — even though her background was in swimming. Over more than two decades as coach, Starks went on to build an admirable record, while forging a competitive squad by going places no other HBCU coaches had in search of players. In a casting coup, she's played by Oscar nominee Taraji P. Henson (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, The Karate Kid), among a strong ensemble that includes Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy from the Harry Potter movies), Henry Simmons, Michael Clarke Duncan and former Destiny's Child member Letoya Luckett.
Likely to stir discussion is Oct. 6's gala presentation, Do Women Know What They Want? The first film by radio jock, TV personality and best-selling author Baisden, whose syndicated radio show airs locally on WQQK-92.1 FM weekdays from 2-7 p.m., it features the writer-director-star asking black women pointed, uncensored questions about a host of topics, some sexual, others lifestyle or cultural. No one should mistake this for an NPR-type presentation or academic exercise, though: It reflects Baisden's point-blank on-air style, which constantly walks the line between enlightening, misguided, combative and bizarre.
Most provocative of all is the Saturday-night showcase presentation and finale, Dark Girls. A documentary co-directed by Bill Duke (the noted director of A Rage in Harlem and Deep Cover, though audiences know him best for his acting role in the original Predator) and D. Channsin Berry, Dark Girls explores the ugly issue of skin-color bias within African, African-American, Latin and Caribbean communities — not a subject everyone enjoys seeing illuminated, or even deems a problem. The trailer has already sparked fiery exchanges online, and Duke and Berry are scheduled to host what is certain to be an emotional post-film discussion.
Among the keynote non-screening activities, the most remarkable is the spotlight on visiting director Kaboré on Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. in the AT&T Customer Support room. Kaboré's 1982 debut Wend Kuuni, a Cesar Award winner for best French-language film, was at that time only the second feature ever made in Burkina Faso. His 1997 film Buud Yam won the PanAfrican Film & Television Award, and since 2005 he has operated a training school in Ouagadougu for students interested in film. Kaboré was also secretary-general of the PanAfrican Federation of Filmmakers for 12 years.
In addition, casting director Kim Hardin will be conducting a two-day master class at the Scarritt/Bennett's Harambe Auditorium. Hardin's discoveries include Halle Berry, Chris Tucker, Mike Epps and Tyrese Gibson, and she's served as casting director on such films as Cadillac Records, 2 Fast 2 Furious, Madea Goes To Jail and Hustle and Flow. Her class runs 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Oct. 7-8.
These events will be interspersed with a number of local premieres, such as He's Mine, Not Yours, a romantic comedy co-starring Wendy Raquel Robinson, Carl Payne, Darius McCrary and Jason Weaver; and The Perfect Gift, a Christmas drama with Golden Brooks and American Idol winner Ruben Studdard.
While most festival events will be held at the AT&T building, there will also be screenings and activities at the War Memorial Building, TPAC's Polk Theater, Fisk University's Jubilee Hall, Vanderbilt University's Scarritt-Bennett Center and the Hume-Fogg Auditorium. A complete schedule of all events, including screenings, seminars, conferences, and special awards ceremonies, is available online at ibffnashville.com.