For the last two years I have been trying to plant the term Afro-surreal into the collective unconscious. Unlike Afro-futurism, Afro-surrealism is about the present. In sound it conjures everything from Sun-Ra to Wu-Tang. In speech, it brings you Henry Dumas, Amie Cesaire, Samuel Delaney, and Darius James. In visual realms, the Afro-surreal ranges from Wifredo Lam to Kara Walker to Trenton Doyle Hancock. Afro-surreal stages are set for new productions of Jean Genet’s The Blacks (1959), George C. Wolfe’s The Colored Museum (1986) and Leroi Jones’ The Dutchman and The Slave (1964).
I’m always looking for an Afro-surreal movie. Maybe I’m the last of a dying breed.
The 10th San Francisco Black Film Festival (SFBFF), is billed as a bridge between worlds. But which worlds? Sirius and Earth? Black and other? Local and global? Oakland and San Francisco? San Francisco and itself? Dammit, they all apply.
Most of the SFBFF is taking place in the Fillmore District, and many sites are redevelopment showcases. Opening night at the Sundance Kabuki Cinema presents Nogozi Unwurah’s Shoot The Messenger (2006), a UK import about paranoia, self-loathing, love, and redemption. The after-party is at Rassales, so I might get a haircut and brush off the derby.
Yoshi’s Fillmore is hosting Donnie Betts’ Music Is My Life, Politics My Mistress: The Story of Oscar Brown Jr. (2005). Despite its connection to ongoing gentrification debates, the venue will be an apt and stylish location for a bio on Brown, an overlooked poet-singer-playwright-composer-social activist who penetrated the zeitgeist with his song "Forty Acres and a Mule." Certain other issues also spring to mind: The black derby again? The brown? Pin-striped wool pants and well-shined shoes, or suede boots?
The Melvin Van Peebles Awards Brunch (props to the festival for naming its short film award after the Afro-surreal mastermind behind 1971’s Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) is taking place at 1300 Fillmore, which will also host a screening that includes the 2007 short film Lifted. Directed by Randall Dottin, it’s a magical realist piece about a dancer on the edge who finds herself on the wrong side of a subway platform, trapped by a spirit named "High John." The actors are great, which is just one reason why the supernatural story takes simplicity to the brink of facile schmaltziness without tottering over.
A housewife realizes she has superpowers in Chad Benton’s Women’s Work (2008), a warm, funny sitcom short with animation screening at the African American Art and Culture Complex. Around the same time, Yoshi’s is showing Nijla Mumin’s Fillmo (2008), a documentary about the gentrification currently taking place in the Fillmore. How’s that for mixed signals, homey?
Footsteps in Africa (2007), showing at the Museum of African Diaspora, is about the lives of the beautiful, mysterious, and enduring Taureg/Kai of Mali. These African nomads have survived thousands of years of drought, flood, and famine, and withstood acts of genocide. Director Kathi von Koeber’s portrait reveals the wisdom and strength of some of this planet’s greatest human survivors.
Considering the documented decline of black people in San Francisco, it’s a minor miracle that SFBFF continues to grow. Like MoAD, the festival is a testament to the artists and benefactors who’ve come to San Francisco, as well as to the aesthetes among SF’s native population. This year’s festival promises glimpses of vast black realities the kind that appear to be diminishing locally, yet somehow still manage to thrive.
SAN FRANCISCO BLACK FILM FESTIVAL
Wed/4 through June 15
See Rep Clock for listings