The growing stateside success of Chiwetel Ejiofor, Idris Elba, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Thandie Newton, Naomie Harris, Sophie Okonedo, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Eamonn Walker, Adrian Lester and Lennie James, proves that Hollywood is no longer beyond the reach of black British talent. The ten-day festival is also proof that a new generation are now moving behind the camera to secure prized producing and directing credits.
Since its launch in 1998, the bfm International film Festival (bfm IFF) has grown in stature and is now one of the premiere black world and urban events on the festival calendar. This year the organisers have not only strengthened the film and seminar programme, they are also using the impressive BFI Southbank for the first time.
Nadia Denton, director of the bfm International Film Festival, commented: “The increasing globalisation of film is really exciting and is providing a valuable shop window to black British film talent who have spent many years honing their craft. We are also seeing an increase in home grown talent inspired by the creative possibilities of the industry.”
This year’s festival receives timely support from 4The Record Initiative, founded by actor Fraser James, which recognised the contribution of Britain’s best known black actors and actresses with Underexposed, a striking photographic exhibition held at the National Portrait Gallery.
Two years ago there were more black or Asian British actors on prime time US TV than primetime British television. That story is also being played out on the big screen, with several starring and acting in their own movies.
Rodney Charles, born and raised in London, but is now based in Los Angeles, makes his directorial feature debut with the UK premier of The Disciple, which he also wrote and produced. Charles was writer and producer of the award-winning Once Upon A Time, which was directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah and starred Marianne Jean-Baptiste. Kwei-Armah leads on discussion with the director after the screening at the BFI Southbank on November 8. The 10th bfm International Film festival is also benefiting from Film London’s ongoing investment in Black film exhibition in the capital.
Raz Adoti (Amistad, Black Hawk Down, Resident Evil, Haven) has also carved out a career since packing his bags for America. The Forest Gate-born actor stars in director Bill Duke’s controversial Cover, alongside Vivica A Fox, Lou Gossett Jr and Aunjanue Ellis.
British-born Corey Redmond produces. There is also a special panel discussion on the making of heist movie, Tic, with US director Keith Parmer who is joined by several of the cast. Filmed on location in Los Angeles, Tic stars four British Los Angeles-based actors Lennie James (Snatch, 24 Hour Party People, Sahara, Jericho, Storm Damage) Treva Etienne (Pirates of the Caribbean, Black Hawk Down, Bad Boys II, Eyes Wide Shut, London’s Burning) Gary McDonald (Wondrous Oblivion, Thief Takers, East Enders), and Howard Antony (East Enders, The Defender, Seizing Me).
Over half of the festival’s fifty features, short films and documentaries, are littered with a variety of British talent, with as many enjoying UK and European premiers. There is also as strong African representation with a welcome screening of Manthia Diawara and Ngugi Wa Thiong’o insightful 1994 documentary Sembene: The Making of African Cinema, which captures the great Senegalese film-maker Ousmane Sembene at home in Dakar. Sembene’s first film, Borom Sarret made in 1966, also features in the festival.
This year’s festival opens with Horace Ové’s The Ghost of Hing King Estate, his first feature film since Playing Away. Ové, widely considered the ‘Godfather’ of black British Cinema, shot the film, based on a true story, on location in Trinidad. Ové’s film tells the dramatic story of mysterious deaths amongst plantation workers on a local estate.
Trinidadian-born Rudolph Walker, better known for his award-winning small screen forays and theatre roles, has appeared in several movies during a distinguished career. On this occasion Walker sizes up a starring role in the UK premier of Alison Saunders-Franklyn’s Hit for Six!, which includes short cameos from the likes of West Indies greats Everton Weekes and Wesley Hall.
Former East Enders actor Sylvester Williams, has written, produced and directed Jingle Blues Jingle Bells, the first UK black movie to embrace the Christmas market. This is Williams’ directorial debut.
Gerald Barclay’s documentary Wu: The Story of the Wu-Tang Clan is a must see for all Hip Hop fans. Barclay is a childhood friend and former video director, so has a unique perspective on their colourful life and the untimely death of talented OBD.
Black sexuality and relationships are also explored with several films and documentaries, with offerings from Tiona M’s black.womyn: conversations with lesbians of African descent; Andrea Wiley’s Soulmates, which looks at why 43% of African-American women remain unmarried, and Hanifah Walidah and Olive Demetrius’s U People, where an entire cast and crew of gay and straight women were caught on camera behind the scenes of a not so typical music video shoot.
There is also no shortage of rising directing talent, with Retrospective: Ishmahil Blagrove Jnr which features a follow up to his hugely popular Haste Siempre, With or Without Fidel which examines the future direction of Cuba’s 48 year-old revolution. Blagrove’s BANG! BANG! In Da Manor, a shocking expose into violence and murder suffered by the black community, is as relevant today as it was four years ago when it was first screened.
The festival’s prestigious annual Short Film Awards event (November 11) will be held at the BFI Southbank and hosted by Tameka Empson (Three Non Blonde’s). Awards will be presented for best script; best female actor; best male actor, best cinematography, and best short film. Much Ado about a Minor Ting (Jesse Lawrence), Man, Broken (Pezhmaan Alinia), One of Us (Clint Dyer), Win, lose or draw (Lawrence Coke), and Survivor (Nicole Volavka) are the shortlisted entries.