Entertainment

Diverse Film Series Makes Stop in DMV

A collection of first-run features and documentaries filled a four-day film series at the AFI Silver Theatre and Culture Center in downtown Silver Spring.

The event was a collaboration between Run&Shoot Filmworks, the annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF), the Color of Conversation and AFI Silver. The festival was designed to bring attention to independent and established filmmakers of color. Screenings were followed by panel discussions with filmmakers and those featured in some of the films.

“We’ve always done the Color of Conversation as a sidebar to our other film events,” said Stephanie Tavares Rance, co-founder of MVAAFF and Run&Shoot Filmworks. “Since so many people come to Martha’s Vineyard for the Film Festival from the D.C. area, it made sense to create a film event for this area.”

Four films were screened for the Run&Shoot/Color of Conversation Film Series at the AFI. Some of these films and many others will be screened at the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival scheduled for Aug. 6-11.

Maynard

Looking at the rise of African Americans in contemporary politics, it is often said that before Barack Obama, there was Maynard Holbrook Jackson. That could be because he was a cool, commanding, confident presence who steered Atlanta through a lot of economic and political progress.

The documentary “Maynard” premiered last fall in Atlanta and has been on the film festival circuit ever since. Jackson was the first African-American mayor of Atlanta serving three terms. He was born into a family that valued education and political activism. His maternal grandfather was civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs, who worked to successfully overturn the White primary in Georgia which were comparable to today’s voter suppression and gerrymandering methods.

One of the hallmarks of Jackson’s years in office was his demand that city contracts be available to minorities and women. That happened with the building of the Atlanta airport during Jackson’s time in office.

Jackson’s success can be attributed to his ability to make his vision acceptable to constituents from Atlanta’s wealthiest neighborhoods to those living in public housing.

“That was something that was very unusual,” said Claude Bailey, a partner with D.C.-based Venable, LLP, and a Jackson mentee who sat on a panel following the screening. “Maynard was able to do that, which was why he was the right man at the right time.”

Throughout his life, Jackson encountered personal, political and health challenges. It is all covered, unapologetically, in the documentary co-executive produced by three of his children and two of their spouses Maynard Jackson III, Elizabeth J. Hodges, Brooke J. Edmond, Wendy Eley Jackson and Howie Hodges.

Delta Airlines is now showing the documentary on in-flight domestic and international flights until Nov. 1. The documentary is also available for rent or purchase on Amazon, YouTube, Vimeo, iTunes and Google Play.

Blindspotting

How do you reconcile the adverse predicaments you always find yourself in with your childhood friend? It’s difficult when you perceive that friend to be “your boy” who you feel has always been there for you — or has he? That is the dilemma for Colin, who is in his final three days of parole in the dramedy “Blindspotting.” He constantly finds himself in precarious situations with his longtime friend and co-worker Miles. Miles can be sized up as a quick-tempered guy who doesn’t think through the consequences before pulling the trigger, a running theme throughout the movie.

Set in Oakland, “Blindspotting” is co-written, co-produced by real-life childhood friends Daveed Diggs and Rafael Casal, who also star in the film. Viewers may recognize Diggs from his Tony- and Grammy-winning role in “Hamilton.” He also was in the most recent season of “Black-ish” as Johan Johnson, brother of Rainbow.

Opening this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Blindspotting” had many edge-of-your-seat moments, with twists and turns that look at police brutality, race, class and true friendship. Audiences will leave this movie pondering several “what if?” questions.

Carlos López Estrada, director of “Blindspotting,” won awards at the Palm Springs International Film Festival and the Cinetopia Film Festival. The film also was nominated for the Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. The movie is scheduled for limited release on July 20.

Sorry to Bother You

It would be an understatement to say that “Sorry to Bother You” has been a much-anticipated movie. It’s the first film for director/screenwriter Boots Riley, who channeled his ’90s activist roots as a Bay Area rapper.

The comedy features lead character Cassius Green, portrayed by “Get Out” co-star Lakeith Stanfield. He just wants an income and gets a telemarketer job. Cassius struggles in the new job until co-worker Langston (Danny Glover) coaches him to use his “White voice.” Cassius’ sales increase, but around him, other employees are still getting low wages, management is making unrealistic management demands, a union is organizing and the truth comes out about the parent company. Oh, yes, there is the struggle between Cassius and his revolutionary-minded girlfriend, who, along with his co-workers, gives him grief about selling out.

Riley, who got the idea for the movie from his own days of working as a telemarketer at age 24, said he began developing the film while amid a midlife crisis and needing to step away from the music business.

“I knew I was pretty good in sales, but you could feel your soul being crushed as a telemarketer,” Riley said during the post-screening discussion. “So you realize you have to use your ‘White voice.'”

In “Sorry to Bother You,” things appear to be going fine as Cassius begins to make a great salary, rises to the top in the company and is embraced by an eyepatch-wearing co-worker Mr. _______ (Omari Hardwick), who is in the upper echelon of the company. In his rise to the top, Cassius is introduced to CEO Steve Lift, played by Armie Hammer. At this point, the movie takes a weird, sci-fi turn. What does Cassius do when he realizes the real objective of the parent company? No spoilers here.

Audience chatter questioned possible themes about slavery, ambition, loyalty and worker rights. Moviegoers will likely leave the theater scratching their heads and looking for a way to calm down.

“Sorry to Bother You” was nominated for the 2018 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize. It is currently in theaters.

Soulful Steps: A Soul Line Dance Journey with J&J

I entered this screening with a perspective about line dancing. I know it happens at every Black social gathering where three or more are gathered, such as reunions, wedding receptions, homecoming parties or cookouts. What more could there be to line dancing

Thank you, “Soulful Steps: A Soul Line Dance Journey with J&J” for the enlightenment. In this documentary, viewers meet James and Jackie Rice (J&J), a West Coast couple and creators of “CaliJam,” the first and biggest soul line dance convention. Their love and commitment for each other and for soul line dancing is felt by everyone they meet.

“Soulful Steps: A Soul Line Dance Journey with J&J” follows James and Jackie as they energetically develop a following that influences line dance groups nationwide. Based in Los Angeles, the couple guides a diverse group in mastering the steps at that week’s line dance session at First AME (FAME) Church. A line dance session at a church fits James and Jackie, as these retirees are evangelists for the dance style.

Jamie Burton-Oare, director/producer/screenwriter of “Soulful Steps,” said the film festival was the first time she has been able to see the finished product in a theater with an audience. She spoke about making a documentary about James and Jackie, who she embraced like family.

“We originally thought about doing a reality show, [but] or that type of show, you have to create conflict,” said Burton-Oare, who started her career as an actress. “That was difficult because we wanted to ensure [the Rices] were represented the way they wanted to be. Their chemistry is amazing, and you can tell it wasn’t hard.”

Longtime lovers of the line dancing may remember the “Bus Stop” or “Madison,” an early ’60s line dance featured in the movie “Hairspray.” “Soulful Steps” highlights a few of the pioneers in soul line dance, such as Dave Bush in Philadelphia and Big Mucci, who has released several line dance albums and employs the “call-out” technique which directs dancers on what steps to take. The film also touches on the evolution of soul line dances such as the “Cupid Shuffle” and “Wobble.”

The energy in “Soulful Steps” is infectious. Lovers of line dancing in the film and in the audience affirmed that the movie preaches what they have always known. Soul line dancing offers fellowship, exercise and a community that welcomes everyone. The line dancers in the audience from throughout the metro D.C. area encouraged me and others to search online for local line dance sessions that are held regularly.

This documentary will continue to make the film festival rounds, while Burton-Oare determines other viewing and distribution options. For now, soul line dance lovers can go to the Facebook page for “Soulful Steps: A Soul Line Dance Journey with J&J.”

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