Film, music and other artistic mediums compel deep examination of the human condition and reflection on how one can affect change. Since 2013, the March on Washington Film Festival has been an incubator for cinema old and new that inspires such discussion.
As part of an ongoing commitment to shedding light on the unsung heroes of the civil rights era, this year’s festival features dozens of thought-provoking documentaries about various aspects of that period.
“We want to illuminate the subject of civil rights so it’s not just a narrative about being passive and turning the other cheek,” said Isisara Bey, the festival’s artistic director since 2013.
Festival events will take place at Studio Theatre in Northwest, National Museum of Women in the Arts in Northwest, and other locations relevant to the topics highlighted.
“The civil rights movement was really progressive and strategic,” Bey said. “We want people to look at what was happening [during that time], the parallels between then and now, and how activism is important in life. They should be inspired by action to become more engaged citizens.”
For more than a week, people from various walks of life will be immersed in film, music and art that document and interpret the activism of the 1950s and ’60s. Festivities will kick off on July 12 with an art exhibit and tribute to Sonia Sanchez, a poet, playwright and seminal figure in the 1960s Black Arts Movement. The exhibit will feature “BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez,” a 2015 documentary about her activism, filled with performances and interviews.
For the next nine days, festival organizers will queue up a bevy of films, including those about late comedian and activist Dick Gregory, author Lorraine Hansberry, the Chicano Movement and the increasing Black presence in corporate America.
Discussions in between film screenings, live performances and art exhibits will explore connections between the civil rights era and present-day movements. For example, on June 13, Camille Friend, a stylist known for her work on the films “Black Panther” and “Django Unchained,” will reflect on her career path and pay tribute to Madame C.J. Walker.
Bey, who has decades of experience in radio, television, arts and activism, touted the diversity of activities in an appeal to different interests and backgrounds.
“People learn through a variety of mediums — films and panels aren’t enough,” Bey said, adding that she plans to pour libation at an event honoring Depression-era playwright Lorraine Hansberry of “A Raisin in the Sun” game.
“Joi Gresham, who runs Lorraine Hansberry Literary Trust will give a lecture about her play and movie,” Bey said. “She said that though she didn’t know her in her lifetime, she felt her spirit and felt it was something she was dedicated to keeping alive. At the end of the evening, there’ll be a rhythmic ceremony where we can raise the vibration.”
The inaugural March on Washington Festival commemorated the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. More than 1,000 participants attended 10 events over the course of two weeks.
Bey admitted that teenagers and young adults remain the most elusive of audiences. Part of tackling that blind spot, for her, has been finding common ground between their experiences and culture and that of those who preceded them.
“We want it so that young people don’t feel that the things that are current are different from the Black Power and civil rights movements,” she said. “We’re standing on the shoulders of those who came before us. I don’t believe that things were better with the past. To move forward, we have to incorporate Generations Y and Z and their means of expression. We have some places where we’re trying to make that happen.”