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San Diego Black Film Festival 2009

The Sixth Annual San Diego Black Film Festival kicks off tonight, January 29, at the Regal United Artists Theatres at Horton Plaza with a mix of documentaries and short features. There's an opening night reception at 6:00 pm followed by an evening of films. Among them are Black Indians, a documentary narrated by James Earl Jones that looks to Indians of African descent, and Newark Street Preachers, about a group of New Jersey preachers who march where drug dealers and gangs rule in order to take back the streets. The festival will also be presenting their 2009 Award of Merit to actor Louis Gossett, Jr. (pictured left). Gossett can also be seen in the new film The Least Among Us on Saturday at 7:00 pm. Actor and martial arts expert Michael Jai White will be receiving the festival's Filmmaker's Choice Award.

The San Diego Black Film Festival is still a young and growing event. Now in its sixth year, it was originally known as the Noir Film Festival when it launched in 2004. It's a fundraiser for the Black Historical Society of San Diego, which just opened its new facility last year on Market Street. The festival showcases independent films by and about African Americans, and features an awards party, panel discussions, celebrity appearances, and meet and greet events. There are films from around the globe as well as a GLBT showcase on Saturday afternoon. One of the more fun and enticing event though is the Shaft/Superfly Party advertised as "Gone with your bad self." That's on Friday at the Westin. To complement that is a program called Retro Feature (not quite of that genre but of that era) that will screen the 1974 film Claudine starring James Earl Jones and Diahann Carroll.

I was only able to screen one of the film premiering at the festival, the documentary Renaissance Village, about the "trailer park" established by FEMA to house thousands of the people made homeless by hurricane Katrina. The film will have its world premiere at the festival on Saturday at 5:30pm. Filmmaker Gabe Chasnoff follows the residents of the makeshift Renaissance Village over an extended period of time to chronicle their struggles. Many of the residents lost everything in Katrina while others were homeless before the hurricane and faced obstacles getting help because they had no proof of residency before the disaster hit. These residents became a forgotten people coping with problems ranging from a severe lack of information regarding what help the government would be providing to dangerous levels of formaldehyde in their trailers. The unofficial president of Renaissance Village, Wilbert Ross, became a spokesperson for the residents.

I wasn't able to screen any other films in advance but as a Shakespeare buff the one film that intrigues me is Rapping with Shakespeare on Friday night at 8:00 pm. It's a documentary by Michael King, and described as a modern-day hip-hop version of Shakespeare's tales that explores the lives of five South Central teenagers at Crenshaw High School. The students' lives reflect themes from Shakespeare's Henry V, Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet. Teacher Andy Molnar explains that he used rap and hip hop to help the kids access Shakespeare.

The 2009 San Diego Black Film Festival, a Spotlight on African American and African Diaspora Cinema, runs January 29 through February 1 at the Regal United Artists Theatres in Horton Plaza.

You can view a complete schedule and purchase tickets at the SDBFF website.

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