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San Diego Black Film Festival

10th Season Kicks Off Thursday

Above: "Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears" is this year's opening night film.

Aired 1/23/12 on KPBS Midday Edition.


Karen Willis, Director of the San Diego Black Film Festival

Jhonson Simeon and Sean McLean, filmmakers, "A Part of Our Relationship"


The San Diego Black Film Festival will launch its 10th season this Thursday at Reading Gaslamp Stadium Theaters.

The San Diego Black Film Festival was established in 2002 and is hosted each year by the San Diego Black Film Foundation, a nonprofit organization. The festival and foundation are dedicated to the preservation and promotion of African American and African Diaspora cinema as well as the education of media arts.

According to the festival's press release: "As the San Diego Black Film Festival enters its 10th year, we're more excited than ever. The event continues to experience tremendous growth and is now one of the largest black film festivals in the country and second largest on the west coast. Our motto is "Spotlight on African American and African Diaspora Cinema." We screen over 100 films each year: Comedy, Drama, Documentaries, Animation, GLBT, Horror, Religious, Foreign/African Diaspora, Shorts, Feature Films and music videos."

The festival returns to the Reading Gaslamp Theaters after having made its home for the past several years at the Horton Plaza Theaters. New this year is what festival director Karen Willis calls "The Big Eight," the films deemed the most important by the festival's committee. Returning is the popular Shaft Superfly Party on Friday.

The opening night film on Thursday is "Joe Frazier: When the Smoke Clears," and the festival closes on Sunday January 29.

One of the short films highlighted, "A Part of Our Relationship," was made by San Diegan Jhonson Simeon, who learned the craft of filmmaking as a combat photographer in the U.S. military. The film screens Friday at 5:00pm.

One of the feature documentaries screening this year is Mary F. Morten's "Woke Up Black" (Saturday, 1:00pm). Here is the trailer.


Woke Up Black

Trailer for "Woke Up Black"

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Avatar for user 'HarryStreet'

HarryStreet | January 24, 2012 at 9:16 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

This type of promotions that segregate us by color, race, gender, religion, etc. are nothing more than a plague to us. How will the black community (excuse me, African-America) feel when whites are a minority and start having such promotions to protect their contributions based on color?

Sure it was and is difficult for minorities to get in just about any industry. That will change as our focus on networking, education, and experience receives more of our focus. We've also made huge leaps for minorities to get into fields once unthinkable.

It's not perfect, and probably will never be. But let's stop referencing ourselves as contributors to an industry based on color, race, gender, religion and what not. It's a giant leap BACKWARDS!

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 24, 2012 at 9:52 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

David, do you have the same complaint about the annual SD Latino Film Festival that's been going on since the early 90's? Or the Italian, Asian or Jewish festivals were are held here in San Diego?

Understand that an Italian Film Festival or an Asian Festival will much more likely screen a new film from that part of the world as opposed to a general filmfestival or one that caters to "genre" audiences. Hence the purpose of these festivals. It has nothing to do with "segregation" and for someone who keeps posting about "fencing" certain people out, it seems suspect on your part as to your purpose.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 24, 2012 at 12:03 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago


You are confusing nationality, religion, and race. Italian and Jewish are inclusive as anyone can become Italian or Jewish. Black and Latino (if you consider Latino a race which is debatable) are exclusive as it is impossible to become one beyond birth. Thus racially-based organizations, like a film festival, inherently promote segregation and racism, even if unintended.

What would be far more appropriate is to call it the African Film Festival.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 24, 2012 at 2:04 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Offender, no, Latino, is NOT a "race," but did I mention race? And if you have a problem with the Jewish Film Festival calling itself as such, maybe you should take up that point with their director(s).

And if you know another way in which I can catch a recent Italian or Mexican film on the Big Screen here in San Diego( which is not going into general release), other than by attending either of the two festivals mentioned above, I would like to know.

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Avatar for user 'DeLaRick'

DeLaRick | January 24, 2012 at 2:19 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

David's point is very compelling. MA gives a solid response in pointing out that some films would not otherwise be screened in a particular location if not for ethnic-specific festivals. But for that kind of active diffusion, lots of movies would go unseen outside of their regional markets.

If people don't have a problem with exhibitions of the Dutch, French or German masters, they shouldn't have a problem with "Black," "Latino," or "Asian" festivals. Can you imagine how dull the Louvre or MOMA would be if works of art had to stay within their country of origin? It seems silly to hypothesize about a possible reaction to a scenario which hasn't occurred: Let "blacks" react however they want to react if/when we're celebrating the 2nd Annual White American Film Festival. (Don't be naive, skinheads already have these. You just haven't been invited.)

CalDef, can you tell us what magical machine changes your biological ethnicity to Italian or Jewish but doesn't work for "blacks" or latinos?

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 24, 2012 at 5:32 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago


Yes, you did. You asked if David had the same complaint (racial segregation) about the Latino Film Festival. You also apparently don't understand my point, as I am in full support of the Jewish Film Festival. Jewish is inclusive being that anyone, on their own initiative, can convert to Judaism. You can't decide one day to be black, thus using the term Black Film Festival immediately segregates based on an unalterable attribute. I would have the same issue with anyone using the term White Film Festival.

Which brings us to DeLaRick. Dutch, French, and German are nationalities. Anyone can change their nationality and/or adopt a new culture, but you can't change your race. Inclusion vs. exclusion. That's the point.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 24, 2012 at 5:42 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Sheesh, why do a couple people have issue with this?

African American culture is real, it's unique, and it's given the United States some of our greatest artists in all types of arts, from poetry, to music, to the visual arts.

And it's not "excluding people". I have gone to the Asian film festival before and there are people from all ethnicities there. I am assuming it's the same thing here, in fact after reading this I would like to attend.

I've always thought it interesting that some people are unable to distinguish a celebration of a particular culture from segregation. They are light years apart.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 24, 2012 at 5:48 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

CA defender,
Your definition of what constitutes in lnclusion and exclusion seems very narrow, and if you are saying that having a celebration based on a culture as defined by race is "exclusion" I comp,etely disagree.

In fact, when people open up their culture to everyone, I consider that very inclusive.

Your argument would make sense if only African Americans were allowed to attend this event, but that is not the case. ANYONE of ANY Race can take part in this celebration of AA contributions to film, what on earth is exclusionary about that?

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | January 24, 2012 at 6:51 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

As someone who has been covering film in San Diego for more than 3 decades, I would just like to add that film festivals exist to highlight a particular interest or point of view or cultural focus. In addition to the Asian, Latino, Jewish, Black LGBT, and Italian we have festivals focusing on birds, underwater, horror, Human Rights, and Independent film. Last year saw the first German film festival in San Diego and a few years ago we lost the Women's Film Festival. While each of these festivals has a focus, the goal of each is to be inclusive and to share what they think is the best of their particular focus with a broader audience.

Blacks, women, Asians, Latinos, and gays are traditionally under represented in Hollywood, and therefore feel the need to have festivals focusing on films by and about them in the hopes of changing the demographics in Hollywood. And there are people within festivals like these who hope that one day there will no longer be a need for specialized festivals if Hollywood can just become more diverse in the stories it tells and the people who tell them.

I can't believe that anyone attending any of these festivals could possibly feel that they are about segregation or exclusion. These are events designed to showcase the best of what are often lesser known or lesser seen films in the hopes of reaching a wider audience.

Thanks to everyone for their comments. If some of you have never attended a film festival of any kind, I hope this discussion will inspire you to do so. I have been going to festivals of all kinds for decades and it is always a wonderful and often enlightening experience.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 24, 2012 at 7:11 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Beth, thanks so much for your comments and the story. You have inspired me to attend. And your are 100% correct about specialized festivals forming because they are underrepresented in the mainstream. In fact, I would argue that in many cases that is precisely what makes them brilliant - they are more original and less likely to divert to the status quo.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 25, 2012 at 8:46 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

First, let us not make the grave error of equating orientation with race or ethnicty--at least until we hear differently from Science. (At least for the sake of not being all over the map in this discussion.)

Secondly, for CA Offender, ANYONE who is born of a Jewish mother is considered Jewish by fellow Jews. It is not something limited to religion. And since we are talking about films here, I'll give you an example. Local filmmaker Isaac Artenstein comes from one of the few Jewish families that once existed in Baja. He is also Jewish. So he is Mexican and Jewish as well. Presently, he may be a United States citizen as well. (The last time I saw him was in the 90s.) So Offender, he is Jewish, Mexican, and Americanl. There is no contradiction. In your narrow universe, he is limited to one.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 25, 2012 at 9:24 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Why wasn't David65 upset about the Asian Film Festival? Is "Asian" an acceptable ethnicity?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 25, 2012 at 1:37 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

My point exactly Satyriel.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | January 26, 2012 at 12:26 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Peking_Dick_SD - Glad you are inspired to attend a festival! There are plenty to choose from.

Thanks again to all who have contributed to the discussion.

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Avatar for user 'CaliforniaDefender'

CaliforniaDefender | January 29, 2012 at 1:54 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago


I'm speaking to the limitation placed on content, not those in attendance. Expanding your cultural awareness is a wonderful thing, but not when it is racially focused. Besides, races don't have culture. Nations do.


What is your point of the Jewish-Mexican-American? Anyone can become Jewish, Mexican, and American. Just ask my Taoist-Thai-Tajik-Tongan friend.


Asian can refer to a region and a race. If the Asian Film Festival is focusing on race, then it is inappropriate. If it is focusing on the culture of the continent, then great!

Beth Accomando,

You brought up the absolute CORE of the issue. You stated "Blacks, women, Asians, Latinos, and gays are traditionally under represented in Hollywood..." I could not disagree more and take offense to your suggestion there is some conspiracy by straight white males to prevent the involvement of those groups. That suggestion belongs in the 1950s not the 2010s. In fact, Hollywood has always been a trailblazer and one of the most influential elements in our society for promoting different cultures and changing old attitudes.

Race-based film festivals only serve to reinforce those old attitudes, not dismantle them.

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Avatar for user 'Miguel Rodriguez'

Miguel Rodriguez | January 29, 2012 at 3:55 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Anyone who is not a straight white male is ABSOLUTELY underrepresented in Hollywood. How could a person be so completely blind to the experiences of anyone other than the dominate representation of people in the movies? It's INSANE! The Black Film Festival, Asian Film Festival, Latino Film Festival, and my own upcoming event celebrating women filmmakers don't reinforce old attitudes at all. What an absolute misunderstanding of their mission!

The filmmakers who get screened at those festivals have little to no chance of getting screened elsewhere. There are several reasons for this, but no small reason is the fact that Hollywood is still extremely biased in favor of Caucasian protagonists. Having a film festival highlight the work of a particular group of people allows those people to have a louder collective voice that would be inaudible in a traditional setting.

The fact that the great white hero travesty known as The Help is seen as a best picture of the year only goes to show how much Hollywood needs to diversify. Black characters can't even be the main players in their own stories--we need an Emma Stone to hold their hands!

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | January 29, 2012 at 4:06 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago


First of all, I never stated or implied there is a conspiracy by straight white males. That comes completely from you.

Second, Hollywood may have made some great films that have helped to change attitudes and bring issues to the forefront. But these are far fewer than the ones that do not. It is an undisputed fact that white males dominate the film industry while women, blacks, Asians, Latinos, and gays are in the minority when it comes to directing, writing and producing, and to a lesser degree acting.

The film industry is a business and worships the green of money above all else. So it's not that there's a conspiracy Hollywood has to keep minority points of view out (and by that I don't just mean race, age, sex, or sexual orientation but genres like horror as well) but that they don't like to take risks or challenge the status quo. They want to produce films with the greatest chance of attracting the largest audience (a fine business model) and they tend to see that audience as white, male, and young. Not exclusively that but if there's one demographic they do tend to favor that would be it. However, as women and black filmmakers make films that draw big box office those ideas are changing in Hollywood.

FIlm is also an art but in the Hollywood studio system, business comes first. I was not passing any judgment on Hollywood only pointing out a fact -- women, blacks, Asians, and Latinos are under-represented in mainstream cinema, both in front of and behind the camera.

Finally, race or gender or ethnic based festival do not reinforce old attitudes but challenge them because they show the great diversity that exists even within a particular group. These festivals often focus on both race AND culture, and those issues are not always separate or mutually exclusive.

I do have one question for you, have you ever been to any of these festivals and actually gone to multiple screenings, spoken with filmmakers, attended the parties, and mingled with the crowd? If you have I think you would see how these festivals energetically advocate change and do not reinforce old attitudes.

Thanks again to all who have contributed to the conversation.

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Avatar for user 'monstress'

monstress | January 29, 2012 at 5:36 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Hi Beth--

Excellent piece as always. I have been to many festivals celebrating a wide variety of communities in several cities. I have always felt welcome and have always found it interesting to see new films by new filmmakers and to be exposed to new perspectives, not just on filmmaking but on people's lives and experiences. Fortunately, community-based film festivals are not going away either.

And I wholeheartedly agree with your above post and with @Miguel Rodriguez'. I don't think I have anything to add to what either of you have said.

Though have either of you seen this pieces?

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | January 29, 2012 at 7:55 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago


Thank you for the links. Interesting pieces.

And to Miguel,

Thank you for highlighting women filmmakers, especially since we recently lost the Women's Film Festival here in San Diego.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 29, 2012 at 8:39 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Californiadefender, your comments seem a bit reflective of the hypersensitive, highly-charged political fervor that has sprung up with the recent radicalization of the "tea party" and the far right.

It's as if nobody can even mention a cultural festival, an ethnic celebration, or a problem disproportionately impacting minorities without a Gingrich-type angry, bitter response.

This radicalized attitude has incited hate against immigrants, it has fueled mainstream politicians like Gingrich to be outwardly racist, it's festered a rumor amongst dopes that because our President is part African American his birth certificate must be fake and he must not really be American, and it has quite frankly started bringing racism "en vogue" once again. It's very disturbing.

And it's also irrational.

White males still hold the vast majority of power and wealth in our country, yet because minorities have made a little gain, there are some who feel threatened by this and are trying to do everything to suppress it.

I don't mean to go random with this comment, but I really have a hard time believing you are opposed to African American film festivals for the reasons you say. Trying to twist it around and say cultural events celebrating African Americans in film is somehow promoting racism or exclusion just doesn't make any sense. This is why I am wondering if your comments stem more from the politically charged environment we are in this year and the associated rhetoric we are currently experiencing from conservatives who are terrified of white people becoming a minority in America.

You seem to think this festival is a problem, but I am curious - do you think it's a problem when Newt Gingrich calls our President the first "food stamp President", something laced with racial undertones?

Do you have a problem with the loons who are **still** bringing up lawsuits to keep Obama off of state ballots because he has "not proven he is an American"?

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | January 29, 2012 at 8:40 p.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago


The fact remains that African Americans have a culture. It's a culture that is different from African culture, and it's also unique from other American cultures.

I'm not stating this to divide us because we are of course ALL Americans, but the African American experience has been different from the Caucasian American experience in the history of our nation, so it's unreasonable for you to expect everyone to culturally mesh into one, especially one that favors the dominate "white" culture of America.

Cultures evolve out of the human experience, and one of the amazing and beautiful things about African American culture is that it has managed to contribute so significantly to our nation's culture as a whole despite being repressed and tormented for so long.

African American singers, poets, actors, actresses, talk show hosts, and visual artists have brought so much to the entertainment and art worlds despite being underrepresented in the establishment that runs these industries. Not only do I think there is nothing wrong with celebrating these contributions, I think we have a responsibility to recognize and celebrate them. It's part of our culture, it's part of who we are as a nation.

And I think Americans are intelligent and responsible enough to celebrate our differences, celebrate the many cultures of this country, while also realizing we are all one at the same time.

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Avatar for user 'Satariel'

Satariel | January 30, 2012 at 8:21 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

We need a Straight White Male film festival! Lets see... I can hardly think of any! George Lucas? Steven Spielberg?

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 30, 2012 at 9 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Very good response to CA Offender, Beth. But your are wrong on one small but important point, gays and lesbians, while they may be in the "minority" as far as numbers, gays and lesbians are certainly NOT in the "minority" as far as having pull within the industry. In fact, colelctively, they have strength beyond their numbers. One has to be honest about this. Just ask Brett Rattner or Isiah Washington. I mean, De Niro and Seagall can make less than nice comments about immigrants and after some rumblings, basically get a free pass from Hollywood. Again, unlike Rattner or Washington.

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | January 30, 2012 at 9:19 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

CA Offender, you criticize these festivals as being "divisive" yet the ethnocentrism and restrictionist views in your posts dating all the way back to the pre-Facebook signonsandiego days demonstrate that you are hardly "Mr. Kumbaya." You simply reject and are insecure about the various cutlures which exist in countries like the USA, Brasil, etc. In the book SCHRADER ON SCHRADER, Mr. Schrader is quoted as saying he loves cultural/ethnic diversity, because that is what gives the USA "color."

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | January 30, 2012 at 9:49 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Missionaccomplished-- I would argue that I am not wrong and the proof is in the films that are made and released to the mainstream. Films with openly gay or lesbian directors and with gay or lesbian lead characters are still in the minority. I think if you look at the top ten grossing films this week there is not a single one with a gay lead character. You find plenty of white males, a good chunk of white females, and this week one film focused on African American males.

And Satariel, A Straight White Male Fest! Would that be what we have most weeks at the mall theater?

Thanks for adding to the discussion.

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Avatar for user 'Peking_Duck_SD'

Peking_Duck_SD | February 2, 2012 at 9:55 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Hahahaha, The comment of having a "straight male fest" reminds me of one of the most commonly heard comments made by the pro-prop 8 crowd:

*"Why do gays have to project their lifestyle on everyone, you don't see straight people doing that!"*

I'm not even going to spell out how ricidulous that statement is. Some will see it as obvious, and others will probably think that statement is 100% accurate.

But I think Beth's comment summed it up well, when something is the norm you become numb to realizing how in your face it is everywhere.

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | February 2, 2012 at 11:39 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Well put Peking_Duck_SD. :)

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Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | February 14, 2012 at 11:03 a.m. ― 5 years, 1 month ago

Beth, you can't be serious. Think about what you say in your response to me. In other words, if there is no top 10 money-making with a "gay character" at any one time, then there MUST be something wrong in Hollywood! Please, Beth! Do you have your TV on "mute" whenever they air the Golden Globes or the Academy Awards and miss out on the soap box speeches? Have you looked up all the pro-gay feature and documentary shorts that have not only been Oscar-nominated, but have even won??? Take any big budget movie, with 400 or 500 screen credits in the crew--you really don't think there's a few gay and/or lesbian employees??? Should it be something I NEED to know? No. Should it be they need to tell the world about, also, no. If you're going to deny that the atmosphere in Hollywood is not greatly sympathetic toward gays and lesbians then . . .

Think of how far we have come. Movies that sarcastically bashed homosexuals like DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER or VANISHING POINT (both 1971), not only would they not be made today, but even seem from a totally alien era. at times.

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