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San Diego Black Film Festival Spotlights African-American Cinema For 17th Year

January 30, 2019 1:54 p.m.

GUEST: Karen Willis, director, San Diego Black Film Festival

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

Comedies dramas documentaries and short films are all on the agenda as the 17th Annual San Diego Black Film Festival officially begins tomorrow. In addition to the movies themselves festival goers will be able to take part in panel discussions with some of the directors and actors and celebrity guests. Joining me is Karen Willis director of the San Diego Black Film Festival. Karen welcome to the program. Thank you. Now the official festival doesn't start until tomorrow but tonight there will be a pre opening reception featuring the film. Brown paper bag. Can you tell us a little bit about that.

Yeah our pre opening is tonight.

And what we do in the pre opening we give the community and you know the people at large an opportunity to preview the festival you know prior to opening and the focus tonight is a film called brown paper bag. It is about the issue of blacklisting Hollywood blacklisting particularly of African-American stars from the 1940s and 50s. And it's sort of a hot subject matter which will be the it'll be the subject of the panel discussion tonight. That whole issue of blacklisting and whether or not is still occurring today.

Now the pre opening festivities will actually sort of be a homecoming for the festival because it's downtown right.

It is few. About three years ago the theater that we had screened all our films for about 10 years. They closed and now there is a new brand new business in there with several eyes called the theater box the sugar factory and chocolate lounge. It's a wonderful establishment down there. So it's a homecoming for the San Diego Black Film Festival to come back to that site.

In fact with the first film festival to actually state something they're you know since they open now the festival officially opens on Thursday with a lighter film 5th of July. We have a clip from the film's trailer. I remember all that you told me you said if I ever came across something that I thought would be of your interest then we let it be. The way. That it.

Took all my things my cartoons my wallet my cell phone.

Did I tell you that I would come through Mr Orlando was do.

What is all that you have to kill for my trip. No no no no not at all.

The 5th of July it stars comedian actor Jaleel White who played the character of Steve Urkel on family matters. Why did you want to open with a comedy.

You know the San Diego Black Film Festival.

Most of the time we try to open with something mellow you know something family oriented and so that sort of fit into our mode there and so we the panel agreed at the committee that hey this would be a wonderful wholesome opening to actually stage a screen the 5th of July was star and Jaleel White. So that's why we sort of came up with the decision to do it because we strive or look for films that are like it has broad appeal comedy kids can come and everything.

What are some of the other films you're excited about this year.

Well there's a film on Harry Belafonte whose daughter Cherie Belafonte she'll be here to us on Saturday. It's called in the know and she basically you know go over her life you know growing up growing up with her father and everything and so that's a really really good film.

And so there's just there's a lot of films that know that that we're really really happy about you know being in the festival there is a very interesting film called pieces of David. That's a part of our pre excuse me our what we called the four o'clock early bird films this coming also and then we also feature shorts packages. We have a package called a lot of drama. We have another shorts Park is called Super shorts. And then we always close on Sunday with foreign films documentaries and stuff and so there's a lot of great things there.

I said that this festival is in its 17th year. I'm wondering how has it evolved in those years since it first started.

Well quite a bit we're like a major film festival now one of the largest black film festivals in the country. We started out you know in just a little room in downtown. We called ourselves The know our film festival at that time. We would receive though for the first two to three years a lot of film noir stuff and we're like well maybe that's not really a good name for us so we decided to go with the more mainstream name which was the San Diego Black Film Festival and then once we went with that name things took off and so over the years you know we've grown and so we're you know we're very very well known now all over the country.

And what do film festivals like the San Diego Black Film Festival what does that mean for African-American cinema.

Well you know it means a lot locally and also nationally because it gives the African-American filmmaker or filmmaker of any race as long as there is a subject matter relating to African-Americans and gives them an opportunity to really expose for the first time their project. We have also a lot of movie studios are here that the scouts are out looking you know at films and so they many of them walk out of the San Diego Black Film Festival with a deal of some sort of distribution deal.

Now the San Diego Black Film Festival begins with a pre opening screening and panel discussion in downtown San Diego tonight. Films will be screened at the Arclight at UTC Thursday through Sunday and I've been speaking with Karen Willis director of the San Diego Black Film Festival Karen thank you so much. Thank you.