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San Diego Black Film Festival Celebrates 15th Year

Festival expands to three venues this year

Lashawnda Batts-Bowser stars as a spoken word artists in the love story

Credit: Isolated Production

Above: Lashawnda Batts-Bowser stars as a spoken word artists in the love story "Then There Was You," which officially kicks off this year's San Diego Black Film Festival at the Reading Grossmont Cinemas on April 27.


Karen Willis, San Diego Black Film Festival director

Beth Accomando, KPBS arts reporter

KPBS arts reporter Beth Accomando previews the 15th Annual San Diego Black Film Festival.


The San Diego Black Film Festival officially launches its 15th year Thursday night at the Reading Grossmont Cinemas.

Putting on a film festival is always a challenge. But this year, the San Diego Black Film Festival, or SDBFF, had a change foisted upon it when the Pacific Gaslamp Cinemas closed, and it needed to find a new venue. The search for a new venue led the festival to make the decision to expand to three locations.

SDBFF opens Thursday night at the Reading Grossmont with the world premiere of a love story called “Then There was You,” directed by Adewale Bajare and starring Taurean J. Royal and Lashawnda Batts-Bowser. The festival will screen films Friday through Thursday at the AMC Fashion Valley Theaters and UltraStar Cinemas Mission Valley at Hazard Center.

Festival director Karen Willis said the festival screens “over 100 films in total” during its four days. The festival’s motto cited in its mission statement is “Spotlight on African American and African Diaspora Cinema.”

There are documentaries such as “Taking Israel,” by Vincent Singleton, about African American students who spend the summer in Israel, and “Soul on Ice,” by Damon Mason, about the contribution of black athletes to ice hockey. There are also blocks of short films including a collection of foreign entries on closing day.

“We have ‘The Land Beneath Our Feet’ that’s about Liberia. We have ‘The Taxi Club,’ which is about people of African descent in Sweden trying to get a piece of the pie as taxi drivers, they sort of formed a coalition of African taxi drivers so that movie focuses on that, a documentary about their struggle. And we also have a Smithsonian film for the second year in a row, and it’s called 'Arts of the Monsoon,' and it’s about various piece of African art all over the world, and they travel and talk about the history of these various pieces,” Willis said.

Many of the films will be followed by Q&A’s with filmmakers. In addition, SDBFF hosts a trio of panels that go to another aspect of its mission statement, “to serve as a conduit for on location filming in San Diego County for production companies, filmmakers, and the communities that may be impacted.”

This year the panels are a conversation with publicist and celebrity broker Koshie Mills about marketing independent films and securing top talent; a writer's seminar hosted by Charles Murray, a writer and co-executive producer on FX’s “Sons of Anarchy;” and a director's seminar hosted by Spike Lee protégée Jeff Byrd.

Willis added that this year the festival is establishing the San Diego Black Film Centre, which will eventually house the festival’s film archive and allow for it to hold events throughout the year.

The festival had a preopening reception Wednesday night but officially launches at 7:30 p.m., Thursday, with the feature “Then There Was You” and the short “The Untimely End of Ms. Xing” by Jeff Cohen at the Reading Grossmont. The films will be followed by a Filmmakers Reception that is also a fundraiser for the festival.

A complete film and event schedule is available on the San Diego Black Film Festival’s website.


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Photo of Beth Accomando

Beth Accomando
Arts & Culture Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksI cover arts and culture, from Comic-Con to opera, from pop entertainment to fine art, from zombies to Shakespeare. I am interested in going behind the scenes to explore the creative process; seeing how pop culture reflects social issues; and providing a context for art and entertainment.

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