Newark Black Film Festival Celebrates is 40th Anniversary

July 1, 2014 at 3:08 pm Leave a comment

The Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF), the longest-running black film festival in the United States, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year with a blockbuster lineup of films and documentaries, including winners of the biennial Paul Robeson Awards.  This year’s screenings include the 2013 Academy Award winners 12 Years a Slave and 20 Feet From Stardom, and a fun-filled schedule of youth filmsCommittee pix in trustees room

Since its introduction, the NBFF has provided a forum for writers, directors, producers, performers and film patrons who enjoy African American and African Diaspora cinema. The goal of the festival is to present programs that reflect the full diversity of the black experience both past and present, encompassing a wide range of forums and formulas from documentary to the avant-garde. In the past 39 years, NBFF has screened approximately 800 films to an audience of almost 180,000 adults and youth.  Past films of note have included Ashes and Embers, Body and Soul, Do the Right Thing and Daughters of the Dust.

The NBFF started in 1974 with a touring black film festival that was put together by filmmaker Oliver Franklin who worked at the Annenberg Center for Communication, Art & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The late Gus Henningburg, who was then the Executive Director of the Greater Newark Urban Coalition, learned about the festival and proposed it to the Newark Museum.

In 1976 when the touring festival was no longer available, the Museum made the decision to produce the Newark Black Film Festival and established a Selection Committee, whose volunteer members represented important institutions in the community.

In 1981, a Children’s Festival was added, which is now called Youth Cinema. In 1985, the Museum initiated the Paul Robeson Awards to honor excellence in independent filmmaking in five categories.

‘‘When we introduced the festival, few black filmmakers were successful in bringing their projects to the screen and those that made it, didn’t stay long,’’ said NBFF Chair Gloria Hopkins Buck, a charter member of the festival. ‘’The founders were sensitive to the need for creative expression and we did our best to make it happen. Challenges still exist but the quality of work and their artistic accomplishments on a global scale are changing the landscape.’’

‘’NBFF is a festival unique for its longevity,’’ said Rutgers professor and historian Dr. Clement Price, also a charter member,  ‘’and the endearment in which it is held by patrons of more than a generation.  It is also civic ritual that has witnessed the emergence of black film as a genre important to understanding multiple narratives about the human spirit.’’

NBFF Committee 2004 Warrington Hudlin, President, Black Filmmaker Foundation said, ‘’The NBFF came into existence to fill the void left by movie theaters that were fleeing Newark and other inner cities throughout the United States.  The real beneficiaries soon became the newly minted generation of young African American filmmakers who were graduating from film schools with films under their arms and looking for a place to screen them.  And even today, if a filmmaker wants to put his or her film to a litmus test for authenticity, I say ‘screen it in Newark’.’’

Financial support for the festival from Bank of America for the past 14 years has allowed it to expand to venues beyond the museum, including NJ State Museum/Trenton, Rutgers/Camden and Monmouth Arts Council/Asbury Park.

‘’As the longest-running event of its kind in the U.S., the Newark Black Film Festival never fails to bring an impressive lineup of movies to the Newark area and beyond,’’ said Bob Doherty, Bank of America New Jersey president.  ‘’Celebrating differences in culture, ethnicity and experience serves to create stronger, more vibrant communities.’’

The 2014 NBFF season began on June 25 with the documentary Freedom Riders.  On July 2, the Museum screened 20 Feet From Stardom. 12 Years a Slave will be shown July 9 at CityPlex 12 Theatre.  The film Big Words, will be shown on July 16 and Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You will be screened July 23.

Winners of the 2014 Paul Robeson Awards will be honored at an award ceremony on July 30 at the Museum followed by the screenings at CityPlex 12 Theatre.  Youth Cinema feature films will be screened both at the Museum and the Newark Public Library in July and August.

The complete festival schedule may be found at http://www.newarkmuseum.org/NBFF.html.

Jerry Enis, Consultant

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