|Filmmaker Charles Burnett will take part in a panel discussion before the screening of his latest film, “Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation,” on Aug. 2. (Photo courtesy of the Roxbury Film Festival)|
The festival has grown dramatically in the past decade, both in reputation and in size, she added.
“It’s become a premier festival for filmmakers who realize what we’re about and realize it’s not about money, but about supporting them,” said Simmons. “We’ve grown from our first festival, when we had about 15 films or so, to now having 80. The submissions have just gone through the roof, and we’ve become a festival where you’re never going to see a bad film.”
The films are selected with the goal of striking a balance between international, national and local work. This year’s lineup includes “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a Liberian documentary about “women who single-handedly helped oust Charles Taylor,” as Simmons puts it, as well as “The Price of Sugar,” a film by local producers Bill Haney and Eric Grunebaum about dispossessed Haitians working on sugarcane plantations in the Dominican Republic.
There are also a number of innovative films from local artists, including “The Cambridge Companion,” a 20-minute short film about the adventures of the charismatic Lloyd Smith as he runs for election to the Cambridge City Council.
“There are some things that are very experimental and some things that are very conservative with a very strong message,” Baxter said, noting that Boston has become a city to watch for independent filmmaking. “People are really seeing that there’s a lot of talent and creativity here. There’s a lot of wonderful things happening in Roxbury and … this film festival is one way to say, ‘Hey, come to our community, see the work we’re doing. We’re committed, it’s exciting.’”
Marking the passage of 10 years is no small feat for a festival that started with a $5,000 grant in 1998, Simmons said.
“I think when you start ventures like this … people expect it not to be successful” due to the challenges of lining up celebrity guests and the difficulties of finding sponsors, she said.
To commemorate the anniversary, “we made the decision that we were going to include a higher budget to bring these celebrities in, because we really wanted the 10th year to be a celebratory year,” she added. “We wanted to pepper the festival with celebrities and we felt it was important to have somebody there all the time.”
Simmons is clearly excited. “Between Robert Townsend, Shirley Lee Ralph, Michael Ealy, Charles Burnett and Ruby Dee … you’ll see somebody.”
Some prominent guests will also be involved in community events, including animation, acting and filmmaking workshops. But for festival attendees who just want to catch a good movie, Simmons recommended the Haley House Bakery Café’s outdoor screening — a festival first — of “Jellysmoke.” starring Royo and Ealy, with the latter hosting a question and answer period afterwards.
Baxter said that bringing people together to enjoy a movie and talk about it is what the festival is all about.
“People can talk to the filmmakers during the festival, but they can also talk to each other,” she said.
The Roxbury Film Festival begins Monday, July 28, with a special sneak preview screening of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” and runs through Sunday, Aug. 3. Films will screen at theaters throughout the city, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the Roxbury Center for Arts at Hibernian Hall and at the Coolidge Corner Theatre. Tickets are available at www.brownpaperticket.com and www.bostix.com, as well as in person at A Nubian Notion, 41-47 Warren Street, Roxbury. For more information, visit www.roxburyfilmfestival.org.
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