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Vineyard film fest to feature docs on Barry, Jackson 5

Bijan C. Bayne
Vineyard film fest to feature docs on Barry, Jackson 5
The 7th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival, running Aug. 5, 2009, through Aug. 8, 2009, will feature films about former District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry (below right), seen with his late wife Effi Barry,  and the Jackson 5 (above). (Photo: Below: AP /Bob Daugherty; Above: Motown Records)

The life and times of former Washington, D.C., Mayor Marion Barry. The first Disney animated film featuring a black princess. A documentary about the Jackson 5’s 1974 African tour. Screenings of these and more than 50 other films — all for a community buzzing with talk about Henry Louis Gates Jr. and the vacation of President Obama — make the 7th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) the place to be from Wednesday, Aug. 5, through Saturday, Aug. 8.

Organized by Run and Shoot Filmworks, a production company owned by Floyd and Stephanie Tavares-Rance, the festival’s events promise stimulating dialogue about the state of black film as well as a rare opportunity to see and discuss independent productions. The conditions for networking at the host hotel for the proceedings, The Mansion House in downtown Vineyard Haven, should be ideal, too. In recent years, prominent figures like Marla Gibbs, Ben Vereen, Professor Charles J. Ogletree Jr. and Delroy Lindo have participated in the MVAAFF as speakers, moderators, or panelists.

Floyd Rance said the organizers received 250 submissions for this year’s festival, of which only 55 were chosen.

“We are always extremely pleased with the growth of the festival,” he said. “It takes a year to put this event on, and to see your hard work come through is always a joy.”

Anticipated highlights among the scheduled activities include a “White Linen Rooftop Reception” atop the Mansion House, sponsored by Harlem Brew, on Thursday, Aug. 6; a party at The Mediterranean at the Island Inn later the same night; “Party Like It’s Your Birthday” at The Mediterranean the night of Friday, Aug. 7; and the always spirited filmmakers’ panel discussion on Saturday, Aug. 8, at the Katherine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven.

In a new twist, Saturday registrants for the festival may meet with a stylist for a style analysis. As always, there will be a director’s brunch hosted exclusively for participating filmmakers, which offers artists of all stripes a chance to break bread with their peers.

Special and debut screenings are always a popular attraction of the MVAAFF, and this year is no exception. “Jackson 5 in Africa,” tracing the famed group’s trip to Senegal, will be shown late on Thursday night, Aug. 6, at the Cornell Theatre.

On Saturday morning, Aug. 8, a 30-minute version of Walt Disney’s as-yet-unfinished “The Princess And The Frog” — an animated feature that has garnered headlines because its star character Tiana, voiced by actress Anika Noni Rose, is Disney’s first black princess — will screen at the Edgartown Cinema. Producer Peter Del Vecho will be on hand for a question-and-answer session after the screening, and animator Bruce Smith will lead an animation workshop.

The HBO Short Film Competition and Saatchi and Saatchi’s “Nothing Is Impossible” Awards presentation should also be Saturday highlights. The nominees in the shorts category include films about an African warrior queen, a young Philadelphia man’s choice between his father’s dreams and his own, a Confederate soldier in the Civil War, a man’s guilt surrounding his father’s death and the price of fame.

Capping off the Saturday festivities, HBO will present “The Nine Lives of Marion Barry” at 8 p.m. at Vineyard Haven’s Cornell Theatre. The documentary, which debuts for audiences nationwide on Monday, Aug. 10, on HBO, examines the former mayor’s complicated legacy.

For industry members, film fans visiting the island just for the festival or annual vacationers who make the MVAAFF a part of their seasonal itinerary, the Run and Shoot experience is well worth attending. The participants are genial, their accomplishments and productions are often impressive, and the Rances and their sponsors have a way of making the proceedings all feel like a cozy, yet classy, reunion.

“Doing an event in Martha’s Vineyard has its own set of challenges, so we are extremely proud to be able to accomplish this feat,” said Floyd Rance.

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Bijan C. Bayne is a cultural critic and summer resident of Martha’s Vineyard.