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Roxbury Film Festival aims to inspire change

Shelly Runyon
Roxbury Film Festival aims to inspire change
Gal of Israel (l) and Rezan of Palestine (r) pose for a picture while visiting the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel during filming of "My So-Called Enemy.” The girls met seven years earlier at Building Bridges for Peace camp in the United States and consider each other to be best friends despite the fact that they live on either side of the conflict. (Photo: Good Egg Productions, Inc.)

Author: Good Egg Productions, Inc.Gal of Israel (l) and Rezan of Palestine (r) pose for a picture while visiting the wall that separates the West Bank from Israel during filming of “My So-Called Enemy.” The girls met seven years earlier at Building Bridges for Peace camp in the United States and consider each other to be best friends despite the fact that they live on either side of the conflict.

For the 13th year, the Roxbury International Film Festival (RIFF) will celebrate films made by or about people of color. The festival will run for four days starting one week from tomorrow on July 28.

This year RIFF showcases films that are a “call to action” and “affect change,” said Festival Director Lisa Simmons. She said that she hopes the films enlighten, inspire and move the audience to act.

Two films in particular promise to do just that. The first, “The Last Shot” was locally produced, cast and filmed in Boston. The narrative feature tells the story of teen violence in Boston and what happened one summer when boredom mixed with access to weapons created a series of unfortunate consequences for one local family. The film is inspired by true events.

“The Last Shot” tells the story of the Lewis family and how they are directly affected by the gun violence that surrounds them, even when as a family, they don’t own guns or believe in violence. Generational issues are explored as brothers pre-teen “Darnell” and high school senior, “J.J.” and their parents are morally tested and their futures put on the line.

Noah Cristofer, producer and CEO of Dorchester-based Beyond Measure Productions, said they wanted to tell this story in a new way, and inspire people to respond to community violence in a positive manner. While there was plenty of material for a documentary, he felt that the story could be told in a way that could unite the community by making it into a narrative feature.

“Everyone likes entertainment,” he said. Cristofer explained that rather than beating the audience over the head with a message, the feature film format allows audience members to “remember the visuals the way they want to.”

Cristofer said he hopes that the audience can relate to the themes of the drama and be inspired by how the family decides to forgive the problems they’ve faced rather than retaliate. If there isn’t structure in family, he said, “then a lot of these young kids are going to look for that in places where they shouldn’t look for that — that comfort, that security, that guidance.”

But sometimes they still look for it even when they belong to a strong family structure like the “Lewis’.” If they can experience all of the hardship that they do, and still choose to forgive, “The Last Shot” implies, then so can everyone else. After all, said Cristofer, “Forgiveness is really the only hope that we have.”

“The Last Shot” will screen at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday July 30 at Mass College of Art and Design.

A second film, “My So-Called Enemy,” also enlightens and inspires its audience, this time on an international level. The documentary was directed by Wayland, Mass. native Lisa Gossels, and it follows the stories of six Israeli and Palestinian teenagers who come to Building Bridges for Peace, a camp in the United States, to find a way to understand the other side of the conflict that overshadows their lives. Over ten days, they begin to build friendships amongst each other and their enemies become their lifelong friends.

“This is a film that in a face of marginalization is about embracing difference,” said Gossels. She said she hopes this film will inspire people to think about conflict resolution in terms of starting where they are and moving forward from there.

She explained that this film shows the dangers of carrying all of the baggage of generations past when dealing with any conflict. Gossels said, “As Rawan, a Palestinian in the movie at one point said, ‘you can keep doing that but there are dead bodies on both sides.’ ”

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is an extreme example of this, with the weight of a 60 year — or, depending on how you look at it, 3,000 year — conflict keeping future generations from living peacefully.

The film follows the six girls for seven years after Building Bridges for Peace as they take their experience at camp to heart and many make life-altering decisions to accept or reject their religion. For some this means embracing a hijab, or head covering, or choosing tattoos and piercings in rebellion.

For others this means choosing to participate in compulsory military service in Israel or choosing not to become a suicide bomber for the Palestinian resistance.

“It’s important to know where we come from,” Gossels said about the overriding theme of the film, but the important questions are: “What can we do today? How can we make things better? And the first step is having a conversation and listening.”

“My So-Called Enemy” will screen at Coolidge Corner on Monday, July 25 at 7:30 p.m. as a pre-opening night event.

The Roxbury Film Festival officially opens at the Museum of Fine Arts with, “The Athlete (Atletu).” This narrative feature is based on the story of Abeba Bikila, the first African to win an Olympic gold medal by running the marathon barefoot, a feat he accomplished in 1960 and ’64. This film, which is the first Ethiopian film to be considered for a Foreign Language Oscar, delves into the runner’s struggle to find meaning in his life after a car crash leaves him paralyzed and unable to walk.

Both starring in and directing the film is Rasselas Lakew who will be present for QandA at Hiberian Hall after the 8 p.m. screening on Thursday, July 28.

To see a complete listing of festival films and show times visit www.roxbury filmfestival.org.