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RoxFilm celebrates 25th year

Lineup includes screening of Boston-based short films

Olivia Grant
RoxFilm celebrates 25th year
“Stay Here With Me” PHOTO: COURTESY OF THATO MWOSA.

Twenty-five years ago, Candelaria Silva-Collins launched a Roxbury-based film festival with 10 films by local filmmakers centered around the African American experience. Ten years later the festival expanded to screen local, national and international films. At that time two sisters, Lisa Simmons and Alison Simmons Uvin, took over the festival and added “international” to the name. The Roxbury International Film Festival (RoxFilm) will celebrate its milestone 25th anniversary June 20-July 2.

RoxFilm, the largest Black film festival in New England, will screen its lineup in a hybrid format. The in-person programming occurs June 20-28 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Hibernian Hall and Northeastern University. The online festival is June 28-July 2 with a different program on ArtsEmerson’s virtual platform.

A still from “Tarneit” (2022, dir. John
Sheedy. PHOTO: COURTESY OF BUFFALO MEDIA

“There are people that can’t necessarily get to these spaces, and to be able to offer them the opportunity to participate in the festival is really important to us,” Lisa Simmons, the executive director, said in a Zoom interview.

The 25th anniversary will intentionally kick off the day after Juneteenth on June 20 with the Silver Celebration, 3-10 p.m. at the Bruce Bolling Building in Nubian Square and Hibernian Hall. The June 20 date was intentional since Simmons said she didn’t want RoxFilm to conflict with other Juneteenth events in the city. She wanted to “keep this continual Black joy going throughout the month of June.” 

The Bolling Building will host the “Next Generation” youth film screenings and an outdoor celebration. Hibernian Hall will be the site of a cocktail reception at 5:30 p.m. honoring six accomplished Black directors and actors with local ties. The honorees are Robert Patton-Spruill, Patti Moreno, Topper Carew, DeMane Davis, Michael Beach and Kasi Lemmons. A throwback screening of “Squeeze” will follow the ceremony. The film is directed by Roxbury native Patton-Spruill and was one of RoxFilm’s first-ever opening night films. 

This year’s program includes 24 local filmmakers among the festival’s 84 films. Simmons said local films were difficult to source and curate over the years, but that this year’s festival has an assortment of Boston-centric content. Screenings at Hibernian Hall are community-based programming with films on June 21 covering the COVID-19 pandemic and Black trans history in Boston. 

“A Great Day in Roxbury’s Highland Park” (2022, dir. Bithyah Israel) PHOTO: Hakim Raquib

One of the opening night films, “Welcoming the Embrace,” directed by Beyond Measure Productions, screens at the MFA on June 22 and illuminates locals’ reactions to “The Embrace” a statue dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr. in Boston Common. The other opening night film is a South African comedy directed by Bianca Isaac, “The Honeymoon,” which Simmons described as “‘Girls Trip’ meets South Africa.” A Q&A will follow both screenings.

Closing out the festival on June 28 is another throwback screening: “Eve’s Bayou” directed by Kasi Lemmons. Lemmons, who spent her childhood in Newton, will be in attendance for a discussion and Q&A. Simmons mentioned “Eve’s Bayou” is celebrating its 25th anniversary, and it’s the 26th anniversary for “Squeeze.”

“We’re bookending the festival. We’re opening with ‘Squeeze’ and ending with ‘Eve’s Bayou,’ because it’s so important to do these throwback films and support. And these filmmakers are getting honored at this year’s festival, so I think it’s just fitting,” Simmons said.

“The Honeymoon” (2023, dir. Bianca Isaac) PHOTO: COURTESY OF FIGJAM ENTERTAINMENT

In addition to screenings, the festival is hosting panels and workshops like the Daily Read on June 21. Local writers submit their scripts for the chance to have actors read them aloud at a table reading. There will also be a SAG-AFTRA workshop on the business of acting on June 24. At 5 p.m. on the same day as the acting workshop, the festival will also show a collection of Boston-based short films spotlighting neighborhoods like Roxbury and Mattapan at Hibernian Hall.

When Simmons reflected on her time at the helm of RoxFilm, she discussed the importance of showing these Black stories on screen.

“I think it’s really important for audiences to see themselves, she said. “I mean, representation matters and the more you see yourself on screen, that’s different from the mainstream images we see of ourselves, the more that validates who you are and how you walk in the world.”