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In Los Angeles, grand outing for Pan African Film Festival

Celebrated every February in the United States of America, the Pan African Film and Arts Festival has gone from being a minority affair to one recognised by the mainstream. Agozino Agozino who attended this year’s festival, reports on a growing revival of interest in African cultural heritage among the black community.
Members of the organsing team of the festival
GROWING up in America during the early 1960s, the idea of celebrating African American film and arts festival would be unheard of.  The closest the blacks could get was flicks of a few individuals and of course, occasionally state-sponsored films that portrayed the black as an inferior race.
But the fact that African American films and heritage are today celebrated for two weeks,  every February, with hundreds of events in America is an astonishing turn-around.
Inspired by the philosophy of Marcus Garvey’s popular saying that “any race that forgets its history would go into extinction’’, the blacks seemed to have taken the telling their story through films into their own hands.
This year’s edition of the Pan African Film and Arts Festival (PAFF) which held from Thursday, February 4 through 15, at the Rave Cinema 15, Baldwin Hills, Crenshaw Plaza, Los Angeles was a remarkable outing because of the galaxy of stars  who streamed into the city to participate in  the 24th edition, which is a glorious one for the African American community.
Presented in an art fair format with out-door galleries taking cubicle spaces inside the very large centre to display their collections, the festival was also designed as a way of celebrating the best African American arts in and general creativity. The highlight of the festival was the opening night film selection which saw director Patrick Gilles’ America is Still the Place, premiered.
The film, uncovers a story about a giant oil spill on the beaches of northern California and the institutional racism that Charlie Walker has to overcome in order to finally achieve the “American Dream.” Based on a true story of one Black man’s courage and perseverance to provide for his family, the film takes viewers on a journey during the Black Power and civil rights era in San Francisco in 1971.
Another film premiered was the Agents of Change, from directors Abby Ginzberg and Frank Dawson, the film follows young men and women who were at the forefront of the student union takeover at Cornell University in 1969.
Agents of Change”  highlights the graphic footage of student demonstrators at San Francisco State in 1968 being beaten and arrested by the police. The images are the entry point to a powerful, but, little known story that took place during the Black Power and civil rights era: the struggle that erupted with demands for expanding the enrollment of black students and the creation of African American study centers across America at the end of a tumultuous decade.
The film tells the story of what they encountered, how they responded, and the continuing impact of the dramatic confrontations that followed. Directed by Abby Ginzberg and Frank Dawson, Agents of Change introduces a cast of largely unrecognized but remarkable people, whose commitment to justice and equality paved the way for the opportunities that followed, while also reminding viewers about the work yet to be done to achieve full equity and dignity on campus and in society.
Stars of the film include: Danny Glover (a leader of the Black Student movement at San Francisco State), Harry Edwards, Irene Smalls and more. Music was composed by Patrice Rushen.
Other films screened at the event included The Birth of a Nation ,a Net Parker directorial debut feature film about the Turner rebellion and Ryan Coogler’s  Black Panther.
Coogler, who emerged as one intelligent black film maker also featured in a PAFF panel discussion, Bridging the Divide, which featured Tom Bradley, Lyn Goldfarb and Freedom Ryder with Mary Lee, as moderator.
Also, African American music was not left out of the festival as musicians and friends shared their thoughts and memories of the late trumpeter, Miles Davis.
The children’s section, devoted to promoting creative thinking, was a spectacle as well as the section on the wearable art.
It is a testament for the organisers that the festival had spread from being a minority affair to being taken on board by the establishment, especially, going by the list of its sponsors. Most participants were proud to be at the event.
Held until February 16, the PAFF festival, apart from film screening, also featured a  symposium,  presentation of musical and cultural performances.
Participants at the art exhibition part of the festival included  art sales houses like Nigeria’s Ajayi Porter Olanrewaju gallery, Bamboozle Jewelry, Adrienne Locket Designs Jewelry, Aly Kourounia Fine Art, Anthony Ayanu Olumide Fine Art, Aroma Stories Craft, Ronney Fine Art, African Craft, Shannon Fine Art, Doors to African Crafts, Fatou Sembe Crafts, Felicia Martins Jewelry, Art by Cynthia Wearable, Harambe Market Crafts, Jarmon Wearable, Jeffery Stevens Fine Art, Luxor Crafts and Mariam Okoya Wearable.
Others included Martino Doors Fine Arts, Michelline Fashion, Nwachukwu Ike Fine Arts, Jim Rogers Fashion, Samuel Ebohon Fine Art, Sika Jewelry, The Maasai International Wearable, Third Generation Jewelry, Village Treasures Artifacts, Windows to Artifacts, West Love Fashion, and Zebi Ceramic.
There were also such Nigerian display houses as Vanessa Nzediegwu Fine Art, Ajibade Fine Arts, Balogun Makanjuola Fine Arts and Bruno Chibuzor Fine Arts.
The festival researcher director, Miki Goral said the goal of the festival is all about celebrating the African American heritage. Launched in 1992, following the struggle for racial equality, the event has  a goal to promote cultural understanding among peoples of African descent through art and film exhibitions. It hosts a film festival and an arts festival in California and Los Angeles every February of each year. TheLos Angeles Times once dubbed it as “the largest black film festival”.
Among those who played pioneering role were actors Danny Glover, Ja’net Dubois and Ayuko Babu, Glover and actress Whoopi Goldberg who co-hosted the initial opening of the festival and featured over 40 films by black directors from four continents.
Films at the first festival included Sarraounia, Heritage Africa, and Lord of the Street. In 2013, the festival attracted approximately 30,000 participants.  In 2014, it featured 179 films from 46 countries. The films included feature-length documentaries, short documentaries, narrative feature films, narrative short films among others.
The impetus for the festival is all about bridging the gap most young African Americans face by using black-oriented films that would not only tell the young generation of blacks their history, but, also counter the white-dominated films from Hollywood, which caste blacks in negative light.
The 15-day long festival organised as part of Black History Month, with the collaboration of African American community in California, ended on Monday February 15, with a special screening of “Miles Ahead, Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis film, which he directed and starred in.  All the films were screened at Rave Cinemas 15, located within the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza at 4200 Marlton Avenue in Los Angeles.
The festival seeks to counter negative stereotypes and encourage communication and understanding among people from various cultures and background. It is the largest and most prestigious black event and illustrates the wide range of experiences and perspectives among people of African descent.
Each year, the festival holds an awards ceremony honoring rising film stars, with past recipients including Idris Elba, Forest Whitaker and Sidney Poitier.
Agozino with Miki Goral at the event
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