African-American Women in Cinema: Celebrating Ten Years

This past summer I bemoaned the paucity of fare on the television screen that reflected my reality. This fall my lot is about to change, as I am faced with an array of choices. On November 9th, African-American Women in Cinema (AAWIC) will launch its film festival -- for the tenth year in a row.

Terra Renee, founder of African-American Women in Cinema initially launched the festival with an eye toward expanding, exploring and creating opportunities for minority women filmmakers within the entertainment industry. In an email exchange last week, Ms. Renee reiterated the mission statement of AAWIC, which is "to provide a platform for aligning experienced and novice filmmakers, directors, producers, screenwriters, and/or actors."

AAWIC's three-day film festival will highlight the work of aspiring and prominent women filmmakers of African, Latin and/or Asian descent throughout the diaspora. All participants of the festival will have the opportunity to attend dynamic events. This includes the VIP Red Carpet Opening Night Premiere Feature Film, keynote panel and celebrity workshops, the AAWIC Awards Ceremony honoring Best Film, Best Script, Pioneer and Trailblazer awards. To highlight the 10th year AAWIC has added a very special guest host and speaker for the highly anticipated Women in Cinema Empowerment Brunch, which will close out the festivities.

The panel that appeals to me the most is Women, Images and Media to be moderated by Michaela Angela Davis. Panelists include Sharon Thomas, Jennifer Oxley and The Paper Dolls, and will explore the impact media images have on women. The films to be screened, selected by a panel of industry professionals (filmmakers, writers, directors and producers), address a cross-section of issues. Bushwick Homecomings is a documentary that looks critically at a Brooklyn community in the midst of rapid change and addresses the issue of gentrification. Hurricane Katrina takes a hard look at the storm's destruction in New Orleans, LA and Biloxi, MS, capturing the angst and fortitude of survivors and community activists determined to rebuild.

Film festivals can trace their provenance as far back as the 1920s, when film societies and cine-clubs emerged in response to the powerful Hollywood film industry. Initially, most film clubs and societies were located predominantly in Western Europe where they provided an outlet not only for films produced locally by aspiring filmmakers, but for documentary and avant-garde film.

First on the scene, in 1932, was Italy's International Exhibition of Cinematographic Art. France's Cannes Film Festival made its debut in September 1939. Germany's Berlin Film Festival was established in 1951. In 1963, film enthusiasts witnessed the launching of the New York Film Festival at the Lincoln Center -- modeled, in part, after the London Film Festival.

So you ask, why are film festivals still relevant today? Last month, the National Museum of Women in the Arts (NMWA) hosted the 20th Anniversary Festival of Women's Film and Media Arts, with the aim of narrowing "the gender gap within the world of filmmaking and to film a void of film and media work made by women, particularly work that is relevant to the lives of our local constituency." According to NMWA, "no woman has ever won an Academy Award for directing, and only three women have ever been nominated for that honor. Women made up only 7 percent of directors of the top grossing 250 films of 2006. In the recent National Society of Film Critics publication of 100 'essential films,' only 4 out of 41 were women."

Film festivals such as the one sponsored by AAWIC still serve an indispensable role in the distribution of films. AAWIC's Film Festival, unlike other film festivals in the NYC area (such as the TriBeca Film Festival, for example), focuses on women of color. But AAWIC does not work in isolation, opting instead to promote and encourage diversity and cultural exchange by actively seeking out both creative and business collaboration and alliances with any other organizations that share similar goals and ideals.