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Festival Review: Sweet Auburn International Film Festival

by Spencer Moon

Celebrating Cultures in Motion
May 12-13, 2006
Auburn Avenue Research Library

The Sweet Auburn Spring Fest 2006 partnered with the African American Cinema Gallery (AACG) to present their first annual international film festival. The Sweet Auburn Springfest has been a staple in the Southeast for more than 20 year,s attracting more than 350,000 patrons each year at their groundbreaking spring festival.

The founder of AACG & the Hispanic Cinema Museum (HCM), Len Gibson partnered with Sweet Auburn's director Charles Johnson as the film festival's director. "The film festival is going to add a special touch to the greatness that the Sweet Auburn Festival has already obtained. With the focus to bring various cultures together at the street festival the film festival is going to help that vision come to life," said Gibson.

The gallery and museum highlights the lives and work of African American and Latin film stars and is a visionary concept for the new century. With the rise of Hispanic political power, it is a concept whose time has come. Throughout the third and fourth floor of the library during the festival there were displays with photographs and information on the films and actors from both communities.

Over the two days, there was a clear international flavor to the films that were shown. Aside from Atlanta and other U.S. filmmakers, there were films representing Asia and Africa. In its first year, the audience for the film festival was small despite the throngs attending the street events of the Sweet Auburn Spring Fest.

The nine films screened over the two days featured some Atlanta filmmakers. The best film from Atlanta filmmakers was Anjanette Levert's The Wedding Proposal. The film was a docu-essay on Ms. Leverts personal search for a meaningful and significant relationship with a man. The film dealt with the socializations issues for men versus women. In her discussion group called "Sassy Sistas," the women offer their perspectives on issues such as personal integrity, their desire for children (not necessarily including a man), and the conflict between reality and actuality in relationships. Ms. Levert also includes opinions from both her mother and sister. This was a very personal, frank, honest and thought provoking work.

The other standout film from a southern filmmaker was Jazz Funeral for Democracy: A Wake for Peace by Louisiana filmmaker Luke Fontana. His film is a documentary that chronicles an anti-war, anti-Bush administration and policies march held January 20, 2005 (Presidential Inauguration Day) in New Orleans. The film shows protesters carrying signs and making speeches. One protester quotes Martin Luther King, saying "We want positive justice, not negative justice." The filmmaker juxtaposes images of the speakers with images of the brutality of the Iraq war and its affect on children, showing their bloodied and maimed bodies. A young girl speaks in protest, "Many of the victims (of the war) are like me. Yet many of the victims are not counted in the death tools."

In speaking with Fontana, he said his intent "was to make us be more conscious of what we are doing with the war and the deaths of all the people and children in this war and its aftermath."

Two outstanding international films were Broken Beads and Binta and the Great Idea, both narrative films. Broken Beads was written and directed by Canadian filmmaker Hari Das. The film is in Hindi with English subtitles. This film conveys East Indian cultural beliefs and social norms. Boys are the most favored child to bear, of most couples. For a poor family, the birth of a girl child can signal the beginning of financial ruin and extreme hardship. As a result, the practice of female infanticide is practiced in India, even today. In this film a mother has her girl child murdered by the mother-in-law. The baby girl is fed dry, unhulled rice that punctures the child's windpipe. This film tries to challenge these beliefs.

Binta And The Great Idea from Senegal, is written and directed by Javier Fesser. The film is in French with English subtitles. It is a wonderful film narrated by the little girl in the film, Binta. Her father goes from one bureaucratic office to the next presenting his idea for adoption of orphans by the Senegalese people. Along the way we see social customs that some families practice that prevent women from getting education and the efforts to break down those barriers. The excellent music soundtrack for the film combines traditional with contemporary Senegalese music.

In addition to nine films, there were two panels. One was on the subject of "Generational Barrier Breakers," tackling the subject of overcoming obstacles to break into the entertainment industry. The second panel was called "Creating Your Own Hollywood" that featured seven accomplished people with backgrounds as filmmakers, actors, writers, producers and talent coordinator they had a wealth of experience to share with the audience.

The Sweet Auburn International Film Festival 2006 Winners:

Best Film (Documentary): Binta & The Great Idea
Best Short Film: Endangered Species
Audience Choice Award: Jazz Funeral for Democracy

A very fine and auspicious start for a new film festival.