Reach Out in the Darkness 

The Nashville International Black Film Festival seeks to reconnect a divided city

Movies, if nothing else, are a universal icebreaker. If two people in a room can’t talk about anything else, there’s rarely a conversation-starter more effective than, “What’ve you seen lately?”
Movies, if nothing else, are a universal icebreaker. If two people in a room can’t talk about anything else, there’s rarely a conversation-starter more effective than, “What’ve you seen lately?” First, though, you’ve got to get the people in the room. And when the topic comes anywhere near race, it’s hard enough to get the door open, let alone get anyone inside. At the Belcourt Monday night, after a well-attended Q&A with The Confederate States of America director Kevin Willmott, Hazel Joyner-Smith from the sponsoring Fisk Race Relations Institute thanked the largely white audience just for showing up. Of course, the door shuts both ways. I’ve seen white folks blanch at the thought of setting foot on Jefferson Street, and I’ve had black folks tell me they don’t go to Hillsboro Village because they get a funny vibe. So to get everybody in the room, the Nashville International Black Film Festival is trying something sneaky. It’s linking Jefferson directly to Belcourt Avenue, using the movies as a two-way bridge. Starting Sunday, Fisk University’s 5-year-old film festival kicks off its biggest slate yet of screenings, panels and presentations. Among the more than 15 features screening through April 8 are films from South Africa, Nigeria and France; the Julianne Moore-Samuel L. Jackson drama Freedomland; and the award-winning doc The Boys of Baraka. In addition, there are films from black actors and filmmakers working in Nashville, including Reegus Flenory (Generational Curses), William Jenkins (“Stranded in Baltimore”) and Dante Harding (The Lost Dragon). “This year’s focus is opening up to the community,” says Chike Kani Omo, a festival volunteer and actor who appeared in Steven Spielberg’s Amistad. On that score, the festival has partnered with the Belcourt, splitting screenings between the Fisk campus and Hillsboro Village. Belcourt manager Steve Small hopes next year to boost the festival’s presence even more, possibly seeking out spaces throughout the Village for panels and discussions. The NBIFF is clearly a work in progress at this point. As coordinator Ingrid Brown and programmer Theeda Murphy say, the festival has many obstacles to overcome—including Fisk’s own limited resources. These days, though, the NBIFF headquarters have a run-and-gun buzz that’s invigorating. One freezing afternoon, Fisk alumnus John Simmons—a veteran cinematographer who’s worked with Charles Burnett and Spike Lee—planted his camera in a campus road, leading Fisk and TSU students in a “boot camp” of basic film storytelling. The result screens next week at the festival, fulfilling one of Murphy’s hopes: “learning to tell our own stories.” Festival synopses can be found in our Movie Guide on p. 78, and a full schedule of screenings and events is available at . The films below are among the local premieres: Red Dust (Wednesday, April 5) Hilary Swank and Chiwetel Ejiofor (Inside Man) add their formidable starpower to Tom Hooper’s courtroom drama, set against the backdrop of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation hearings—a remarkable event in which war criminals received amnesty if they made a full confession of their offenses under apartheid rule. Ejiofor plays a tortured political prisoner whose past comes into question; Swank is an American lawyer who joins the fight. Shown at the Toronto International Film Festival, this has yet to get a U.S. release. —JIM RIDLEY Dodge City: A Spaghetto Western (April 6) As its name implies, writer-director Read Ridley’s revenge drama brings the good-vs.-evil morality play of the traditional Western to the housing projects of the inner city. “When a community is left to its own devices,” says Ridley, “something of a ‘code of the old West’ will develop—unfortunately, a code of the gun.” Shot primarily in Nashville, the film stars Isaac Hayes and Jackson Bostwick (Captain Marvel from the TV show Shazam!) and features appearances by several local rap luminaries, including Quanie Cash, B. Hill, Cadence and Grandaddy Souf. For more information, visit, which launches this Friday. —JACK SILVERMAN Kirikou and the Sorceress (April 8) French animator Michel Ocelot delivers his first feature-length film with this finely rendered, precisely executed African folktale. Upon crawling unassisted out of his mother’s womb, the tiny infant Kirikou proceeds to solve the problems of his village, all caused by an ill-tempered sorceress named Karaba. The complicated portrayal of good and evil may be difficult for children raised on the binary world of Disney. But Ocelot’s colorful milieu and his skillful employment of Youssou N’dour’s score give the film an appealing sheen, even if it remains best suited to animation lovers, connoisseurs of African folk art and patient children with open-minded parents. —NOEL MURRAY


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