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Black Arts Festival 2019: Experimental Film and Community Shine at Black Filmmakers Screening

By Derrick Ochiagha, Contributing Writer

On March 5, “From the Mind’s Eye” — a black filmmakers screening offered by Kuumba’s Black Arts Festival — brought experimental films and community discourse to the Leverett Library Theater.

The evening started with screenings of experimental films by students and black filmmakers, followed by a community discussion on the work presented. The films included “Office Hours,” a comedic look at the life of a teaching fellow by Jasi Lampkin, and Frances Bodomo’s “Boneshaker,” which chronicled an African family lost in America traveling to a Louisiana church.

Kuumba aims to improve whatever spaces it enters with new and diverse voices, according to its website— and BAF co-chairs Antonia L. Scott ’20 and Gabrielle S. Preston ’20 said that “From the Mind’s Eye” is one way to give black artists a platform.

“We wanted to create a space where we can give models for how to envision the world, and change the way we see the world and ourselves through the medium of film,” Scott said.

Films that represent a diverse group of artists are important because, according to Scott, blackness itself is not monolithic. “I wanted to make sure we featured people of different genders and from different regions,” she said.

The 2019 Black Arts Festival is the 21st in Kuumba’s history, and some viewers said that they felt excited to attend the screening because of Kuumba’s legacy. “I love BAF,” Ruva Chigwedere ’21 said. “I didn’t want to miss out on this event. I wanted to support Kuumba because they are doing great work.”

Other audience members said that they were drawn to particular films at the event. “Boneshaker” caught the attention of Taylor D. Shirtliff-Hinds ’21. “Although I was confused by it, I was also very moved, and you could feel the silence in the room as everyone was taking it in,” she said. “I think it’s really powerful that films can have that effect on people, and cause them to sit and live in the moment even after the moment of experiencing the film has ended.”

When asked whether black artists had a duty to use their platforms to evoke social change, Preston said that black art shouldn’t be held to that standard — instead, it should be judged on its artistic merit.

“I’m firmly in the camp of: ‘Nothing I do is necessarily related to my blackness or unrelated to my blackness.’ That’s the most viable way to look at a lot of this work,” Preston said.

“Unless the artist has spoken to their goals for the work particularly, I tend to view everything with a critical lense,” Preston added. “Not only asking what this is doing politically or culturally, but appreciating the work for its full potential instead of boxing viewers into only seeing it from that one perspective.”

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