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A Taste of Film backs Hub minority filmmaking efforts

Bridgit Brown | 8/18/2009, 6:58 a.m.

Don’t get Tracie Heather Strain started about the difficulties in raising money to produce independent films.

Strain talked about her experience with the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) during last month’s A Taste of Film fundraiser at the Roxbury Center for the Arts. Strain was able to finish her film, entitled “Lorraine Hansberry Documentary Project,” but the process was not without its moments.

“I wish that the Corporation for Public Broadcasting could hear the people who say that Lorraine Hansberry impacted their lives,” Strain said, quickly pointing out that CPB officials were unconvinced Hansberry — the legendary American playwright responsible for “A Raisin in the Sun” — was worthy of a film dedicated to her life.

“That was really disappointing, because we feel like they don’t get how big she is,” Strain said. “Being that the mission of public broadcasting is to serve underserved communities, you would think that they would get it.”

“It’s like a no-brainer. If you’re going to read a black play in the middle of an all-white community, you’re going to be reading ‘A Raisin in the Sun,’ because it is perceived as a ‘safe play.’” she continued. “That’s also one of the things that we’d like to dispel, because it was an activists’ protest play.”

A Taste of Film brought an intimate group of people together for a buffet-style dinner, film screenings and a chance to vent about the ins and outs of filmmaking.
Sponsored by the Color of Film Collaborative and the Kay Bourne Arts Report, A Taste of Film was an opportunity to screen the work of the collaborative’s mini-grant awardees and raise more money for next year’s mini-grants.

Eight filmmakers received mini-grants from the collaborative this year, ranging in size from $500 to $1,500, that helped to move their projects along. Next year’s request for proposals has already gone out, with a postmarked deadline of March 15.

“The goal of what we’re trying to do is build awareness of these films so that we can create a ‘venture capitalist’ type of account to bring filmmakers more money,” said Lisa Simmons, founder and executive director of the Color of Film Collaborative.

Simmons readily conceded that more and more money must come from individuals, as a result of the lack of funds awarded by private organizations.

Filmmaker Laurens Grant said she knows all about the struggle.

“When you’re an independent filmmaker, the fundraising and filmmaking journey is often quite lonely and you have to stick with it,” said Grant. “When you have organizations that are funding filmmakers of color in particular, they’re just so important because we all know that our stories aren’t being told.

“But I think that we also don’t realize who is in control of the networks and television programs and they, frankly, have to answer to their shareholders, [which means answering] to ratings. We also know the demographic that we’re trying to get and so we have to carve out a niche for ourselves as African American filmmakers and be better for it.”

Grant’s film “Journeys with Qaddafi” explores Al Saadi Qaddafi’s transition from sports to government. The son of Libyan President Moammar Qaddafi is reportedly worth $4 billion and has held various leadership positions in the world of soccer, including vice president of the Libyan Football Federation, president of the Libyan Olympic Committee and captain of Libya’s national soccer team.

The appeal of the documentary is its grainy portrait of Libya’s up-and-coming leader soundtracked by a fusion of traditional Arabic music and hip-hop.

“I wanted to get away from some of the stereotypes like playing Middle Eastern flute music,” Grant said. “Of course, they have this, but there’s also a new soundtrack with this new generation, and so I wanted to include some of that with the sounds of an Arabic rap group. I felt like mixing the traditions with the new music would also add to the film.”

Thato Mwosa, a filmmaker and native of Botswana, stood outside the ballroom with her 2-year-old son.

“When I made my first film, ‘Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,’ I submitted it to the Roxbury Film Festival and I won an award. This was in 2005,” said Mwosa, shifting her son from one hip to the other. “Then after that, the Color of Film helped to screen my film throughout Boston. Today I’m here because I’m showing a trailer of my film, ‘Break Dancing for Life,’ which they helped me with by giving me a grant.”

With the help of funding from the Color of Film, Jibril Haynes completed the feature-length film “Serial K,” starring former Boston Celtic M.L. Carr.

“It’s about these women who are being killed in the community of Boston by a Caucasian serial killer, but the State Department isn’t taking it seriously because, number one, the women are black, and two, the Department doesn’t see any connection because the crimes are happening all around the city and in different ways,” Haynes explained.

“Serial K” also tells the story of the challenges that a team of black police officers must confront while leading an investigation into a series of race- and gender-related crimes.

“Having M.L. Carr in the film was a great boost because he helped us to set up an interview with the owner of Showcase Cinemas” to discuss the kind of theatres where they can present “Serial K,” Haynes continued.

In “Lorraine Hansberry Documentary Project,” Strain uses unseen footage and audio to tell a story about the author’s life and work.

“One of the things we were able to do, with a day’s worth of shooting and the funding, was interview Lloyd Richards, who died two months after we met with him,” said Strain.

Richards was the original director of “A Raisin in the Sun.”

That’s where the Color of Film helps you, Strain explained: “People sometimes think they need so much money, but a little bit of money really make a difference.”

Strain’s respect for Hansberry was deeply rooted.
“She was not just a writer, but she coined the phrase ‘to be young, gifted and black’ while giving a speech to a group of African American kids who had won a writing prize from the United Negro College Fund,” Strain said. “At the end of the speech, Hansberry told the young people that there was nothing greater in the world than to be young, gifted and black.”