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RIFF impresses audiences with diverse film offerings

Shelly Runyon | 8/3/2010, 9:46 p.m.
Jeanne Pinedo, Terri Brown and Lisa Simmons welcomed guests to the RIFF during the opening ceremony at Hibernian Hall  last Thursday. This year was the 12th annual festival and it took place from July 29 – Aug. 1. Shelly Runyon

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Jeanne Pinedo, Terri Brown and Lisa Simmons welcomed guests to the RIFF during the opening ceremony at Hibernian Hall  last Thursday. This year was the 12th annual festival and it took place from July 29 – Aug. 1.


Film producers from all over the world intermingled with the Boston community to celebrate talent and learn from each other during last weekend’s 12th annual Roxbury International Film Festival (RIFF).

The event opened last Thursday night with a packed crowd teeming with excitement. On stage The Rajdulari Jazz Project serenaded the community as they picked at a buffet of appetizers and mixed drinks before attending the opening night show, “Speed-Dating.”

At the event, Mekita Faiye, producer and star of “Speed-Dating” personally invited everyone to attend the showing of the film at the Museum of Fine Arts. She said she was honored to open the festival and explained, “I really appreciate them giving us a vehicle to tell our stories. Because if [the RIF] wasn’t here, we wouldn’t be here.”

The community vibe was strong throughout the weekend. With more than 50 films to screen, viewers were challenged and impressed by filmmakers, many of whom  spoke before and after their respective screenings.

As they shared the process of producing their film and why subject matter was important to them, it was hard not to feel a deep connection between the maker and the movie. Many stories began with a family rumor or memory and blossomed into a journey of self-discovery through the camera’s lens. The effect was obvious — after each screening groups of audience members huddled around producers discussing the high points of their film.  

Two such filmmakers screened their very personal journeys this weekend, garnering praise from both audience members and critics.

 Guenny Pires shared his three-year investigation into his family’s past which led him to São Tome and Cape Verde in search of his uncle in “Contract.” His uncle, Valdemiro Andrade of Cape Verde, accepted a three-year contract assignment in São Tome in 1964, which turned into a lifetime of punishing work in the cocoa fields. With a pay-rate at $33 per month Andrade was too poor to return home even after more than 45 years of work.

The movie began with a question from Pires’ mother — what happened to her brother? The film ended by exposing devastating human rights violations which continue today in São Tome and Principe.

“I am very emotional tonight,” Pires said after the screening to a sold-out audience. In Portuguese and English he shared how he came to make this film “to promote my cause and my people.”

He explained that “the situation is very hard, very sad,” in São Tome and asked the audience to support him as well as to send money to São Tome, Principe and Cape Verde to help those facing extreme poverty and enslavement. The audience responded by purchasing his previous films on DVD and exchanging hugs and stories with Pires after the screening.

“Contract” was awarded the 2010 Henry Hampton Award for Best Documentary Filmmaking at Sunday morning’s award ceremony.

In another touching screening, Chico Colvard of Boston shared “A Family Affair,” a story of his family’s history which he admits, “came from a place of fear.” Colvard’s family was blown apart when he accidentally shot his sister Paula with a rifle.