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Roxbury International Film Festival Celebrates global voices

Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Roxbury International Film Festival Celebrates global voices

What began as the Dudley Film Festival in 1999 to showcase independent filmmakers of color in Boston has since grown and expanded into the Roxbury International Film Festival — New England’s largest film festival celebrating films by, for and about people of color.

On the web

For a schedule of films and to purchase tickets, visit:!tickets/cq53

For more information on festival passes, Dinner & A Movie tickets and parties and workshops, visit:

This year, the Roxbury International Film Festival kicks off year 18 beginning on Wednesday, June 22 through Friday, July 1 with screenings at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. The festival has grown in size and in stature from those early days with the current slate of films reflecting and exploring a wide range of topics from racism and diversity (“Driving While Black” and “Remixing Colorblind”), to bullying (“A Girl Like Grace”), family drama and relationships (“The Good Son” and “You & Me”), to living one’s dream (“In This World”) and fatherless homes (“Daddy Don’t Go”).

Produced by The Color of Film Collaborative, RIFF will screen approximately 54 films, shorts and documentaries hailing from Canada, China, Iran, Spain, Nigeria, the U.K. and the United States. This year’s selections include a wide array of genres from animation (“JadyWady and the Bedbugs) and science fiction (“Running to Live, Living to Run”) to romantic comedies (“How to Tell You’re a Douchebag”). Of the increase in romantic comedies this year, Lisa Simmons, the festival director, said, “we were surprised at the number because the prior year we only had a few and the festival ended up being pretty doc-heavy. It’s nice to have them back and have films that are reflective of positive relationships among people of color.”

The festival offers something for everyone, beginning with one of the highly anticipated films of the festival, “The Amazing Nina Simone,” directed by Jeff Lieberman on opening night. The documentary which screens at 5 p.m. on June 22, chronicles Simone’s life from growing up in the segregated South to scaling the heights of the music world in the 1960s, followed by a second opening night film, Paul Sapiano’s dark comedy “Driving While Black” at 8 p.m. — a first for the festival.

Due to the abundance of submissions this year, Simmons decided on scheduling two films for the premiere. “We decided to do two opening night films that are very different from each other and would be a draw to different audiences. We are taking a gamble but we think it will work.” Prior to the screenings, vocalist Valerie Stephens will perform.

The second highly anticipated screening is the documentary “Soul On Ice: Past, Present & Future,” directed by Damon Kwame Mason. This film tells the story of the unknown contributions of black athletes in ice hockey, the barriers they broke, and the challenges they faced playing a sport that they loved. Following the screening, there’ll be a Q&A with the director and with Willie O’Ree, a former Boston Bruin and the first black player in the NHL.

Matthew A. Cherry’s “9 Rides,” which closes out the festival, is another film to look forward to. Shot entirely on an iPhone 6, the feature stars Dorian Missick (“The Good Wife” and “Being Mary Jane) as an Uber driver in Los Angeles who receives life-changing news on the busiest night of the year.

Local filmmakers are represented throughout the fest with contributions from Emerson College alum Nerissa Williams (“Ancestry”), Boston native Crosby Tatum (“Confused…by Love”), and youth from Madison Park High School and the Shelburne Community Center.

Over the course of 10 days, the festival will also include filmmaker hangouts at Darryl’s Corner Bar & Kitchen (June 23) and Slades Bar & Grill (June 24), a pitching session workshop at Dudley Café and a filmmaker meet-and-greet at Dudley Dough on June 28. The opening night after-party on June 22 will be held on the rooftop of the Revere Hotel in downtown Boston.

The intimate annual gathering known as “Dinner & A Movie” will be held on Monday, June 27 at 6:30 p.m. at the Haley House Bakery Café in Roxbury featuring Antoine Allen’s “Life Is Too Short,” a look at the lives of five New Yorkers dealing with a variety of life’s challenges and conflicts.

For Simmons, who has programmed the festival for the past several years, RIFF is a labor of love. She hopes that audiences “laugh and are inspired not only by what they see in these films but by the filmmakers who have created them.” She goes on to add that “it is such good work and we have to applaud the effort and commitment that goes into making these films, so having audiences come out to see the films and filmmakers, and participate in Q&A is priceless.”