Current temperature in Boston - 62 °
Get access to a personalized news feed, our newsletter and exclusive discounts on everything from shows to local restaurants, All for free.
Already a member? Sign in.
The Bay State Banner
The Bay State Banner

Trending Articles

Cambridge Jazz Festival at Danehy Park — all that jazz (and so much more)

Former 1090 WILD-AM director Elroy Smith to host reunion for some of Boston’s best radio personalities

A tribute to a real hero named Mike Rubin


Roxbury International Film Festival brings underrepresented voices to the screen

Lineup features big names, including a Luther Vandross documentary and a film starring Colman Domingo

Mandile Mpofu
Roxbury International Film Festival brings underrepresented voices to the screen
A still from “Privilege Pack (The Movie)” directed by Kat Otuechere. PHOTO: Courtesy Kat Otuechere

Banner Arts & Culture Sponsored by Cruz Companies

Every year since its founding in 1999, what’s now known as the Roxbury International Film Festival has brought underrepresented stories to silver screens in Boston.

Established to support local filmmakers who were snubbed from other festivals, RIFF has evolved into the largest festival in New England by and for people of color. Screening films from across the globe, RIFF allows audience members “to see more of themselves reflected in mainstream media,” said Lisa Simmons, the festival’s artistic and executive director and founding member.

“We see ourselves as a filmmakers’ festival,” she said, which means supporting the filmmakers and their storytelling, providing networking opportunities and hosting regular filmmaker events.

This year, RIFF will run in person from June 20 to 28 and online from June 27 to July 2, and will feature filmmaker hangouts, panels, workshops and daily script-reads. On screen, audience members will witness stories about Boston Public Schools students, a grieving father and daughter duo, real-life African American legends and more.

“The fact that the festival focuses on untold stories … it carves out a space that’s really important in general in the world, [and] in Boston that has this terrible history of racism and segregation, and creates a platform for people of color to speak out and elevate their lives in words,” said Mindy Fried, a sociologist and the director of Hoopla Productions.

A still from “Open Your Heart: Immigrant Stories from Boston and Beyond” directed by Jesse Ericka Epstein. PHOTO: Courtesy Mindy Fried

Fried is one of the creators of the documentary short, “Open Your Heart: Immigrant Stories from Boston and Beyond,” which screens on June 23 during the festival’s local filmmakers slot, with free admission to all. The film, directed by Jesse Epstein, follows a group of young people working to translate the lived experiences of seven immigrant activists into a staged production.

The 2024 festival will be Boston native Kat Otuechere’s directorial and executive-producer debut when her film, “Privilege Pack (The Movie)” screens after Fried’s. The fictionalized short is a visual album based on the soundtrack of the same name by artist Ant Thomas, and chronicles a young Thomas’ life growing up Black in the South End.

“As I embarked on my filmmaking journey, years ago, I had no cool spaces like this [where] such opportunity and support existed right here in my hometown,” Otuechere said. “I’m just looking forward to connecting with more folks that share the passion for film and also across mediums.”

When selecting the lineup, Simmons said, RIFF simply looks for good storytelling. She found that in this year’s opening night selection, “Luther: Never Too Much,” which she said she’s particularly excited about. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Dawn Porter, the documentary weaves together archival footage and retrospective interviews to tell the story of music legend Luther Vandross.

Closing out RIFF will be festival favorite “Sing Sing,” a heartwarming fictionalized film about a real-life group of inmates at the New York prison who form a theater troupe, led by a character played by actor Colman Domingo.

Beyond entertainment, Simmons wants the film festival to be a space where audience members can be enlightened about different cultures and people, to leave feeling like they know more than they did before they entered the screening room.

“I want them … to learn something new about a particular person, particular story that they had never even heard about before or known about before,” she said. “I love when audiences come out of a screening and say, ‘Oh, my goodness, I had no idea … that that was happening in that particular time in that particular place in the world.’”

arts, film, Kat Otuechere, Lisa Simmons, Mindy Fried, RIFF, Roxbury International Film Festival, RoxFilm