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Sixth annual Denton Black Film Festival unites Black creatives through five-day event

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Article Originally Published by Christine Odwesso on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by on North Texas Daily

January 22nd marked the beginning of the 6th annual Denton Black Film Festival where people from across the nation flocked to the streets of the Denton Square to immerse themselves in Black culture. Each year, this festival hosts numerous events including workshops, screenings, jazz concerts, poetry slams and comedy shows. 

“The festival, at large, is an experience about highlighting Black culture, the diversity of Black culture and just giving a platform to highlight art and Black creatives,” Director of the DBFF institute and UNT MFA student Ebony Johnson said. “With the institute specifically, we are here to support and provide resources for creatives locally and nationally, so we’re excited to have a lot of facilitators across the country join us and provide education for different topics.”

The festival kicked off on Wednesday with the opening reception at UNT on the Square. The reception provided an opportunity for festival artists and attendants to mingle, and featured digital art from Dallas-based artist Vicki Meek.

Harry Eaddy, festival director for the DBFF, said during the opening reception that the purpose of the festival is to allow people to tell stories through a variety of different mediums.

“We are, in my mind now, a multidisciplinary platform,” Eaddy said. “And the reason we are is because if you look at most film festivals, it’s all film for the most part, probably 80 [to] 90 percent.”

The DBFF incorporates more than just film across the five-day festival, Eaddy said. Over the years, the DBFF has introduced other mediums of creative storytelling like art, music, spoken word and comedy. Last year, they started a DBFF institute for creatives.

“We really try to make sure that we don’t just entertain you — we want to educate you,” Eaddy said. “But then lastly, we want to inspire you.”

The festival has attracted people from all across the nation, from all walks of life, including Stephanie Clarke, a mother who has worked within the film industry and was interested in attending on behalf of her son. 

“I’m here because I have a grown son who’s a filmmaker and I thought it would be educational and entertaining for me personally,” Clarke said. “But I also knew that in between films I wanted to see [if] there would be workshops that I could attend on his behalf.” 

Clarke said the film festival featured a multitude of learning opportunities and experiences ranging from jazz concerts to short films and panels centered around the history of Black comedy. 

“I think the Denton Black Film Festival has done a fantastic job of mixing educational things with entertainment activities,” Clarke said. “There’s been a gospel service, comedy competitions and documentaries like the one I’m going to see on the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. They’ve done a great job of covering all their bases with entertainment, cultural enrichment and things that are just purely fun. I’ve been to the New Orleans film festival and a couple of others and I just have to say that this one is top notch.”

Chris Omni, executive director of Kujima Health in Topeka, Kansas, was a first-time attendee of the festival. Omni, known as ‘The Health Hippie’ in her hometown, is currently working on her own documentary about Black women’s health called “Lift Every Voice” and said what drew her and her husband to the Denton Black Film Festival was the title.

“I saw plenty of film festivals out there that were within an eight hour drive but not a single one really had a focus on Black people,” Omni said. “I want to know about the artistry. I want to know about their gifts. I want to know about how they go about delivering their voice.”

Omni said the fact that people in Denton created an avenue for Black voices to be heard through storytelling made it well worth the six and a half hour drive from Topeka.

“Every single time you turn on the TV, the white story is told, and you don’t have to come out and say that it’s a white film festival,” Omni said. “So being able to have a venue [in Denton] where it’s a safe space, it’s a supportive space and it’s targeting Black people is the reason why we are here.”

Canadian filmmaker Tristen Sutherland said the festival provides a space for independent, upcoming filmmakers to present their work and speak from their unique perspectives. 

“I came to Denton because my short film ‘Owen’ premiered last night,” Sutherland said. “I was really nervous to come to Texas but everyone has been so open and welcoming. I was also nervous because of the nature of my film. It’s about a teen coming out to their parents as transgender. I know that a lot of people argue that coming out stories are overdone but for me it was important to see a coming out story that has to do with gender and with a Caribbean family. You get your ‘Love Simons’ but it’s a different dynamic when your coming out to your Black parents who have a different relationship with religion, gender and respectability politics, so I really wanted to capture that in the film.”

While the festival provides a platform for creatives to share their work and experience culture, it also provides various workshops in which artists can equip themselves with the necessary tools to become successful within the industry. 

“Making documentaries is about crowdfunding, being a part of the community and learning how to pitch your story and be a part of the business,” Johnson said. “You can make a film that is creative and beautiful, but you have to understand the business of how to get it seen by people.” 

Johnson also said that curated spaces for Black creatives are important because they create a space in which Black artists can feel appreciated for their work. 

“I don’t think we get enough spotlight in general,” Johnson said.  “There are so many independent voices and storytellers that just wanna find that space to share with an audience and a film festival is that place, so I’m glad we have DBFF because I think Black artists need to feel validated.” 

Vikki Meek, a featured artists whose work centers around heightening awareness of Black issues, echoed that sentiment. 

“I think we all know that when people see themselves represented in society they feel more apart of that society,” Meek said.  “Representation is important. It’s why we fought so hard to get Black history in the books for children to learn about in schools, because when you don’t see yourself, when your absent from the dialogue, you really begin to wonder whether or not your worth something in society. So representation is a critical thing.” 

This representation, this outlet for voices that may not have a platform elsewhere, is exactly what Eaddy wants to encourage through the festival.

“Whether you know it or not, you are all storytellers,” Eaddy said at the opening reception. “[You] may have a film, you may do spoken word, you may do comedy, but we’d love to hear you perform.”

Featured Image: A comedian performs standup at the Denton Black Film Festival’s first Comedy Competition on Jan. 24, 2020. Image by Oscar Lopez

Source: North Texas Daily

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