The Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Series (SBAHFS) returns on October 13 with a night of community-building solidarity and thought-provoking examinations on some of today’s most pressing issues. Founded in 2000 and deemed by Executive Director Dr. Gwendolyn Hampton as one of Santa Barbara’s “best-kept secrets,” this iteration of the special film engagement will feature two films, Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot, and Fannie Lou Hamer: Courage and Faith. Though focusing on events that occurred decades ago, both films shed a historical light on the injustices and discriminations facing many Americans today, and offer reasons for optimism and activism in a still heartbreakingly divided and sometimes hateful climate. What’s more, they do so with an election just around the corner.
The SBAHFS began as a larger-scale affair, with 20 films on the roster, but downsized due to funding limitations. Nonetheless, the original intent endures, with films that excite and provide insight. “We have been blessed to show films that are entertaining as well as educating,” Hampton said. “Our films are not African films, and they are not all African-American films. But we have always strived to show films about where Africa has touched — which is most countries in the world — and although we are not an international festival, our films are varied.”
This year, the documentaries describe the people behind two of the civil rights era’s most decisive moments: the Selma-to-Montgomery voting-rights march; and Fannie Lou Hamer’s Freedom Democrats challenge to the seating of an all-white, anti-civil-rights Mississippi delegation at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. SBAHFS secretary Rachel Becerra says she hopes the films will inspire younger viewers in a time when many issues of racial inequality are violently flaring up. “Both of these films can introduce to the young and remind the rest of us of an era of effective activism; that because of what occurred during that era, it created an atmosphere of unity and reconciliation, and that’s what’s falling apart right now,” she said.
Not to be confused with Selma, the critically acclaimed 2014 dramatic re-enactment for which the SBAHFS gave a special screening prior to its widespread release, The Bridge to the Ballot documentary touches on some of the lesser-known facts and faces of the movement, “how children and young people” were among those who “put their lives on the line,” Hampton said — and for this reason, children and teens get in free.
Fannie Lou Hamer, meanwhile, tells how a sharecropper rose to be one of the most active of civil rights activists, and perhaps one of its most unsung heroes. Her struggle to reform the process by which major party presidential candidates are nominated is a reminder to be “mindful of the things that are important to us as Americans, and the importance of voting — and no matter what, or how bad it seems, it’s still important to vote and to not lose faith,” Hampton said.
Becerra said the organizers of the film series intend to emphasize the importance of individual political action through the screenings and discussions and to remind voters of their own efficacy. “Instead of waiting for an elected politician to bring about change, the change has to start from the bottom up, and these movies show that [during the civil rights era] even children got together — young, old, black, white, whatever color — to embrace each other and embrace each other’s needs,” she said.
So come together with the community and celebrate the diversity that makes it strong. Though there still may be more political battles to be won, festivals like these are a reminder that there are many people locally who are doing what they can to bring about the further changes that are surely going to come.
The S.B. African Heritage Film Series takes place at the Arlington Theatre (1317 State St.) at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, October 13. For more information, call (805) 564-4016 or visit sbahfs.org.