This Saturday, February 21, Santa Barbara will host its annual African Heritage Film Series (SBAHFS), which is celebrating its 10th year of exploring the past, present, and future of African-American culture. Part of the month-long celebration of Black History month, which has included art and history exhibits, children’s activities, musical lectures, and a gala, the series’ organizers say the event is founded on the belief that “intolerance and misunderstanding are no match for interaction, education, and cultural awareness.”
“We’re very proud to be invited to a film festival that has such a lineage,” says director Nathan Ross Freeman, whose film Mr. Bones will be onscreen Saturday. Freeman congratulates the SBAHFS for beginning years ago, before digital technology made it easy for anyone anywhere to put together a film festival. Rather, the series was created when films were more expensive to make and to screen, so the festival had to set high standards early.
Mr. Bones, a story about three children who bond through the tragedy of a bus crash, is described by its director as “an Afro-centric plot that deals with universal themes.” Freeman believes that the power of stories told within the African-American culture lies not in their ethnic specificity, but in their ability to speak to everyone.
“I’m still a little put off by how we over ‘ethno-cize’ African-American culture,” said Freeman. “No one has more of a perspective of the rainbow that is America.” Often coming from diverse city centers, Freeman believes African Americans have had to intimately deal with America as a melting pot. That, he believes, gives African Americans “an education in humanity.”
African Americans began their stay in this country, said Freeman, “as the caretakers of this society.” Having lost so much of their original cultures during the years of American slavery, Freeman explained, African Americans have had to adapt to every other culture in the nation without making anyone adapt to theirs. Theirs, like American culture itself, had to be created.
“If you’re an African American, reared as an African American in any part of America, you are the American culture,” said Freeman. “That’s not necessarily a virtue,” he added, laughing, “maybe it’s our predicament.”
Giancarlo Esposito, director of another SBAHFS entry, explained that universality is not the only benefit afforded by the study of someone else’s culture. Esposito’s film Gospel Hill, a story about redemption and forgiveness, is set in a small Southern town still haunted 40 years after the murder of a civil rights activist. “It’s important to be exposed to each other’s culture and history,” said Esposito. In this spirit, Black History Month provides an important opportunity.
“While it’s unfortunate we have to have a month to celebrate black history, or anyone’s history, that we can’t learn about and celebrate each other year round,” said Esposito, “it’s the perfect time to open ourselves and learn, to know more about the people we live and work with every day.”
The story of Gospel Hill follows a racist who investigates his life in the face of his oncoming death. Esposito hopes his film shows that the work of the civil rights era is far from over, that the same problems we addressed in the 1960s remain, and that forgiveness and understanding should be our priorities. The message is self-reflexive. “Look at your past ills,” said Esposito. “Be ready to redeem yourself.”
Mr. Bones and Gospel Hill will be shown alongside The Price of Sugar, a documentary about plantation workers in the Dominican Republic, and The Right Man for the Job, a short satire about CIA training gone wrong. Altogether, they will remind us that our culture was created by input from many-that to love our whole, we should strive to honor all of our parts. After all, said Esposito, “We’re all in this together.”
The 10th annual Santa Barbara African Heritage Film Series is on Saturday, February 21, from 1-10 p.m. at Metro 4. See sbahfs.org for more info.