Boxoffice recently caught up with The Hollywood Black Film Festival's Greg King, director of press & public relations and Jacqueline Blaylock, director of programming to discuss the impact of their widely-attended festival as well as issues facing their community. Please make sure to check out the film's official site here for info on screenings and other events.
The Hollywood Black Film Festival is taking place from October 27-30 at the Andaz-West Hollywood Hotel in Los Angeles.
What kind of shape do you think black cinema is in?
Jacqueline Blaylock: In general, the state of black cinema is as healthy as it's ever been. I think the marketplace kind of bears that out when you look at the number of new filmmakers that are coming into the marketplace—those that are shifting their position, those that are kind of replacing other filmmakers. In the past we might have had one or two go-to filmmakers and that has expanded to include a whole list of filmmakers. You have Tyler Perry, but you also have the Antoine Fuqua, F. Gary Gray, Will Packer and Rob Hardy out of Atlanta. I think the landscape has only broadened. I think filmmakers still think there's room for growth.
Greg King: Also, when you look at black filmmakers they aren't necessarily making what's referred to as "black" projects. Look at John Singleton doing Abduction recently. It's just not black story lines anymore. People are understanding that black filmmakers can tell universal stories. As you look at the entire scope of black film and black media entertainment general there is so many new outlets for black filmmakers to have a voice. You've got black filmmakers who are also doing stuff online. BET is doing it in a major way. The distribution landscape has expanded.
Jacqueline: When we talk about black filmmakers, we often limit the scope. But we are telling universal stories. Ethnicity and heritage should be secondary to the ability to tell stories.
Would you say that one of your main goals is to drive home the point that just because you're a black filmmaker doesn't mean you need to make black cinema?
Jacqueline: It's something that is uniform to who we are. We've never told filmmakers to limit their story lines or the scope of their storytelling. Any filmmaker will tell stories that have their point of view, that have their voice and come from their perspective, but the good stories are universal. What we look for are filmmakers who tell good, universal stories.
Greg: If you look at HBFF in general, one of the things that is unique about us is our infotainment panels. We really want to educate filmmakers so that they understand that there's a large diaspora of stories that can be told. Our panels feature people of all ethnicities who can share their knowledge and experience and can teach these filmmakers of color to be the best at their game. The essence of this festival is to help these filmmakers of color tell some dynamic stories that reach everyone.
Jacqueline: Filmmaking is art, but moviemaking a business. There are a lot of moving pieces that go into having a successful career, and that includes understanding finance, distribution, packaging, music as well as all of the key talent that goes into filmmaking. So our objective is to bring in executives that also help filmmakers understand the marketplace. It's now a global marketplace and there are multiple platforms out there and you have to understand how to use them.
Unfortunately, and I'm sure you hear this argument a lot from your constituents, what sells often doesn't advance the community and it enforces stereotypes. How do you steer filmmakers in the right direction?
Jacqueline: What I see as a programmer is that I don't get many submissions that stay restricted to that kind of storytelling. There's a multitude of stories out there that impact our community. None of the filmmakers that I ever deal with limit themselves by what they think the market is going to buy. They come here to figure out a way around the limitations that mainstream media is trying to put on them.
Greg: The great thing about festivals is you see things that aren't always mainstream. Chances are you are going to see stories that range the gamut. The challenge is letting Hollywood know that there are stories that range that gamut and that consumers of color will buy other things. They will come out to watch great story lines that independent filmmakers are making. We go out and watch stories made by everyone.
Jacqueline: The festival has developed a reputation as being the festival where you're going to find some of the higesht caliber filmmakers. When distributors come out to the festival they may be looking for a certain type of film and it could be that traditional "hood" story—for lack of better phrasing—but what they also come away with when they see other films is that there is talent out and I should take a change on new filmmakers and genres. Identifying talent is one of the things to come out of this festival. We indentify, cultivate and nurture that talent. We are constantly bringing new people to the marketplace.
Part of the problem in Hollywood is that when you are successful doing one thing, they want you to repeat that success over and over and over again. If well-know filmmakers try to break out of that it's perceived as being less successful. We give filmmakers the chance to grow at the festival.
Hollywood still has a long way to go when it comes to presenting the African-American community. Even a mainstream success like The Help draws criticism for how African-American characters are presented.
Jacqueline: I can only speak from a personal perspective here. I think the issue that some people has is they want to see other stories or other perspectives. Because during the '60s not every black person was domestic help, and there's nothing wrong with being domestic help, but you have to know and understand that the one stereotype was not representative of everybody who walked through the ‘60s. I think it's comfortable and easy for Hollywood to portray a character in a certain light because that's the way we've seen them. It takes other people to choose other perspectives, and those are just as authentic.
The exchanging of words that's going on right now between Tyler Perry and Spike Lee is something that fascinates me. These are two filmmakers who have an immense impact on your festival specifically. How do you reconcile these two different voices at your festival?
Jacqueline: My opinion is, and I don't want to come across the angry black woman here, we tend to try and pick winners and losers in the media. There should be room for a wide range of opinions about the state of black cinema. I won't categorize one way or the other who is right and who is wrong, because I don't think it's a matter of that. They are both entitled to their opinion. Sometimes criticism is good because it forces us to take a look outside of our comfort zone, but on the other hand nobody wants to have their work disparaged.
Greg: It's important for them to both have a voice. They both should have the opportunity to present their points of view and their own form of entertainment.