Hollywood Black Film Festival

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Hollywood Black Film Festival

Date Observed: One week in June
Location: Hollywood, California

The Hollywood Black Film Festival has fast become an industry-recognized cinematic event since its inception in 1999. The June festival highlights the talents of both up-and-coming and established African-American men and women in the filmmaking profession.

Historical Background

African-American filmmakers have been producing movies since the early 1900s, particularly after the release of D. W. Griffith's 1915 film, The Birth of a Nation. That silent film depicted the post-Civil War South being overtaken by blacks, glorified the racist and violent actions of the Ku Klux Klan, and generally characterized African Americans (usually played by whites in blackface) as disreputable, stupid, and devious. To counter the stereotypes, which were widely accepted by white America at that time, black filmmakers produced motion pictures that presented African Americans in positive, real-life portrayals. But African-American producers did not work within the Hollywood environment. Rather, they were independent and sought their own financing, distribution, and audiences.

One of the independent moviemakers was the famed Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951), the son of former slaves, who began his own film company and released his first film in 1919. From that date until 1948, he produced dozens of silent and "talking" (sound) films. He was the first African American to produce a feature movie in sound. His work was part of a genre called race films, because they were directed to primarily black audiences.

Over the years, black filmmakers have continued to make movies aimed at AfricanAmerican viewers, but they have also made films that are considered "cross-overs" - appealing to a wide range of audiences. In order to get their movies noticed, independent black filmmakers depend on festivals and similar events for showings, such as the African Diaspora Film Festival, New York, New York; Colored Pictures, Durham, North Carolina; Pan African Film & Art Festival, Beverly Hills, California; Houston Black Film Festival, Houston, Texas; and Reel Black Men, Los Angeles, California (see also African American Women in Cinema Film Festival; American Black Film Festival; Denver Pan African Film Festival; and Pan African Film & Arts Festival).

Creation of the Festival

In 1999 the Hollywood Black Film Festival screened its first films in an effort to unite black filmmakers, television and film actors, writers, directors, industry executives, upand-coming talent, and new audiences. By bringing these varied groups together, organizers aimed to help launch careers and movies that otherwise might languish from want of exposure.


The main thrust of the festival is to screen a wide variety of independent films submitted from all parts of the globe. Entries include features, shorts, documentaries, student films, and music videos. Screenings are held at the Harmony Gold Preview House located on Sunset Boulevard. Juried prizes are a highlight of the week's closing events.

An Infotainment Conference is also scheduled in concert with the festival. Talk-show style forums comprised of top stars, directors, producers, agents, business managers, and the like are a popular draw. Conference classes run the gamut from film distribution and production to writing for film and TV to pitching a script; even actor-specific workshops are offered.

Contacts and Web Sites

Harmony Gold Preview House 7655 Sunset Blvd. Hollywood, CA 90302 310-712-3998; fax: 928-447-2127

Hollywood Black Film Festival, Inc. 4201 Wilshire Blvd., Ste. 600 Los Angeles, CA 90010 323-526-5742; fax: 310-943-2326

Further Reading

Johnson, Lynn d. "The Distribution of Black Films." Bright Lights Film Journal, April 2002. . Sylvester, Melvin. "African-Americans in Motion Pictures: The Past and the Present." Schwartz Memorial Library, Long Island University, 1999 (updated 2005). http://www .liu.edu/cwis/cwp/library/african/movies.htm
African-American Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2007
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