Sunday, August 26, 2007

3rd Annual Atlanta HipHop Film Festival - Recap

Also posted at Southern Screen Report

The 3rd Annual Atlanta HipHop Film Festival was held August 24 - 26th, in the conference center of the Holiday Inn Select, near Turner Field. This last minute change in venue proved to be quite a logistical challenge in managing such an ambitious group of programs. The AHHFF had a full schedule of forums and workshops in addition to three full days of screenings, Q&As, and not to mention a closing night awards ceremony. I intended to screen as much as possible, while also attending the Atlanta Underground Film Festival, which was running concurrently. However, the opening day screenings were delayed by two hours, as the hotel was unable to provide a 'screening room' on time. There was in-house media tech support, but they seemed challenged in setting up a simple sound and screen system. (I knew it was going to be a LONG weekend for them, since even I supplied a cable for the projector set-up.) In the meantime, the media was encouraged to interview attending directors and panel speakers. (Unfortunately, I am not experienced in interviewing, especially on the topic of hiphop culture.) The hotel was unable to provide a room for that too, so interviews were held in a spare space of the restaurant. Tambria Peeples, the press representative from the p.r. firm handling the festival, was the only voice of any authority present. She ably pulled together registration and equipment for press interviews.

As the confusion continued and the festival's activities were caught in a state of limbo, I couldn't help but feel that I was in an episode of "The Apprentice". I don't know where the festival management was, and there was no sign of hotel management providing help. Perhaps they were locked in a room somewhere, trying to figure all this out? During the projector set-up, the dvd player that was provided was not reading discs, so a volunteer from registration offered up his laptop. That is where my offering up the cables to hook it to the projector and sound system came in. (I was traveling with my laptop and bag, which has the cables for just such an occasion.) It is also disappointing to note that during all this confusion, and what might be considered a disastrous start to a long weekend ahead, the hotel did not even offer water or coffee to the volunteers or the attendees who were milling about, waiting for the room to open and get set up.

I fear that with such a rocky start on the first day, which was scheduled to end only a couple of hours after it finally got started, that this might have been a financial flop for Creative Circle Entertainment, which produced it. I did not notice a great deal of business taking place, i.e. ticket buying. It appeared that the majority of attendees were filmmakers and media. I do not know for a fact, but I would guess that the later screenings on Friday afternoon were canceled due to time, as was the last screening on Sunday. It appeared that the panel discussions were well attended and quite lively though, as I did peek my head in one during my wait for the films.

It might behoove the producers of this event to break it into two parts in the next year. One conference of workshops and panels, and one of screenings. Perhaps, if timed far enough apart, the screenings might be a way of presenting the efforts of and products of the earlier conference. Also, as far as space is concerned, though I am a new arrival to Atlanta of only six months and am far from an expert on possible venues, I do know from my previous life in San Francisco, that the AMC chain prides itself on community involvement. AMC hosted the S.F. International Film Festival by giving up an entire multiplex of eight screens for 2 weeks, for 10 consecutive years. I would think that the AMC Magic Johnson complex would be more than able to 'donate' two screening rooms for three days - one room for panels and/or Q&As and the second for screenings. The festival's connection with B-Side for ticketing and scheduling is the first and best step that the organization has. The organizers might also consider an alliance with the National Black Arts Festival, which occurred only a few weeks before this. Such an alliance would open up opportunities in venue, as well as increase audience exposure. But this is just me, playing "armchair festival director."

As far as the screenings are concerned, in juggling my schedule, I planned on attending Friday and Sunday. Friday was something of a bust, as I could only fit one screening in before returning to the Atlanta Underground Film Festival. Sunday was a bit more successful, though programming was running over an hour late by the second screening of the day (my first of the day). Screenings were pushed back in order to allow Q&As, which meant canceling the final feature of the day. Thus, my Sunday schedule consisted of four short subjects and one feature. (I missed one mid-afternoon feature due to personal business.)

Counting Headz: South Afrika’s Sistaz in Hip Hop (dirs. Vusi Magubane & Erin Offer, 50 mins.) In under an hour, this documentary tackles the subject of South African female hip hop artists. It is a complicated issue, really, in that South African hip hop is more of a form of protest than pop culture. When you mix in the subordinate role that women in Africa are in, the fact that the handful of women in this documentary are speaking out, is a loaded topic. In attempting to address the socio-political aspects, along with the personal stories of the artists, the film takes on a lot of issues. Perhaps more than could be addressed to an uninformed audience.

The other feature I saw, also tackles a complicated topic.Ministry vs. Industry (now titled "Word On The Street") (dir. Shekinah Apedo, 76 min.) is a documentary about 'holy hip hop' aka Christian hip hop. In it's relatively short hour and fifteen minutes, director Apedo opens up a pandora's box of issues related to Christian hip hop. The working title "Ministry vs. Industry" refers to the industry on both sides of the mic. The documentary tackles the acceptance of Christian hip hop within hip hop culture itself, the marketing aspects and challenges, as well as the sexism within the male dominated world of hip hop and how it is addressed by Christian hip hop artists. That is a LOT of territory for just over an hour! It also raises more questions, i.e. how is Christian hip hop released and marketed now? What are the demographics? How are women artists marginalized? The segments are broken up with inter-titles announcing the next topic or question, which gives the film a more academic approach, as well as becoming episodic, which can drag the pace down. The film treads dangerously close to being a 'talking heads video' of commentaries. However, Apedo has interspersed a generous amount of performance videos. As it is a work in progress, I think that Apedo will continue to shape the piece into a narrower focus, or perhaps a more evolving approach that would eliminate the 'textbook chapters' tone of the work. Apedo spoke of being encouraged to expand on individual topics in a separate work. She actually has the outline of series here, which she should look into developing.

Lady Beatmakers Vol. 1 (dir. Tachelle Wilkes, 32 min.) Another documentary about women in the industry, this one profiles in a up-close-and-personal way the challenges faced by a handful of female music producers. Wilkes profiles a fairly wide variety of women and music that extends beyond hip hop. Each profile is fairly concise and filled with just about enough detail of where the women are in their profession. It also includes an epilogue of sorts as to where they are headed. Overall, a nice, compact piece.

Memoirs of an Undiscovered Artist: A Choreographer’s Story (dir. Edward “DAQ” Adjepong, 15 min.) This ballet by and about "DAQ" was almost too compact, though I appreciated the balletic form he used as a non-traditional biography. It would seem that 'undiscovered artist' is about right as I can find almost NO information on him to try and enlighten my view of what I saw. That alone sets the piece apart as being a work of art, as it can only be interpreted by the individual viewer. Ironically, it is his relative obscurity that sets the piece apart.

Lookin Down on Me (dir. Paul Catalanotto, 5 min.) and Back in the Dayz (dir. Renny Rugah, 5 min.) are both music videos. "Lookin Down on Me" is a spiritual memoir of the artist's mother, which proved to be a good fit in what was a predominately feminine program. "Back in the Dayz" was a faux retrospective, which seeks to preserve aspects of hip hop culture and launched a Q&A that was longer and deeper than the short itself.

Considering the logistical hurdles that the festival and the screenings were faced with, the actual programs were fascinating and deserve much more respect than the venue offered. Hopefully, as the festival continues to thrive, it will land at a 'home' that truly values its goals and purpose.

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