Film Fest Uses #BlackFilmsMatter to Highlight Black Voices and Black Futures in Movies

Sep 10, 2020

The Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival kicked off this week with an online premier. The annual festival is a mix of virtual and drive-in screenings this year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s showcasing dozens of films, documentaries and shorts celebrating Black voices in the film industry.

The theme for the ninth annual festival is #BlackFilmsMatter. For founder and Executive Director Donna Dabbs, it's more than a hashtag. 

"It's just a way to make a statement, an affirmation, that we're here, and we matter," Dabbs said just a few hours before the festival's opening night screening of "The Best of Enemies." The film tells the real life story of civil rights activist Ann Atwater and her fight against school segregation in 1971. 

"Black people are part of the mainstream and the culture and the fabric and the history of this country," Dabbs said.

She sees #BlackFilmsMatter as a call for people to stand up and support Black voices in a historically whitewashed film industry. 

It's about showcasing Black role models on screen and behind the camera.  

"You're affecting mind thought, which affects your future and your outcome," Dabbs said. 

"You don't have to just be the star. You can be the costume designer. You can be the set designer. You can be the lighting person. You can be the cameraman. You can be the director, producer. And when you start to see how much money people these people make? It opens up a whole other world of possibilities."

Streaming and at the drive-in

Dabbs and her team had to pivot from their usual home at Shaker Square Cinemas and venues across the region to a mostly online festival because of COVID-19. 

They looked to other festivals, namely the Cleveland International Film Festival, to get advice on how to make that happen. 

"It just required us to learn to deliver the festival in a new way," Dabbs said.

She said in a way it's a natural progression for an audience that's already used to streaming content. 

For those who prefer their movies on the big screen, the festival looked to the past: the drive-in. 

It's screening two nights of films at Chardon's Mayfield Road Drive-In Theatre

The festival features several features and shorts from local writers and directors, including "Gonarezhou The Movie," "Milkweed" and "Cook Off."

The Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival runs through Sept. 18.