The Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival returns with hybrid formatMorehouse College president Dr. David Thomas gives opening remarks during night two of Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival. Credit: Allison Joyner
The relatively young showcase is the first human rights film festival at an HBCU.
Independent films were back on display at the third annual Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival, bringing attention to issues that like mental illness, sucide and social justice.
The three-day festival provided a platform for filmmakers and activists to help audiences gain a greater understanding of the social issues that we face today.
Morehouse President Dr. David Thomas said that the institution has “created the opportunity to share films that all speak to human rights and are deeply embedded in the identity of Morehouse since our inception.”
The festival’s first in-person event was held in 2019 and the second met virtually in 2020. This year’s festival used a hybrid approach of in-person and virtual screenings for moviegoers to enjoy.
Keeping COVID-19 safety protocols in place, all in-person screenings and discussions took place at the historic Plaza Theatre.
Kara Walker, the executive director of the film festival, told SaportaReport, “the fact that people aren’t necessarily comfortable coming out and sitting in a theatre with the rising numbers again, we’re happy to do it.”
However, Walker did disclose that there were more virtual attendees than in-person.
“That’s understandable because people can watch films in the comfort of their own homes. They don’t have to drive anywhere and they can be assured that they’re reasonably safe indoors,” she continued.
This year’s festival had 124 submissions from 29 countries competing in four categories: Best Short Feature, Best Short Documentary, Best Full-Length Feature and Best Full-Length Documentary.
“On Trees” was this year’s festival focus film and filmmaker Korstiaan Vandiver directed the short thriller/horror that explored the epidemics of COVID-19, Black-on-Black violence and suicide.
Shot in Southern Georgia, the film deals with the mental health stigma in the African American community, Vandiver said during a post-viewing discussion. “We’re starting to talk about it more, but I think we can always do better with that topic and talk about those things and hopefully, people can get help,” he said.
Another festival favorite was the high-flying documentary, “Red Horizon,” which showed a group of young pilots’ attempts to carry on the legacy of the Tuskegee Airmen while struggling to overcome racism and prejudice in today’s world.
Walker and her team decided to end the in-person portion of the festival with the inspirational documentary, “No Time to Waste: The Urgent Mission of Betty Reid Soskin.”
The full-length documentary follows the oldest U.S. National Park Ranger with her mission to restore crucial chapters missing in American history, including the contribution Black women made to the World War II efforts.
In a particularly powerful moment, the film showed Soskin, who just turned 100 years old, speaking to a small group of visitors at San Francisco’s Rosie the Riveter/ WWII Home Front National Historical Park and museum telling her personal story of being a young Black woman in a World War II segregated union hall.
Another favorite was “Eavesdropping on the Elders,” written by Kiah Clingman and CJ Sykes. The duo got the inspiration to create the film from the writings of Clingman’s father, who is now living with ALS.
Described as a girl challenged with the task of bridging the gap between two generations, the protagonist is forced into another world where she’s confronted with lessons from the history-makers of the past, including Fredrick Douglas, Harriet Tubman, Marcus Garvey and W.E.B DuBois.
“I saw that it was a human rights festival,” Clingman told SaportaReport, “I knew that spoke directly to our theme that my dad has been fighting for 75 years and I knew that would be a perfect fit.”
After receiving the Best Short Feature Film award, Sykes, a former Morehouse student, was excited when Clingman entered “Eavesdropping” into the festival.
“To circle back around all these years and then win at a festival for a project that I helped write was a special feeling,” Sykes said.
“It’s important for a festival like Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival to give these independent filmmakers a platform to showcase the work that many of them have invested so much time, energy and efforts in bringing forth with important topics,” said Walker.
The festival also allowed future filmmakers to feature their works in a cinema setting. Fifteen entries from students at Spelman College, the University of North Carolina School of the Arts and Morehouse College premiered their completed projects during the student showcase.
“The festival allowed them to cut their teeth with an audience,” said Walker. “That’s important.”
Walker said the Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival will be giving encore screenings soon and plans on continuing the in-person/virtual format for next year’s festival.
Walker also wants to give screenings at local high schools and workshops on Morehouse’s campus once the pandemic subsides.