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Prince To James Baldwin To Pam Grier: Portland Black Film Festival At The Hollywood Theatre


Writer James Baldwin, who spent many years in Europe and at home, reflecting on black life in America.

Writer James Baldwin, who spent many years in Europe and at home, reflecting on black life in America.

Bob Adelman/Magnolia Pictures

While America spent last winter wondering why the National Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences was taking so long to reflect the face of America, some amazing features were in the works, featuring African-American directors, writers, and actors. Films like “Fences,” starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis; “Moonlight,” featuring Naomi Harris; and “Hidden Figures,” with the ever-talented Octavia Spencer, have all gotten Oscar nods.

If those films made you hungry for more, get ready to head over to the Hollywood Theatre. The Portland Black Film Festival is back Feb. 9-22.

David F. Walker, the festival’s founder and co-curator, says part of the motivation guiding him and co-curator (and Hollywood Theatre head programmer) Dan Halstead is a yen to see movies that may have popped up for a couple of screenings and disappeared without a trace.

“Some of these movies only show up for a day or two,” Walker said. Distributors and studio marketing departments make decisions based on how big an audience they think a film will draw. “It’s a question of, How accessible is it? What kind of release is it going to get?”

Perhaps the splashiest offering this year is a screening of the 1973 film, “Coffy,” and an appearance by Pam Grier.

“Pam Grier is not only an incredible icon,” Walker said, “but I would argue that there has never been another actress, white or black, who has come along and done what she did, in terms of being this huge, over the top action star.”

Walker and Hollywood Theatre programmer Dan Halstead spend a lot of time curating the festival.

"Sign O' The Times" catches the explosive energy of Prince's marathon live shows.

"Sign O' The Times" catches the explosive energy of Prince's marathon live shows.

Courtesy of Cineplex-OdeanFilms/Photofest

“It’s almost like our festival … . What do he and I really want to see?” Halstead said. “Like with the Prince concert film [“Sign O’ the Times,” screening Feb. 13], I think it was Dan and his wife who really just wanted to see it on the big screen.”

Walker believes it’s the first time Portlanders will have the chance to see the film in theaters since its original release in 1987. Its not available via Netflix or iTunes.

Last year, Kino Lorber re-mastered a handful of old black movies, known as “race films,” or “black caste films.” Walker finds all of these films fascinating for their historical perspective, but he was forced to whittle down his selection to just two: the 1941 film, “The Blood of Jesus,” and a silent film from the 1920s, “Within Our Gates.”

Another powerhouse of a movie is “I Am Not Your Negro.” Director Raoul Peck takes a look at the book James Baldwin was working on when he died, about the lives and deaths of his friends, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, and Medgar Evers. Peck, a native of Haiti, has lived and worked all over the world. Walker says he brings a really unique perspective.

“Americans don’t understand America,” Walker said. “We live in a vacuum where we think we are the greatest nation; we think everybody loves us, we think everyone wants to be like us. I think if you’re a global citizen, you can see it a lot more. And the treatment of blacks in America has been [deplorable] at best.”

Also featured at the festival are a documentary about Maya Angelou, a feature on black hockey players, and a documentary delving into the African-American community as it grapples with gay rights in light of the recent gay marriage movement and the fight over civil rights.

Walker will also be giving a lecture, entitled “Black Images Matter,” using film clips to examine the portrayal of African-Americans in film and television. The lecture will delve into matters of representation and inclusion. It is free, and happening at 2 p.m. on Feb 19.

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