'Golden age of black cinema'
4/12/2013, 6 a.m.
Major studios have not been reluctant to finance and distribute comedies featuring African Americans, but critics say they’ve not shown much interest in serious subjects. Before launching AFFRM and ARRAY, Du Vernay arranged a distribution deal for Alrick Brown’s “Kinyarwanda,” a feature film about Rwanda genocide. She also managed the distribution of Andrew Dosunmu’s “Restless City,” a documentary about the travails of African immigrants in New York.
“They were going to be going to DVD, nothing at all in support and we thought those films should be seen,” Du Vernay told an interviewer at the Sundance Film Festival in January. “When Roger Ebert called Kinyarwanda one of the best films of 2011 and I knew that seven months before, it was headed to DVD only release, I am proud that we didn’t let that happen.”
“I want more people to see the work of Andrew Dosunmu and Bradford Young and Alrick Brown and for them to have a proper theatrical release and proper reviews,” she said. “AFFRM is nourishing the filmmakers and also the black art-house community.”
The challenge of distributing another film on a serious subject – “Free Angela” – was taken up by a CodeBlack team that had been touting the movie. Jeff Clanagan, CEO of Codeblack, called “Free Angela” educational and entertaining.
“It’s a part of history that people are aware of but don’t know the information or the story,” he said. “I just want people to know what happened. This film reveals a lot of facts around the case.”
“Free Angela,” winner of the Best Documentary Award at the 2013 Los Angeles’ Pan African Film Festival and hailed by the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival as “a fascinating chronicle of justice and strength,” is the story of how a young professor’s social justice activism implicates her in a botched kidnapping attempt that ends in a bloody shootout, four dead and her name on the FBI’s 10 Most Wanted List.
In this documentary, which marks the 40th anniversary of Angela Davis’ acquittal on charges of murder, kidnapping, and conspiracy, the activist recounts the period when she was branded a terrorist and was simultaneously raised to icon level by progressives who considered her a political prisoner.
CodeBlack, started in 2005, had been known for its distribution of 40 DVD films; but with the Liongate partnership, Clanagan said the company is now seeking to distribute higher quality films that will have some type of theatrical release.
“Free Angela is a great film for us to get behind,” he said. “This is the type of film that we want to be associated with and put our brand behind.”
“This should be one huge release for CodeBlack,” said industry observer Bill Wynn, a film producer and promoter. “Lionsgate is one of the players here in America. CodeBlack’s visibility is being raised. Jeff is competing with the big boys. Ava is trying to create the infrastructure to be able to compete with the big boys.”
Wynn compared what CodeBlack and ARRAY are doing in the movie distribution business to what Motown Records founder Berry Gordy did for African American music in the 1960s and 1970s.
“They broke through the barriers,” he said.