Twelve years ago, the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival (MVAAFF) came to the Island by accident. Stephanie Tavares-Rance and her husband Floyd Rance were preparing to start an annual film festival in Barbados. They had 10 film selections, one feature film from Sony, and a sponsorship from Showtime. Then 9/11 happened. The travel industry changed and Showtime pulled out of the deal. But the couple still wanted to share the films. Ms. Tavares-Rance quickly thought of a new venue: Martha’s Vineyard, where she and her husband summered for many years.
The festival has turned into a thriving summer tradition on the Vineyard. For a week in August, MVAAFF brings to the Island films either directed, produced or starring African Americans. This year, MVAAFF received over 200 submissions from as far away as Iceland and Africa. They have selected 48 films to screen at this year’s event, which kicks off with a pre-festival reception at Lola’s Restaurant on Monday, August 4, at 5 p.m.
The festival spans an entire week, ending on Saturday, August 9, with the “Summer’s Hottest” party at Lola’s, which begins at 9:30 p.m. Throughout the week, audiences will be able to watch previews of a new HBO series The Knick, a new ABC sitcom called Black-ish, and a documentary called A Ballerina’s Tale about dancer Misty Copeland. Other notable films include Evolution of a Criminal, about a man who turns his life around after going to prison for robbing a bank as an adolescent, and Little White Lie, a documentary about a girl who grew up thinking she was white, only to discover in college that she was the product of an affair her mother had with a close friend who was black.
Ms. Tavares-Rance hopes that the festival will “enlighten people and let them know about the work of under-tapped talent or undiscovered talent.”
Many of the filmmakers will be in attendance to do talkbacks with the audience and mingle at the festival’s social events and receptions.
“We just want to offer residents on-Island and people who come to visit from far away an opportunity to see some great films and come to some great parties, interact with our sponsors and just have a really good time,” Ms. Tavares-Rance said. For the first time, MVAAFF will partner with the Yard this year to present a dance performance and panel discussion about the Color of Conversation with Camille A. Brown and Company.
Ms. Tavares-Rance said that in the coming years, she hopes the festival will expand to celebrate not only the works of African Americans in the film industry, but in other arts industries as well. She also hopes it will take on “more of a multicultural focus.”
“I’d love to screen Hispanic content, Native American content, whatever,” she said. “I think that’s important.”
For more information about the festival and to purchase tickets, visit mvaaff.com.