Stephanie and Floyd Rance are parents of six-year-old, though their child is a film festival. And this year, their Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival is pitching a family-friendly theme: there will be a new focus on children’s entertainment, and new limits on language in the selections.
The Rances, who own Run and Shoot Filmworks in New York city, are the organizers of the film festival which begins today and runs through Saturday. Films will be shown in Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven.
Now in its sixth year the independent film festival has expanded to include major sponsors such as HBO, Universal and Nickelodeon. There is also support this year from the state of Massachusetts.
“Martha’s Vineyard is a place where a lot of families come,” Mrs. Rance says. “Every year people ask us, ‘Are you going to do anything for kids?’ When I found out the creator of The Backyardigans was black, I immediately tried to reach out to Nickelodeon.”
On Saturday a special kids day at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven will feature a talk with Janice Burgess, the creator and executive producer of the hit animated television series The Backyardigans. Ms. Burgess will host a screening of two brand new episodes of the musical preschool adventure show; she will also be available for questions and answers.
The event is from 10 a.m. to noon. There will also be an appearance by Uniqua, a Backyardigan in the flesh (or foam suit).
Mrs. Rance touts Nickelodeon as a network concerned with diversity.
Children’s entertainment is just one way that organizers are working to make the film festival more family-friendly. The Rances also have decided not to feature any films that use the “n” word. Mrs. Rance admits it was a difficult decision.
“We want to show black filmmakers that they have to work with really good screenwriters and come up with better writing than all of this ad lib stuff,” she says. She hopes the decision will possibly influence young filmmakers to think of more creative means of communication.
Adding to the slate of high-profile events, the film festival will premier the upcoming Universal release, The Express, which tells the story of Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the coveted Heisman Trophy in college football. Directed by Gary Fleder (Runaway Jury), the film actors include Dennis Quaid, Rob Brown, Omar Benson Miller, Clancy Brown and Charles S. Dutton. Rob Brown will be on hand for questions and discussion following the screening.
And despite the heavy emphasis on politics in the arts in this election year — especially in the black community — the festival will feature no particular emphasis on political films.
Instead, the 45 films chosen from the 250 submitted include many documentaries, such as The Black List, an HBO project which presents portraits of influential African Americans, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Toni Morrison, Chris Rock, Al Sharpton and Vernon Jordan (a yearly summer visitor on the Vineyard).
A Sundance Film Festival selection, The Black List is directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders; the interviews are conducted by Elvis Mitchell.
The Saturday afternoon show is followed by the feature Truth Hall and an HBO short film contest in the evening.
Today’s films include This is Life, an award winner about hip-hop at 2:30 p.m. followed by Run Baby Run.
Tomorrow features an 8 p.m. screening of The Night James Brown Saved Boston, while Thursday and Friday offer more documentaries at the Katharine Cornell Theatre as well.
And the Rances are now planning a similar film festival in Charlotte, N.C., from Sept. 18 to 20. With the same sponsors, the Rances hope that the two festivals will be mutually beneficial.
Beginning with the Vineyard festival this week.
“As always, come support and see some great films,” Mrs. Rance says.
For more information about the African American Film Festival, call 707-608-6737, or go online to mvaaff. com or runandshootfilmworks.com.