We’ve waited 72 years to meet a princess like Tiana. In the history of Disney’s animated fairy tales, we all know Snow White, Princess Aurora and Cinderella. Belle and Ariel came later, their fair-skinned complexions falling in line with their princess predecessors. In 1992, Disney integrated their princess line-up with the Middle Eastern Jasmine, followed closely by Native American Pocahontas and the Chinese Mulan.

Next Saturday, the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival will offer an exclusive sneak peek of the highly-anticipated Disney feature The Princess and the Frog. The film marks the debut of Tiana, the first African American to join the ranks of Disney princesses.

The screening will feature 40 minutes of the still-unfinished film, which is scheduled to be released nationwide in December.

According to festival codirector Stephanie Rance, Disney felt comfortable allowing the screening because they felt that the flourishing African American film festival was an appropriate place to unveil their first African American princess.

“We’re really honored to show this film,” she said.

The Princess and the Frog is just one of 55 films lined up for the August 5 to 8 film festival, which has been nicknamed Indiewood to reflect its combination of independent films and Hollywood-style studio releases. Founded by Floyd and Stephanie Rance in 2002, the festival has expanded to include major sponsors such as HBO and Nickelodeon, along with Island banks and art galleries as supporters. Guests can register at the Mansion House in Vineyard Haven, the festival’s home base, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. the days of the festival.

“Every year we get amazing films,” said Mrs. Rance. “[This year], we received 250 submissions and narrowed it down to 55 films.” The Rance couple has final say over which films make the cut, but they do enlist a secret panel of seven judges to help them narrow down the contestants. They focus on content, storyline and style, among other things, to make sure that the ultimate lineup is reflective of the talent present in the African American film community.

“The representation of African American filmmakers is tiny in America,” said Mrs. Rance. She and her husband set out to change that with the film festival.

“The festival to me means that Floyd and I get a chance to give back in our own way to the [African American film] community. It amazes us every year. The fact that [filmmakers] would even send us their films to put in the festival is an honor. I think it has become a haven for filmmakers and talent to come to the Island,” said Mrs. Rance.

The Rances have a long history in the entertainment industry. Mrs. Rance interned with film director Spike Lee, worked with celebrities such as Frank Sinatra and Prince on different award-winning projects, and acted as marketing director for Larry Flynt’s magazine CODE. Mr. Rance, a film director and cinematographer, also got his start with Spike Lee on the crew of films such as Mo’Better Blues, Jungle Fever, and Malcolm X.

The couple’s yearly visits to the Island inspired them to hold the event. They currently reside in New York city, where they own Run & Shoot Filmworks. They return to the Island every year to stay with friends during the festival run.

The seventh annual film festival will feature a new category, showcasing the finalist films in the Nothing is Impossible Producer’s Award competition, sponsored by Saatchi & Saatchi. The finalists all represent the ways in which producers struggle to overcome budget and production problems in the independent film making process.

The seven finalists include shorts, feature films and documentaries, and they will screen on various dates at different locations throughout the festival. Films include Warrior Queen, from director Hezekiah Lewis, about an African queen’s challenge of the British in the early 1900s. Edward Osei-Gyimah’s short film Kwame profiles a troubled recluse and his encounter with an equally troubled young woman as they both try to come to terms with their pasts. Return to Mexico City, directed by Joie Walls, also made the cut. The documentary follows two men in their fight for human rights.

The winning selection will be chosen on Saturday night, in a ceremony following the HBO short film competition at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. The award includes a $3,500 prize. “[The] award goes to the overall film that they feel best embodies going for your goal,” said Mrs. Rance.

The Saturday morning screening of The Princess and the Frog will also offer a little something extra for its young audience members. Kids will have the opportunity to take home free giveaways and meet a life-size Princess Tiana. After the show, producer Peter Del Vecho will answer questions about the film and animator Bruce Smith, who has also worked on the Disney films The Little Mermaid and The Lion King, will lead an animation workshop. All events are included in the price of admission.

Princess Tiana will have to share the spotlight with another woman by the same name, first-time festival participant Tiana Hailey. Ms. Hailey’s interest in film grew from her love of storytelling. “I started off with an interest in writing, theatre and drama, [and] took to writing scripts whenever I didn’t see the stories that I wanted to be told. That’s how I got involved in film,” she said. Her first feature-length production, Flying Solo, will screen at the Mansion House at 2 p.m. Wednesday. In the film, the director also stars as an aspiring singer and songwriter who forges a unique bond with an elderly woman for whom she provides companionship and care.

“I just got into the festival circuit,” said Ms. Hailey. “I have one hundred per cent confidence in this festival ... I think it’s a good opportunity for me to share my film with everybody.”


The film festival runs from August 5 to 8. For a complete schedule or to purchase advance tickets, visit mvaaff.com.