Seventeen years ago Floyd and Stephanie Rance saw a void in Vineyard culture, and they haven’t stopped moving since. The couple are co-founders and organizers of the African American Film Festival which takes place this year at the Performing Arts Center on August 5 to 10.

“Seventeen years. It’s daunting, if you really stop and think about it . . . but we try to take it day by day,” said Mr. Rance during an interview earlier this week.

The festival had humble beginnings, originally screening movies in the conference room of Vineyard Haven’s Mansion House. Today, films from Universal Studios, Warner Bros, HBO and Netflix are all represented. Oscar winner Barry Jenkins took part in the festival last summer with a discussion about his film, If Beale Street Could Talk, and in 2017 Spike Lee introduced his Netflix series, She’s Gotta Have It.

This year is no different, with offerings from the Oprah Winfrey Network, HBO and Netflix leading the way. On Thursday, August 8, festival-goers will be treated to advance clips of the movie Just Mercy along with a conversation between actor Michael B. Jordan and author and criminal justice attorney Bryan Stevenson, whose book the movie is based on.

But for Floyd and Stephanie Rance, the festival is not about the big names.

“I think you just have to keep in mind that the festival is about independent filmmakers, and giving them an opportunity,” Mr. Rance said. “Bringing in people you’re not aware of, or haven’t met before. That’s what brings me joy.”

For Stephanie Rance, the scope of the festival is crucial.

“I think the festival is important because we have to tell black and brown stories,” she said. “People can think we’re a monolithic group, and that we have one story to tell, but we have so much more than that.” Mrs. Rance continued: “This year some of them are history, some of them are experiences that happen to people of color on a daily basis. And others are just stories who have a black cast.” One of Mrs. Rance’s favorite films of the festival is Engaged. “It’s a multi-racial film, where one gentlemen is black and the other is Asian. And it’s just about the relationship, and it’s just a story. It could’ve been anyone in the story, but they cast it with a black gay man and an Asian gay man.”

Representation of all kinds is central to the mission of the festival, said Mrs. Rance. “It varies from year to year, but it is turning into this multicultural sort of film festival. The core is always African American. But we’ve got Asian filmmakers, Caucasian, Latino, it’s really nice that people recognize our festival and submit their films for consideration.”

The short film submissions will only get more diverse for the 2019-20 season, as MVAAFF has recently been selected by the Academy of Arts and Sciences to become an Oscar-qualifying festival for its short films. “A couple years ago a film called My Nephew Emmet came through our festival. We weren’t accredited yet, but the film was nominated for an Oscar in the short film category. After that the Academy reached out to us.”

Giving filmmakers recognition and room to grow is also an important mission of the festival. Rhassan Nichols’ new award-winning short film, Walk on Water: a Brief History of Black Surfers, will be shown on Wednesday evening. Mr. Nichols is a previous festival participant, and one whom Floyd Rance is happy to see again.

“The first time we saw his work it was very raw. He was a novice filmmaker at the time. So seeing how he’s grown, and being a part of his journey, brings a lot of joy to my heart. And I think it will bring joy to others as well.”