The Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival is back on the Island this summer, with more movies than ever and appearances by directors and stars including Regina King, Questlove and Jennifer Hudson.

“We added three extra days, and we still ran out of time,” said Stephanie Rance, who with her husband Floyd co-founded the festival nearly 20 years ago.

While the festival proper takes place August 6 through August 14 at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs, the Rances hosted a preview there last Friday. Movie-goers lined up for nearly the full length of the adjacent high school building to see Ms. Hudson star in the Aretha Franklin biopic Respect, followed by an on-stage conversation with the star and director Liesl Tommy, moderated by author and speaker Michael Eric Dyson.

Stephanie and Floyd Rance founded the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival nearly 20 years ago. — Ray Ewing

The lobby, usually a humdrum entrance hall, was transformed into a tribute to Ms. Franklin with soft lighting and drapery surrounding photographs of the late singer and a gown she wore in concert at Radio City Music Hall.

As audience members settled into the auditorium, where capacity is limited to 400 people seated in alternating rows, a big-screen slideshow displayed more photographs of the Queen of Soul while an offstage D.J. played her music.

Ms. Hudson, an Oscar and Grammy-winning actress and singer known for Dreamgirls and The Color Purple, was Ms. Franklin’s personal choice to play her in the biographical film, which also has riveting performances by Forrest Whitaker as C.L. Franklin and rising Broadway star Skye Dakota Turner as the talented and vulnerable pre-teen Aretha.

The film drew a standing ovation Friday, and audience members surged to their feet when Ms. Hudson walked on stage and took a seat with Ms. Tommy and Mr. Dyson.

“We rarely see the origin story of black female genius,” Mr. Dyson said, opening a conversation that ranged from reminiscences of Ms. Franklin during her life to reflections on acting and storytelling.

“We first met 15 years ago,” Ms. Hudson recalled. “She called me when I was on Broadway doing The Color Purple and said, ‘I made my decision and it is you I want to play me.’”

Respect director Liesl Tommy and her nephew. — Ray Ewing

Ms. Tommy, a South African-born stage director and the first woman of color nominated for a Tony award for directing, makes her film debut with Respect. Choosing a black woman to direct was critical to telling the singer’s story authentically, Ms. Tommy told the audience.

“[White men] have been telling us who we are for so long, and that had to end with this movie,” said the director, who grew up under Apartheid before moving to the U.S. in her mid-teens.

“I didn’t just want to make a black movie,” she added. “I wanted to bathe the black people in the film with love, so that the audience could feel love.”

The onstage talk was the latest in an ongoing series the Rances have produced, both in person and online. Titled The Color of Conversation, the series continues during the festival with directors, actors, journalists and producers, both inside the auditorium and under a tent outside.

While all of the festival screenings are taking place live at the performing arts center, some of the conversations have been pre-recorded due to travel logistics, Ms. Rance said.

This month’s festival caps an unexpectedly busy year for the Rances. Forced online in 2020 by the Covid-19 pandemic, they partnered with Facebook to present their 18th festival in October, discovering a vastly wider audience online than they had expected.

“We had 2.5 million views,” Ms. Rance recalled this week. “It was absolutely insane . . . bigger than any film festival in-person could ever do.”

What followed was also startling: an unprecedented flood of entries for the 2021 festival, from filmmakers all over the world.

Festival takes place August 6 through August 14 at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center in Oak Bluffs. — Ray Ewing

“We received 600 submissions,” Ms. Rance said.

Winnowing them down to the 70 films, television shows and short programs for this summer’s festival was a tough job, she added, but a second online festival this fall will showcase another 50 that couldn’t fit into the August schedule.

The overall mood for this year’s line-up is bright, Ms. Rance told the Gazette.

“We really wanted to showcase a lot of black joy, because 2020 was so horrific for everybody and we didn’t want to depress anybody any further,” she said. “We do have one or two pandemic films, but they’re not sad.”

Documentaries are plentiful this year, including Life & Life about musician Reggie Austin who tries to redeem his life following a murder conviction 40 years ago, Summer of Soul — with onstage appearance by director Questlove (Ahmir Thompson) — and profiles of comedian Dick Gregory, musician Rick James, U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee and former President Barack Obama.

Ms. Lee is scheduled for a Color of Conversation talk titled The Path to Inclusivity following the screening of Barbara Lee: Speaking Truth to Power on August 13 at 5:30 p.m.

But while Ms. Rance said the Obamas have been invited, there’s no indication they’ll be on hand for Obama: In Pursuit of A More Perfect Union on August 14 at 1:30 p.m. followed by a conversation with Jelani Cobb, Al Sharpton and Michele Norris.

Along with full-length movies and onstage talks, the festival offers daily programs of shorts and since 2018 has been an Oscar-qualifying festival for short films, Ms. Rance said. Television programming also falls within the MVAAFF net, which in past summers has pulled in early episodes of shows like Black-ish, now heading into its eighth season on ABC.

This year’s debut shows include a reboot of The Wonder Years, centering this time on a black family in late-1960s Montgomery, Ala. Directed by Fred Savage, the adolescent lead of the original series that ran from 1988 to 1993, the 22-minute pilot episode is scheduled to screen August 6 at 5:30 p.m.

The new The Wonder Years is produced by Lee Daniels, the Oscar-nominated producer of Monster’s Ball and director of Precious, The Butler and other acclaimed films.

The festival closes with another production by Mr. Daniels — this one set in Oak Bluffs. Inspired by Lawrence Otis Graham’s best-selling Our Kind of People: Inside America’s Black Upper Class, the new series dramatizes a single mother’s struggle for achievement and success against the backdrop of a family secret. It screens August 14 at 8:30 p.m.

Mask-wearing is required inside the theatre, Ms. Rance said. “We’re going to have a safe and fun nine days here.”

The complete festival schedule, with updates as they come in, is posted at