THE “VIRTUAL” OAKLAND INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL STARTS SEPT 17TH

 By JR Valrey, Black New World Media 
One of the gems of the annual Oakland art scene is the Oakland International Film Festival which is from September 17th to September 27th, this year. Just like everything else that makes Oakland dope that was disrupted by the COVID, OIIF is going totally virtual: films, panels, and all. Longtime director and co-founder of the festival, David Roach sat down with Black New World Media to discuss this year’s virtual reality, this year’s lineup, the surprise passing of the San Francisco Black Film Festival director Kali O’Ray, moving the Oakland International Film Festival from April to September, and more.

JR Valrey: What is going to make this year’s Oakland International Film Festival different from past years? 

David Roach: Almost everything is different right now, JR. What is the same is our website oiff.org, which is to find out information about this year’s films, and learn about the directors. But even now our site: oiff.org is where the actual films will be streamed. So, even that’s different. No more see you at the theaters. See you at oiff.org.

JR Valrey: Has Covid provided an opportunity to utilize technology that you may have been slow to grasp otherwise? Please explain.

David Roach: I believe Covid has given greater opportunities to “essential” types of businesses, and technology has moved into the”essential” category to enable students to learn from home and let workers work from home. I think many people would have been slower to grasp technology, because the person to person contact is how things have operated.

JR Valrey: What is the headlining film? What is it about? 

David Roach: “We Are The Dream: Kids of The Mlk Oratorical Festival” is the headlining film. It’s a behind the scenes documentary about the MLK Oratorical Festival which has taken place in Oakland for the past 40 years. I have been a judge for a few years for this event and therefore feel like it was a no brainer for HBO to pick up this great story, which has been long overlooked, in Oakland. Teacher Awele Makeba, directs the MLK Oratorical Fest each year and continues to inspire the youth to dig into themselves, she promotes principles of justice and peace to pull out some astounding performances. This documentary shows some teachers and parents behind the scenes, who assist the youth in their presentations. It’s amazing to see the stories and performances these youth come up, with each year in the spirit of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are opening with this film.

JR Valrey: What international film are you most excited about?

David Roach: All of them. I’m very excited about all of them. They all tell different stories about issues we can all relate to here in the U.S. One international film we are closing with, “Mr. Emancipation: The Walter Perry Story”, based in Canada, is one I am very excited about.  Walter Perry produced an event each year called “Emancipation Day” which brought out African-American artists from around the country annually, and produced revenue for the area, but was never supported by the locals, because too many Black folks were coming into the area. The film, “When The Waters Get Deep” is not an international film, but we programmed it right after Emancipation to show an example of how artists connect the dots of healing. How many of us can say, a movie, a book, a song, a poem made a difference in our life? All of these come from artists.

JR Valrey: Last year, why did you move the festival from April to September?  

David Roach: A couple of reasons. Better weather in September. The last couple of years, we had heavy rains in April. The second reason is we are trying to align our festival with our schools to promote year round activities. We believe films are a great medium to discuss many topics we, often, would not touch. OIFF helps to promote familyhood, a vision of utilizing schools as the center of the community’s development. Familyhood is driven by two mottos: 1) every school shall have a functioning Student Government Association, Parent Teacher Association and an Alumni Association and 2) every school shall have a garden, a farmers market, and a grocery store.

In short, the school’s “Familyhood” runs their garden, their farmers market, and their grocery store. We see “Familyhood” as a systemic approach of building local control from the community. “Familyhood” visualizes schools as a big brain with many heads in it. Those heads are all the students who attend the school, their parents, their alumni and their community partners. So, a school is not an empty building, it’s more like a school of fish who swim together. Every school having governance for all the generations, means the school also shifts from educating a child for four years, to being an educational center for that person’s entire life. Why do schools close at 3:30 p.m. or 5:30pm, because they have after school programs? Why not stay open all day! Allow the computer labs to teach adults, swimming, access to the weights? Schools have so many resources. So, back to your question. Why September? To promote the schools to host 1stSaturdays.com and build their “Familyhood”. We are hosting “The Familyhood Summit Day” on Oct 3rd (see:oiff.org/familyhood), we’re hoping by then, schools would have elected their officers (SGA, PTA, ALUMNI) and want to network with other schools, to learn the best practices of engaging their generation, to improve their schools and the community they serve.

JR Valrey: Can you talk about the relationship that you had with the late Kali O’Ray, the director of the San Francisco Black Film Festival? And what does his passing mean to the cinema world of northern California as well as Black filmmaking?

David Roach: I am still in shock, which means, I’d give you a different answer every day. We supported each other. We shared ideas, obstacles, love for our culture, and the desire to amplify the overlooked, and the unheard. He was upset when we moved our dates from April to September. He told me, “David, your event coming up, meant it was time for me to get some things in order for June, now that you moved it, it’s different.” I had to explain myself, as I did above.

What does it mean for him passing? Man, it means there’s some big size 17 shoes to fill. His mother Ave Montague put years into it, before she passed and Kali picked it up. It’s a huge void to fill for the culture of San Francisco. He will be greatly missed.

JR Valrey: Can you talk a little bit about some of the virtual panels organized this year?  

David Roach: Since we are going virtual, this means films can be seen whenever you want to see them. The panels are centered around the Q & A after our suggested time to view the film. Let me take a step back. I believe a film festival is like a journey. We all gather on day one, and stay together for however the festival lasts. We try to facilitate everyone to know where to be and where to go after, until the entire event is over. Virtual disrupts the normal behavior of the public showing up at a theater, at a specific time, to see a specific film, which is really the essence of what film festival’s do – host film screenings in theaters. This year, we scheduled the Q & A / panels following our suggested times to view the films to attempt a “journey experience.” These will be conducted on zoom.

JR Valrey: Is the festival cheaper to put on virtually? How does a virtual model affect the bottomline? Is it cheaper? 

David Roach: It is hard to say because we have not done it yet, and we see this year as more of a launch in the virtual space. We shifted more energy abroad, to China, Japan, Germany, Canada, because Covid hampered operations locally. We expect to promote our brand, globally, where we saved a few pennies, locally. How does a virtual model affect the bottomline? During these uncertain times, it is hard to say. The platform we are using to stream on OIFF.org is a global Familyhood and its “do now” strategy 1st Saturdays platform. We hope we can generate revenue abroad to make up for the loss locally. Time will tell.

JR Valrey: Who are some of this year’s sponsors? 

David Roach: The Familyhood Connection Inc, Made in Oakland, The Civility Zone, RBA Creative, Paula Harrell Wine, Myron Potier Designs, Cultural Links, Black New World Media, 1st Saturdays.

JR Valrey: Where could people purchase tickets and get more info? 

David Roach: We will be putting up tickets this week on our website oiff.org. They can visit today to learn about the films and the filmmakers.

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