Arts & Culture

There’s a local push for more diversity in the film industry

The film “As an Act of Protest” will be shown at Kings in downtown Raleigh on Saturday, July 15, 2017.
The film “As an Act of Protest” will be shown at Kings in downtown Raleigh on Saturday, July 15, 2017. Contributed photo

“As an Act of Protest,” an independent film about the psychological effects of racism and police brutality, sat shelved after it was finished 16 years ago.

Its release was eclipsed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and some thought the film by Dennis Leroy Kangalee was too intense at the time – too much, too soon.

The film was eventually screened, and now it’s coming to Raleigh. Christopher Everett, a Wilmington-based documentary filmmaker and founder of Speller Street Films, is collaborating with Raleigh Film Underground to show “As an Act of Protest” at 7 p.m. Saturday at Kings downtown.

Everett’s efforts are symbolic of a resurgence of independent films, galvanized in part by a push for more diversity in the industry. His own award-winning documentary, “Wilmington on Fire,” chronicles the Wilmington massacre of 1898 that marked the start of Jim Crow segregation.

“A lot of black films got left out of the mainstream that are very important to black cinema,” said Everett, 34. “They are forgotten gems.”

Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies hopes to increase the pool of African-American filmmakers through a three-year pilot program that offers mentoring, workshops and career support.

The Documentary Diversity Project will have a 10-month fellowship beginning in September for two artists who have already earned degrees, and also an 18-month program starting in January for 18- to 24-year-olds interested in creating documentaries.

“The demographics of this country have changed drastically and we don’t have all of those voices in the dialogue,” said Lynn McKnight, an associate director at the Center for Documentary Studies. “We need to address that as a country.”

Last year, only white actors and actresses were nominated in the top categories of the Academy Awards, prompting the use of the hashtag #OscarsSoWhite on social media and also discussions about race in Hollywood.

McKnight said it’s important to bring more diverse voices to documentary films.

“Putting cameras, mikes and tape recorders into the hands of people who don’t usually have them is powerful and transformative for those people, and for others who don’t get to hear their stories,” she said.

DOCS Photo 5 Act Christopher Everett
Christopher Everett is a documentary filmmaker in Wilmington. Contributed photo

Everett tries to inspire other emerging filmmakers such as Natalie Bullock Brown, an assistant professor of film and broadcast media at Saint Augustine’s University in Raleigh. Brown is working to complete her documentary, “baartman, beyoncé & me,” which examines the historical context and the social and psychological impacts of western beauty ideals on black women.

The greatest challenge for filmmakers of color, Brown said, is to secure enough funding to complete projects – and to be heard.

“As an independent filmmaker, Christopher is demonstrating the power of sheer willpower,” Brown said of Everett’s success. “The stories he’s telling need to be told.

“It’s really vital that filmmakers of color are able to tell the stories we want to tell so we can even out the storytelling – and gaps in the storytelling – so people know the history in ways we have not known before because they address and challenge the status quo.”

Kangalee, who made “As an Act of Protest,” knows that well. He suggests today’s artists reach back in history to tap into the importance of other artists’ work.

“In terms of human rights, morality and consciousness, if artists can get back on track remembering, historically, how important we are –whether it’s civil rights or the anti-war movement – maybe we can bring some form clarity to the activists who can solve the problems,” said Kangalee, 41. “That’s how we work together. That’s where strength resides.”

Everett said the work to bring more diversity to films is important, and there’s lots more to be done in North Carolina.

“There are still plenty of stories throughout the state that need to be told, and I see a lot of emerging filmmakers – I’m one – ready to tell them,” he said. “People want to know these stories that can really change their viewpoint on things. Art can create change, and if I have the ability to do it, then let’s do it.”

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If you go

“As an Act of Protest” will screen at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Kings, 14 W. Martin St., Raleigh. Doors will open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $10 at the door or in advance at www.actofprotest.eventbrite.com. Proceeds will help pay for the re-mastering of the film for DVD as it tours art-houses, theaters and college campuses.

“Wilmington on Fire” will be shown at 3 p.m. Sunday, July 23, at Covenant Christian Church, 2911 SW Cary Parkway, Cary. For more information about the film, go to www.wilmingtononfire.com.

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