PAFF: Paving the Way for Black Films

The competitive line-up for the 2012 Pan African Film Festival is heavily loaded with powerful narratives, off-the-wall tales and urban love stories. A showcase for films of African heritage, and an alternative to mainstream film festivals such as Cannes and Sundance, it’s a place, according to the festival’s co-founder, Ayuko Babu, where black filmmakers go to get recognition for their projects.


Oscar-nominated director John Singleton,  Oscar- and Emmy-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, iconic director Bill Duke and Emmy-nominated actor Idris Elba. Photo courtesy of PAFF.

“There are no black audiences at Cannes and Sundance,” says Babu. “If you don’t have a main or big studio behind your film, what you do is put your film in a film festival to show a distributor that there is an audience for your film. That’s why black film festivals are important.” With 160 films culled from 500 submissions in continents from South America, Europe and Africa, the Pan African Film Festival has been very, very good for black cinema. Just a few years ago, the South African film, Tsotsi, won the jury prize for best feature at the 2006 Festival. The movie went on to win the Foreign Film category at the Oscars.

Ayuko Babu, founder and executive director of PAFF. Photo courtesy of PAFF.

“We promoted and talked about it and were able to get the old voters from the Academy to come out and see and vote for that film,” adds Babu who partially credits PAFF’s involvement for the movie’s success.

Established in 1992 by Danny Glover, actress Ja’Net DuBois and Babu, an  international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs,  PAFF holds the distinction of being the largest Black History Month event in the country. “It’s the only place we can tell our stories,” continues Babu. “As a result of slave trade and colonization, African people and people of African descent are spread out throughout the world, so our stories are complex.”

Pan African Film Festival founder Ayuko Babu with congresswoman Karen Bass  and Blair Underwood. Photo courtesy of PAFF.

From “Children of God,” which deals with homophobia in the Caribbean community to “Africa United,” an extraordinary story of three Rwandan kids who walk 3000 miles to the Soccer World Cup in South Africa, PAFF offers a slate of culturally enriching films. “There are always a new craft of films and each year our stories are different as each year people bring new stories. That is what makes the festival fresh and interesting because we as a people are telling our own stories.”

Screenings will take place on February 9-20 at the new Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills 15, after which the festival will hand out prizes for Best Documentary Feature, Best Documentary Short, Best Narrative Short, Best Narrative Feature, and Best First Feature Film, as well as audience favorite awards at the close of the festival.

Now in its 20th year, the festival draws a large contingent of trade people that includes painters, sculptors and jewelers. With 91 feature length films and 67 short films on the schedule, among this year’s offerings is a documentary on Bob Marley by director Esther Anderson & Gian Godoy, which is based on footage short in the early 1970s and lost for 38 years. There’s also the powerful documentary on the orgin of AIDS. Directed by Peter Chappell & Catherine Peix, the filmmakers connect the origin of AIDS with the injection of nearly a million Africans with an experimental polio vaccine.

Ayuko Babu chats it up with Oscar-winner Sidney Poitier, whose been honored by the festival with a Lifetime Achievement Award for his contributions to film. Photo courtesy of PAFF

“A lot of black films try to explain us to other people and we are not interested in films that try to explain us to other people. The story is the important thing. A movie which enhances enriches and enlightens is what we are interested in.” continues Babu, who sits on jury of the African Movie Academy awards.

For much of the festival’s 11 days, PAFF will take movie goers on a cinematic journey with international film screenings from around the globe, particularly from movies from the African continent, and Q & A’s with directors. “We have one billion black people in Africa and the future for the Pan African Film business rests in South Africa and Nigeria. They have broken out and are creating stories and movies. They have their studios and the money and they don’t need the American market.”

The festival also hosts an awards show, Night of Tribute, honoring world-renowned actors, filmmakers, community leaders and fine artists for their contributions on stage, television, film, the arts and the community.

Produced and televised on The Africa Channel, the Night of Tribute honors world-renowned actors, filmmakers, community leaders and artists for their contributions in the film and entertainment industry. Actress Meagan Good (“Think Like a Man,” “Jumping the Broom,”) and actor David Oyelowo (“Red Tails”) will receive the Beah Richards and Canada Lee Emerging Artist Awards, respectively. Emmy Award-winning actress Loretta Devine (“Jumping the Broom,” Tyler Perry’s “For Colored Girls,”) will receive the festival’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

For more information on PAFF, visit

Samantha Ofole-Prince is a journalist and movie critic who covers industry-specific news that includes television and film. She serves as the Entertainment Editor for Trendy Africa.

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