The Reichhold Center for the Arts embraces a new creative dimension Sunday with the opening of its premier Virgin Islands International Film and Video Festival.
Caught up in inaugural enthusiasm, the movers and shakers are calling it the "first annual" fest, which is an oxymoron but in this case may be justifiable. Both Karrl Foster, who, with the abrupt departure of Tony Caparelli a few weeks ago, stepped in as producer, and Pamela Toussaint, Reichhold marketing director, are already talking about "next year's festival."
And what they're saying is, as Foster put it, "We're going to get started on it right away, as soon as this one is over."
Meanwhile, this one opens Sunday at 6 p.m. with a by-invitation reception. The program begins at 7 with remarks by festival executive producer and Reichhold director David Edgecombe. The evening's screening will be of a 73-minute video feature made between 1990 and 1995 by St. Thomian Eric Zucker, owner of Flicks Productions, and Thomas Outerbridge. Called Natural Forces, it is described as "a spare but beautiful eco-epic" that "tackles environmental issues in a framework inspired by Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey."
Shot entirely in the Virgin Islands, the story, set in 2037, is of a man trying to build a safe home for his family in a post-apocalyptic world, an effort which entails his embarking on the longest and wildest journey of his life.
Zucker studied film at Columbia University and founded Flicks in 1987. Outerbridge, making his debut as a scriptwriter and producer, is the founder and president of City Green, an environmental organization in New York City. Island residents watching this production will see a lot of familiar faces.
The Monday through Saturday presentations will begin at 7 p.m. and will in most cases conclude "by 11 p.m. — nothing later than 11:30," Foster said.
Monday's first offering will be the premiere showing of a feature video of Jamaican comic Oliver Samuel's fractured fairy tale Oliver & Pinocchio that just happens to have been "made on St. Thomas." Live touring productions of the Caribbean comedy with a teaching point, starring Samuel himself, came to the Reichhold stage not once but twice last year. It was during the October tour that the Reichhold's Digital Video Institute team recorded the performance. The 116-minute edited video that resulted is what will be screened.
Samuel is to speak about the production before the camera rolls.
The evening's second presentation will be the video documentary Who's Gonna Take the Weight (55 minutes, 1997), by Alonzo Rico Speight, who lived on St. Thomas in the 1960s and has family here. He is a veteran filmmaker whose critically acclaimed documentaries have been featured at the Museum of Modern Art and Joseph Papp's Public Theatre in New York.
His entry was the outgrowth of a series of workshops held for African American and Hispanic teens in the United States and their African counterparts in Soweto, South Africa; it features the youths engaging in dynamic dialogue, critiquing the status quo and challenging their elders about their roles in the world.
Tuesday will be an evening of five video shorts, with introductory remarks by director/producer Yvette Smalls and filmmaker Edward LaBorde Jr. They are:
Hair Stories (40 minutes, 1998), by Smalls, chronicling through half a century of personal anecdotes the historical and cultural issues of beauty and African-American "good hair/bad hair" standards. Smalls is a professional hair sculptor. Her video won an audience award at FilmFest New Haven and took second place in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Crystal Photographer (10 minutes), by Thomas Dreijer, utilizing an eyedropper, chemicals, a homemade camera and the filmmaker's curiosity to show a world of color and structure that mirrors the larger elements of the natural one we know.
She Smokes (23 minutes, 1999), focusing on one of the frequent break-ups of a young African-American couple caught up in a turbulent love-hate relationship. Directed by Christa Collins, a San Francisco Bay Area filmmaker, it won a Directors Guild of America Student Award in 1998 and an Eastman Kodak Award at the 1999 New York Women's Film Festival. It was named best short film and second-best film overall at the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame and had its world premiere at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival.
Gumbo (38 minutes, 1997), by Edward LaBorde Jr., examining the dynamics of a Thanksgiving reunion for a large African-American family whose members have grown apart but find themselves thrown together to cope with catastrophe. LaBorde, a St. Thomian, is an independent filmmaker in Oakland, Calif. In 1994, he founded Afro-Flicks, a production company committed to uplifting images of the African Diaspora. His music videos "Y" and "I Like" won first place in the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.
Street Choice (35 minutes, 1998), by George Cox, focusing on two friends from different backgrounds who share concerns about family life, peer pressure and the lure of the streets and try to make sense of the world around them.
Wednesday's program consists of two feature films, Dunbarton Bridge (98 minutes, 1999), directed by Charles Koppelman, and Fawns (129 minutes, 1998), by Still Bros. Pictures. Koppelman will give introductory remarks.
In his first feature film, Koppelman, a seasoned documentary filmmaker and author, captures the pain of isolation and the guilt of neglect as a black Viet Nam veteran in the San Francisco Bay Area is visited by the daughter he had abandoned as an infant 17 years earlier. Described as a meditative, lyrical and poetic feature with a mesmerizing jazz score, the work won "best of fest" at the Rhode Island International Film Festival.
Fawns, directed by Victor Still from a script by Mel Still adapted from a novel by Louis Still, examines with drama and humor the relationships and motives of four black artists and their wealthy, white patroness. The three Still brothers plus two others formed their company in 1996 to demonstrate that low-budget independent filmmakers "need not consign themselves to low visibility and even lower ambitions."
The Thursday program will open with comments by Dorothy Karvi, a publicist with the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame. The showings will be two video documentaries, Ninth Street, by Rick Cowen, and La petite vendeuse de soleil ("The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun"), the last work by Senegalese filmmaker Djibril Diop Mambety, who died in 1998.
La petite vendeuse (45 minutes, 1999) pays tribute to the courage of street children to defy the old, the corrupt and the outwardly rich. Mambety, eschewing the social realism and folkloric styles favored by most African directors, experiments with an "ethical cinematic space" where reality is a continual tension between what is and what could be.
Ninth Street (93 minutes, 1998) examines the lives of a group of social losers who are striving in 1968 to preserve the "Harlem of Kanses," a strip of black-owned bars, nightclubs and small businesses beset by violence, prostitution and the daily struggle for survival.
Friday's offerings are two documentary films by the same producer, Lilibet Foster, Soul in the Hole (1997) and Speaking in Strings (73 minutes, 1999). The first follows the exploits of a talented point guard and the irrepressible coach of his street basketball team in Brooklyn. The Village Voice hailed it as "the best film ever made about basketball — and about growing up black, male and street." The subject of the second, feature-length film is violin virtuoso Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg. The work was selected for official competition at the 1999 Sundance Film Festival, was
named best documentary at the Newport Film Festival and appears on the short list for nomination for this year's Academy Awards.
Foster, originally from the Virgin Islands, has been an independent filmmaker in New York for 12 years.
The festival will close on Saturday with the screening of a single feature film, A Day in Black & White, followed at 9 p.m. by a wine-and-conversation party with the week's presenting artists as special guests. The film was written and directed by Jon Gold, who will offer introductory comments. His work examines the reasons that the same event will be interpreted differently by different people based on their race and culture; it seeks to build a bridge between what is thought and what is said.
One stated purpose of the festival is "to promote films and videos which foster a better understanding among different peoples and cultures." Another is "to give audiences an opportunity to experience the best in cinema over a wide range of themes and styles" by exhibiting "new, undiscovered filmmakers alongside more established directors and producers." Further, the festival was conceived as a vehicle for works that "have their origins in Africa, the Americas or the Caribbean."
The call for entries was posted on the Reichhold web site (www.reichholdcenter.com), with last Dec. 31 as the postmark deadline for submitting entries. Seven categories were specified — feature-length 35mm film (over 58 minutes), 35mm documentary (58 to 178 minutes), short film (35mm under 58 minutes), video feature (over 58 minutes), video short (under 58 minutes), video documentary (58 to 178 minutes) and "experimental/animation" film or video (under 118 minutes). Films had to be in 35mm format; videos could be in 3/4-inch U-matic, 1/2-inch VHS, DVCAM, BETA-SP or 35mm film format.
The rules specified that entries that had "aired on television prior to the festival" might be ineligible for a festival screening; works screened in previous festivals were eligible. The entry fees were $25 for feature film, $20 for video feature and film and video documentaries, $15 for film and video shorts, and $10 for experimental/animation film or video. Initial plans called for the granting of awards; however, the competition aspect was subsequently eliminated.
The festival advisory board comprises Joe Aubain, Michael Bornn, Manny Centeno, Sheena Conway, Richard Doumeng, Gwen-Marie Moolenaar, Addie Ottley and Henry Wheatley. Serving on the film selection committee were Manny Centeno, Robert Luke, Betty Mahoney and Tynnetta McIntosh.
Throughout the festival, both films and videos will be projected onto the big screen across the Reichhold stage. In case of rain, Foster says, the plan is for the shows to go on.
Tickets to individual events are $8 in advance (available only at the Reichhold box office) and $10 at the gate. Several variations on package pricing have been circulated; the most recent one provided to the Source has individual tickets for 3 nights at $20; for 5 nights at $34; and for all 7 nights at $39. (Yeah, that works out to 13 cents more per ticket for five nights than for three.) Call the box office at 693-1559 to learn more.


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