More than 80 movies by and about African Americans will be screened in D.C. next week as part of the inaugural Smithsonian’s African American Film Festival.
The four-day festival, which runs from Oct. 24 – 27, includes films ranging from Hollywood hits to experimental shorts. The event is organized by the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
The festival’s goal is to introduce the breadth and depth of African American film to a wider audience, according to Kinshasha Holman Conwill, the museum’s deputy director.
“There’s something for the cinephile who knows film like that back of her or his hand, and there’s something for the person who’s just learning about African American film,” she said. “From the most popular to the most provocative, it is all here.”
Most of the screenings will take place in the museum’s Oprah Winfrey Theater, though the Freer|Sackler and National Gallery of Art will also host some screenings.
The festival kicks off on Wednesday night with Widows, a new film starring Viola Davis that doesn’t hit theaters until mid-November. The director, Steve McQueen, became the first black filmmaker to win an Academy Award for Best Picture for his 2013 film 12 Years A Slave. If you’re interested in attending the Widows screening, you’re unfortunately out of luck – it’s already sold out.
The festival will also give audiences the chance to see films from the museum’s extensive collection. These range from Garden, a five-minute experimental short from 2017, to Black Panthers, a 1968 documentary about the Black Panther Party and its members’ fight to free their imprisoned co-founder Huey P. Newton.
And while the 2017 Marvel superhero movie Black Panther isn’t part of the lineup, attendees of the festival’s “Night at the Museum” celebration on Oct. 25 will be able to see the costume worn by actor Chadwick Boseman in the blockbuster film on display for the first time. The museum acquired the costume and other objects from the film earlier this year.
Netflix will stream its new documentary Quincy on Friday, Oct. 26. The film tells the story of the iconic music producer and singer Quincy Jones; it was co-produced by his daughter, the actress Rashida Jones. The titular Jones will speak on a panel following the screening.
If you’d rather talk than watch, you can attend one of the festival’s free Exchanges forums at the Freer|Sackler. Discussion topics include stop-motion animation and the museum’s home movie digitization project, Great Migration. Under that program, visitors can bring in home videos made on obsolete media (we’re talking eight-millimeter film and cassettes) and get them digitized and preserved.
“What it allows us to do,” said Rhea Combs, the museum’s film and photographer curator, “is tell the American story through the African American lens. Literally.”
The festival also builds upon work started by the D.C. Black Film Festival to highlight lesser-known black filmmakers and actors for the Washington audience. “We don’t ever want to be the all-consuming Smithsonian that comes into a community and takes over,” Conwill said of its role in the broader film festival ecosystem. The D.C. Black Film Festival celebrated its second event this year.
The African American Film Festival’s closing day features an awards ceremony for the juried film competition. Fifteen finalist films are competing in six different categories: Best Documentary Short, Best Narrative Short, Best Documentary Feature, Best Narrative Feature, Best Experimental & Animation, and the Audience Award.
The festival closes Saturday night with a screening of a film adaptation of James Baldwin’s 1974 novel, If Beale Street Could Talk.
You can buy tickets for specific films or events here, and see the full slate of screenings here. The festival is scheduled to recur every other year at the museum.