Ava Duvernay, a Los Angeles-based filmmaker who grew up in Compton, Calif., was dissatisfied with the way people saw her hometown.
"People think of Compton and they think of it as gang-ridden and violent, but I grew up in a very different environment," Duvernay said.
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She wanted to show the world both faces of Compton, and she will. Her short documentary, Compton in C Minor, is scheduled to screen at the upcoming Langston Hughes African American Film Festival (LHAAFF).
Now in its seventh year, the LHAAFF is a staple in Seattle's Central District for giving the neighborhood the opportunity to see unknown indie films specifically about African American culture. It takes place this year April 17-25.
"Our festival's mission is to really deepen the experience of our audience to go beyond the movie itself," said Jacqueline Moscou, artistic director for the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center. "When we find films that speak to very specific issues that can be illuminated, then we actually go out and find a voice for that."
The festival organizers found those voices in African American cultural icons: double dutch, protest songs and hip-hop.
Stephanie Johnes' Doubletime follows two double-dutch teams, one a suburban white team and the other an inner-city black team, as they practice routines to compete in the National Double Dutch League competition at the Apollo Theatre in New York City.
Prior to the screening of Doubletime, a nearby street will be blocked off and participants are invited to practice their double-dutch there. Most films will be shown at the
Central Cinema, because the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Center currently is being renovated.
Soundtrack for a Revolution, a Danny Glover-produced documentary, examines the African American civil rights movement through protest songs.
Before the screening, several community singers and musicians are planning to give a concert of classic and modern protest songs.
Georgio Brown, the producer of the long-running Coolout TV program, has had his finger on the pulse of Seattle's hip-hop scene for 19 years, and he has taken that talent for TV to the silver screen. Brown is both the co-director and indirect subject of Top Left.
"[The movie] shows the emergence and growth of hip-hop in Seattle through the lens of the Coolout Network," said Scott Macklin, a co-director of the film.
The documentary includes local hip-hop VIPS Sir Mix-A-Lot, Emerald Street Boys and Gabriel Teodros, who recall their memories of the burgeoning Seattle hip-hop scene, as well as many other recording artists.
Top Left is still a work in progress, but Macklin said he and Brown are looking forward to presenting a sneak peek to an audience that has deep roots with local hip-hop culture.
Duvernay has participated in the festival before. In 2008 she screened her award-winning This is the Life, another hip-hop documentary, which focused on select underground Los Angeles emcees. She has since returned to speak and teach a workshop.
This year, Duvernay is scheduled to show Compton and to act as a panelist discussing distribution as an independent filmmaker.
She said she hopes filmmakers feel empowered when they leave her discussion.
"The time is now and the tools are there and there are people out there who have done it, like myself," Duvernay said. "We're willing to share our experiences to encourage other people to do it. I hope people walk out of there ready to make their film."
Moscou also hopes to build a stronger community with the LHAAFF.
"Hopefully, at Langston Hughes, [filmmakers] can know that if they come here they won't just be nurturing themselves, they'll be a part of inspiration of other people who come behind them," she said.
Sidebar: Langston Hughes African American Film Festival
April 17-25, 2010 at Central Cinema; opening show at Cinerama; closing show at MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry)
Tickets: $50 Langston Passes - access to all shows
$20 for opening, closing shows
For all other shows:
$7 for Adults
$5 for Seniors
$2 for Youth (under 16)
Visit www.langstonblackfilm fest.org for a full list of films and more information.
Ashleen Aguilar is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory.