Afrikana Indie Film Fest brings full-length feature to RVA

A “whole world of movies” is getting some long due local love.

The Richmond premiere of full-length documentary Finding Fela this Sunday at The Byrd marks the next rung a new nonprofit has climbed in its goal to bring black independent films to Richmond.

“There are a many films, especially indie films–especially black indie films–that do have a theatrical release in larger cities…but Richmond is not always on that radar,” said Enjoli Moon, founder and creative director of the Afrikana Independent Film Festival. “Our goal is to keep films by and about people of color coming here to the Richmond area and keeping people engaged.”

The nonprofit derives from Moon’s interest in the world of black indie film. She saw smatterings of it while “digging the digital crate” of Netflix and others. “I just started looking at these movies online and just kind of started digging. Once I found one, I found another,” she said. “I was like, ‘There is a whole world of movies that no one would ever know about because they’re so far off the beaten path and out of the mainstream.'”

Earlier this year, Moon opted to bypass the mainstream outright and bring black indie films and filmmakers to Richmond herself. She publicly launched the Afrikana Independent Film Festival in September when the nonprofit premiered Noir, a series in which a local art gallery hosts a short film every third Thursday of the month September through April.

“They just give people an opportunity to be further exposed to short films, because even if we did have a stronger indie community [in Richmond], it’s a rarity that you would see shorts,” Moon said. “I bring the filmmaker into town, have them do a presentation and audience Q-and-A, and a little mixer afterwards.”

This month’s Noir takes place at Candela Books & Art Gallery on Thursday at 7:00 PM. Filmmaker R. Shanea Williams will be in town to screen and discuss her film Contamination:

When selecting films, Moon said she first assesses the quality of their visuals. “Then I look for good stories. I look for movies that touch me, that pull me in,” she said. If a film pulls her in, there’s a good chance it’ll pull others in too.

Sunday’s screening of Finding Fela at The Byrd marks the first full-length feature Afrikana Film Festival has screened. The documentary centers on Fela Kuti, a Nigerian freedom fighter and musician who created the Afrobeat music style.1

“He holds a fairly significant space in people’s minds because of the work that he did in fighting against the dictatorial regime of the Nigerian government in the 1970s and 1980s,” Moon said. “He was often arrested, harassed, and looked at as an enemy of the state because he spoke out against the injustices of that particular system and imperialism as a whole.”

Kuti’s efforts coincided with the Black Power Movement in the United States. “They kind of fed off one another. Kuti was known to say that certain figures from that time period helped influence his stance. And from all the international influences, he created this form of music that became a revolution onto itself.

The ongoing Noir series and the upcoming screening of Finding Fela plays into Moon’s overall ambitions. “What I’m seeking to do is have year-round programming to keep the community engaged and increase the exposure, and give filmmakers a platform to share their stories here in the Richmond area,” she said. That year-round programming will ultimately feed into an annual three-day film festival here in the city.

Despite being only a few months old, the Afrikana Independent Film Festival is well on its way to bringing indie films by and about people of color to Richmond. “People seem to be excited about the idea and I look forward to seeing how it evolves over the next few years,” Moon said.

The next Noir installment takes place at Candela Books & Art Gallery on Thursday, November 20th at 7:00 PM. Finding Fela screens on Sunday, November 23rd at 7:30 PM at The Byrd.

Photo courtesy of Heather Addley Photography

  1. Which fuses elements of funk, jazz, and traditional West African rhythm. 
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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