Film history: African arts festival adds movies to its lineup

Film history: African arts festival adds movies to its lineup|Film history: African arts festival adds movies to its lineup|Film history: African arts festival adds movies to its lineup
Photo by Jason Speakman|Akae Beka|Photo by Jason Speakman

An old festival learns new flicks!

When the International African Arts Festival returns to Brooklyn for the 47th time this month, it will add a new element — a documentary film festival. The chairman of the festival, running at Commodore Barry Park in Fort Greene from June 30 to July 4, said that adding movies to the annual celebration of African music and culture has been in the works for a long time.

“It’s been something we’ve discussed for years,” said Segun Shabaka.“It’s going to feature films from all over the African Diaspora,”

The schedule is still being finalized, said Shabaka, but two or three films will screen during each day of the festival, for a total of 12 to 15 films.

Shabaka hopes the films, which are all documentaries or focused on a particular time period, will give viewers a new look at the African continent and its people.

“We’re trying to bring in a historical perspective for the audience — that’s the objective,” said Shabaka.

In addition to the movies, the festival will feature Brooklyn dance troupes KowTeff African Dance Company and Ishangi Family African Dancers, along with a market area for African crafts, and musicians from Cuba, Cape Verde, U.S. Virgin Islands, and Trinidad and Tobago.

Music men: Roots reggae band Akae Beka, formerly known as Midnight, will perform at the International African Arts Festival on July 2.
Akae Beka

The festival’s opening night will feature a tribute to jazz musician John Coltrane, performed by the Reggie Workman Ensemble.

The festival prides itself celebrating the wide variety of African cultures represented in Brooklyn, said Shabaka.

“We are truly a pan-African celebration. We have different food vendors, artisans, patrons, performers, and everybody diverse in the African world, so we pull in a diverse crowd,” said Shabaka.

“We are preserving and honoring our heritage,” Shabaka added, “and this is a celebration of African culture — from Africa to its Diaspora.”

The festival’s theme this year is solidarity, and a series of panels on June 30 will discuss common issues that affect people of African descent all around the world. Shabaka sees solidarity as vital to the festival’s goal of celebrating and bringing together all sorts of Diasporic cultures.

“Every year we pick a theme that is relevant to the African world and when we think about what we should be doing — it’s solidarity,” he said. “It should be on our minds, because we have to keep finding ways to come together as African people, and see our struggle as a collective. Culture is just one of the ways we celebrate each other and who we are, and this is like a celebration towards solidarity.”

International African Arts Festival at Commodore Barry Park [Navy Street between Flushing and Park avenues in Fort Greene, (718) 638–6700,]. June 30–July 4, 10 am–9 pm. $5 suggested donation ($2 kids).

Fan-tastic: The five-day run of the International African Arts Festival, opening on June 30 in Fort Greene, will feature a large market with Afican clothing and crafts.
Photo by Jason Speakman

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at Follow her on Twitter @AS1mon.