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Indianapolis Black Documentary Film Festival rescheduled, goes virtual

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Postponed due to COVID-19, the Indiana Black Documentary Film Festival will be held virtually Aug. 28-29. Originally, the opening night ceremony was supposed to include a fashion show in honor of the film “Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution.” However, the new opening night will be a virtual screening of “The Vision: The True and Untold Story of the Women’s Basketball Association.” 

Curated by Dr. Eric Winston, the film festival — both the virtual festival and the in-person event rescheduled for April 2021 — aims to recognize Black filmmakers and films that reflect the reality of being Black in America, past, present and future.  

Winston, a resident of Xenia, Ohio, became interested in film during his stint as vice president for institutional advancement at Columbia College Chicago. When he retired in 2013, he decided to make a documentary about a program he ran as vice president for development at Wilberforce University in Ohio.  

“I hired a Columbia graduate, and we made a documentary called ‘Taking Israel,’” Winston said. “It focused on African American students that had gone to Israel over a 15-year period and how they became involved and learned about the socioeconomic problems in that country.” 

Winston put “Taking Israel” on the film festival circuit, which garnered several awards and an idea for a new kind of film festival.  

“I saw so many documentaries that told the broad story of African American life,” Winston said. “Documentaries are scattered throughout festivals all over, but what about a festival that is exclusive to documentaries?” 

Indianapolis Public Library was the original location for the festival, in part, because Winston said the staff, along with many people in Indianapolis, were receptive to the idea. After going through online submissions, Winston selected films from nine different states and Canada to fill the two-day event. While the films selected for the online event are still being determined, one of the most anticipated films is “The Last White Knight,” by activist Paul Saltzman.  

Saltzman, who is a white Canadian, recounts his assault at the hands of Klansman Byron de la Beckwith Jr. in Mississippi in 1965. Saltzman, a peace advocate, hopes the film inspires viewers to strive for peace whenever and however they can.  

“When so much love, creativity and peace is possible as a species, we so often turn to violent communication. It’s tragic,” Saltzman said. “We have a choice, any conflict can be resolved peacefully, but if one side needs to be right and one side needs to be wrong, that’s never going to end peacefully.” 

Whether people attend the virtual film festival, the rescheduled festival or both, Winston hopes the films have a lasting impact on attendees and the city. 

“I hope citizens of Indianapolis feel very good about what the festival is bringing to them in terms of timely and thoughtful films about the African American experience,” Winston said.  

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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