Even the more established presenters at this year's Oakland International Film Festival people like actor Danny Glover and director Charles Burnett will feature work that's a little more off the beaten track than the rest of their oeuvre. Best known for his stinging 1977 drama Killer of Sheep and creepy, psychological film To Sleep with Anger both of which presented complex, naturalistic portraits of African-American characters without ever devolving into familiar clichés Burnett this time casts his lens on Sam Nujoma, who became the first president of Namibia after a long struggle to free the country from South African occupation. Called Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation, the film screens alongside other topical works like Jesus Beltran's The Grass Grows Green which depicts the internal monologue of a military recruiter and Cecil Brown's I, Stagolee, which spawned from his book about a ragtime-era St. Louis pimp who becomes an improbable political activist. Far more sophisticated than a typical Hollywood morality tale, each of these films creates a situation in which the good guys stand perilously close to the bad guys. Not to mention that in The Grass Grows Green and I, Stagolee, the character you most want to identify as the film's moral compass has the complexity and ambiguity of a real human being.
And that's just opening night. This year's festival, which runs Thursday, October 18 through Wednesday, October 24, features films from all parts of the world, covering subjects as varied as Native American gaming, the budding "Nollywood" film industry in Nigeria, the complex biography of Oakland comedian Cole Black, the sociology of barbershops, and the recent Tent City protests in Richmond. Other highlights include Bay Area documentaries Audio Rebellion which follows Prisoners of Conscience Committee chairman Fred Hampton Jr. and minister of information JR Valrey as they interview famous Black Panther activists and underground hip-hop artists and Definition: Aya de León, which centers on a prominent and beloved local spoken-word artist. Oakland International Film Festival culminates with a showcase of works by Oakland directors, which includes Robert Philipson's short, Ma Rainey's Lesbian Licks, and the Streetside production Oakpark, about a Cambodian community wedged between the Fruitvale and San Antonio districts of East Oakland an area oft-characterized as "Murder Dubbs." Held at Grand Lake Theater with additional events at Zza's Trattoria, the festival includes a special workshop for actors and filmmakers, held Saturday, October 20 at Lakeview Elementary School (time TBA). Tickets for individual screenings cost $10-$15; $100 for an all-screening pass and $300 for an all-access pass. OIFF.org.
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