Malcolm, You, and Me 

Malcolm X Film Festival plays Los Medanos College.

The life of El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz, better known as Malcolm X, was indeed epic. His experience was the American experience, and it gradually clarified his vision for change, for real progress, and for human enlargement "by any means necessary." Those are Malcolm's words, of course, and they have been taken by some as an incitement to violence. But others have heard in them a mantra of bravery, determination, and unwavering self-respect.

The day-long Malcolm X Film Festival at Los Medanos College this Saturday aims to honor those ideals, and the man, by exhibiting what program director Nisa Ra (pictured) describes as his "strong spirit, courage, moral conviction, and the pursuit of knowledge and truth." Dr. Oba T'Shaka, a writer and professor at SF State -- which, thanks to his efforts, became the first four-year college to develop a Black Studies curriculum -- will introduce the festival's centerpiece, Arnold Perl's 1972 documentary Malcolm X, with a brief talk about the importance of the man's legacy. There will also be a short but diverse program of movies chosen for their palpable contributions to that legacy's spirit.

The fest, running from noon to 9 p.m., begins with Kirikou and the Sorceress, an animated African fable. Then, from the much-praised father of African cinema, Senegalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene, Faat-Kine tells the story of a single mother struggling to balance the trials and aspirations of her life against an ingrained history of tribalism and male domination. Its setting is the modern, politically anxious, and socially stratified city of Dakar. Sembene's protagonist happens to be exactly as old as Senegalese independence, and the director uses this conceit keenly, to assess the rapid changes Africa has seen in the last forty years.

Mexican director Rafael Rebollar's documentary From Florida to Coahuila: The History of the Black Seminoles is about the tenacity of the Mascogos, descendants of runaway slaves from the American South who for a time lived among the Seminole Indians. When the US government confiscated their land, the so-called "Black Seminoles" embraced mobility without sacrificing cultural continuity. Rebollar examines the complex history of their perseverance.

Ra has high hopes for this festival, intending it to "break the cycle of ignorance and oppression, freeing and empowering the human spirit." The films offer a full history lesson, an ornate and vivid mosaic of American blackness. But they quickly move beyond that somber duty into the more joyful business of crossing racial frontiers -- and of providing entertainment. As befits the occasion, the films glow with the accumulated insight of Malcolm X, whose most audacious act was his legitimate spiritual achievement, a religious renunciation of the divisiveness originally attributed to him. By the end of his turbulent life, he radiated an inherent dignity, and he remains "unconquered still," in the words of actor Ossie Davis' eulogy. "Malcolm was our manhood," Davis said, "our living black manhood. This was his meaning to his people, and in honoring him we honor the best in ourselves."

The Malcolm X Film Festival takes place Saturday, May 17, 12-9 p.m., in the Little Theatre of Los Medanos College, 2700 E. Leland Rd., Pittsburg. Admission is free. Call 925-207-3693 for more information.

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