The 23rd annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival


The 23rd annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival (PAFF) returns to its home at the Rave Cinemas 15. PAFF, the largest Black History Month event in the United States, runs from February 5-16, 2015.

Ayuka Babu and partner Asantewa Olatunji have shepherded the remarkable PAFF since 1989, when Gilbert Minot, secretary general of Syli Cinema, Guinea’s national government agency in charge of media, asked if he would be interested in helping to bring African films to the United States.

Together with their team they have introduced African filmmakers to the American audience, served as true cultural ambassadors, created social and cultural dialogue between communities and built a multi- generational audience for African, African American and African Diaspora filmmakers. They have served the local community, and since 1999, when they launched the Atlanta festival, they have continued their cultural work in that city as well.

Were we living in a traditional culture, they would be feted as Community Elders and keepers of the flame.

Stanley Nelson’s “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” will make its West Coast premiere as the Opening Night film selection. “Triangle-Going to America” will be highlighted as the Centerpiece selection and closing the Festival is “The Man in 3B”.  “Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band”, a film produced by Nelson, will also play at PAFF.

Veteran documentarian Stanley Nelson (“Freedom Summer”, “Jonestown: The Life and Death of Peoples Temple “) brings his newest film to PAFF straight from Sundance Film Festival for its West Coast premiere. “The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution” takes a look at the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party, but also how it influenced how African-Americans look at themselves today. Whether they were right or wrong, whether they were good or bad, more than 40 years after the Black Panther Party was founded in Oakland, California, the group and its leadership remain powerful and enduring figures in our popular imagination. The Black Panthers is the first feature-length documentary to showcase the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for Black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. The film includes riveting eyewitness accounts from the first members who joined the organization when its founder, Huey P. Newton, was still alive as a young, brash upstart who confronted local police and American tradition with a loaded gun and a law book. This film weaves voices from varied perspectives who lived this story — police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters, and detractors, those who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. Because the participants from all sides were so young in the 60s and 70s, they are still around to share firsthand accounts. Nelson will be present for the Opening night screening.

Nelson, a virtual documentary factory, is known for his balanced reportage. His body of work has widely disseminated the history of the African’ American experience often via PBS, where he has produced numerous award-winning series: beginning with “Listening to America with Bill Moyers” and “The American Experience.”

“PAFF is excited about hosting award-winning director Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution.  This film is right on time. The issues that the Black Panther Party and other Black Power organizations dealt with in the 1960s continue to be the major issues confronting the black community today. The film offers a striking and compelling look at the personalities, the drama, the wit that come hurtling down to us in the present day. The film is an entertaining must-see for all who are looking to better understand where we are at this historical moment and where we might go in the future,” says PAFF Founder and Executive Director, Ayuko Babu.

The Centerpiece film- the World Premiere of “Triangle-Going to America” by Theodros Teshome Kebede, tackles immigration.  Each year, hundreds of Africans from Ethiopia, Eritrea and throughout the African continent leave their countries to make the journey across the world with hope and dreams of coming to America. The film’s characters Kaleab and Jemal are willing to endure any danger to reach America and the promise of a better life. Along the way Kaleab meets Winta, an Eritrean beauty who is also making the journey. Together, they travel an arduous and illegal path wrought with danger, exploitation and death from East and North Africa through Italy, Mexico and finally to the United States. Triangle stars Solomon Bogale and Mahder Assefa, two of the most famous actors in Ethiopia.

“At PAFF, we always want to stay current with today’s domestic and international issues and be entertaining at the same time. Triangle fits into this vision.  Immigration is not just an issue in the Latino community, but also affects the Black communities in the U.S. and Europe,” adds Babu. Director and cast members will be present.

Closing Night is the World premiere of Trey Haley’s “The Man In 3B”, a drama based on the characters from New York Times Best Selling author Carl Weber’s novel “The Man In 3B.  Darryl Graham (Lamman Rucker) has just moved into a Jamaica, Queens apartment building and his neighbors, both male and female alike, can’t stop talking about him. He immediately becomes intertwined in each of the tenants’ lives… but when a murder happens in the building everyone becomes a prime suspect. Starring Lamman Rucker, Christian Keyes, Brely Evans, Anthony Montgomery, Robert Ri’chard, DB Woodside, Kellita Smith, James Black, Olivia Longott, Trisha Mann, with Jackee Harry, Marla Gibbs and Billy Dee Williams.

Actor, Humanitarian, Author, Health and Wellness Ambassador and Philanthropist, Hill Harper is this year’s Celebrity Ambassador for the 2015 Pan African Film & Arts Festival.

Hill Harper is most recognizable for his starring role in the hit television drama, “CSI: NY,” where he played eccentric Dr. Sheldon Hawkes from 2004 until early 2013. Harper won three NAACP Image Awards for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his portrayal of Dr. Hawkes.  He most recently starred on USA Network’s “Covert Affairs,” as CIA station chief Calder Michaels. Prior to “CSI: NY,” Harper co-starred as an ambitious undercover FBI operative on the CBS series, “The Handler,” which earned him a 2004 Golden Satellite Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

Hill Harper is best known for his starring role in the hit television drama, “CSI: NY,” (where he played eccentric Dr. Sheldon Hawkes from 2004-2013)  which won Harper three NAACP Image Awards for Best Lead Actor in a Drama Series. He recently starred on USA Network’s “Covert Affairs,” as CIA station chief Calder Michaels. Prior to “CSI: NY,” Harper co-starred as an ambitious undercover FBI operative on the CBS series, “The Handler,” which earned him a 2004 Golden Satellite Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Drama Series.

In 2014, People Magazine named Harper one of their Sexiest Men Alive. Harper was awarded the best actor prize at the First Time Fest for his starring role in “1982″.  He will next be seen alongside Jennifer Lopez in the Universal Pictures film, “The Boy Next Door,” releasing January 23, 2015. Harper recently wrapped production on his next film, “Concussion,” alongside Will Smith.

Harper has also authored four New York Times bestsellers: “Letters to a Young Brother,” “Letters to a Young Sister,” “The Conversation” and “The Wealth Cure,” which chronicled his diagnosis with thyroid cancer and his journey to health. “Letters to a Young Brother” won several awards and was named “Best Book for Young Adults” by the American Library Association in 2007.

In an effort to stop the high school drop out rate of underserved youth, Harper created the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, dedicated to empowering, encouraging and inspiring youth to succeed through mentorship, scholarship and grant programs.  In August 2012, President Barack Obama appointed Hill Harper as a Member, President’s Cancer Panel; a key Administration post seeking to combat cancer and its devastating effects.

“I am honored to be the Celebrity Ambassador for such a prestigious and global film festival. PAFF has supported me in my career journey from the beginning and I look forward to giving back and supporting up and coming artists, as well as my peers,” says Harper.

PAFF Founder and Executive Director, Ayuko Babu states, “Hill Harper’s talent and devotion to his community made him the perfect choice as the 2015 PAFF Celebrity Ambassador. We are looking forward to an amazing festival.”

The Pan African Film & Arts Festival has premiered a host of top black films including “Think Like a Man”, “Free Angela and All Political Prisoners”, “About Last Night,” “Love & Basketball”, and many more. Each year, PAFF presents awards of recognition to key industry players and rising stars who have soared in the film industry. Previous recipients include Forest Whitaker, Loretta Devine, Charles Dutton, Alfre Woodard, Idris Elba, Billy Dee Williams, Sidney Poitier, Nicole Beharie, Omari Hardwick, Phylicia Rashad, David Oyelowo, Nate Parker, Taraji P. Henson and a host of other extraordinary industry professionals both in front of and behind the camera.

The Festival showcases over 100 films and over 100 fine artists and unique craft persons from the United States, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, South America, Europe, the South Pacific and Canada, all showcasing the diversity and complexity of people of African descent. The Festival also features special red carpet screenings and receptions, as well as a variety of other special events, including panels & workshops headed by industry professionals on various topics surrounding acting, directing and other film industry related topics.

“So much that has been written about African or Black people tries to explain us to other people, and I’m bored with that,” Babu maintains, asserting that films “don’t have to be directed by a person of color or about people of color. “

Asantewa Olatunji, PAFF’s chief programmer, general manager and general counsel, works with three other programmers to review all of the films submitted; then a jury makes its selection. There are two major criteria for selecting the films: (1) the films must “speak to,” excite and be of interest to people of African descent and (2) the festival must show works that do not get a chance to be seen.

PAFF was founded in 1992 by award-winning actor Danny Glover (“The Color Purple,” “Lethal Weapon” movie franchise), Emmy Award-winning actress Ja’Net DuBois (best known for her role as the busybody neighbor Willona in the TV series, “Good Times”), director of programming/ general manager Ms. Asantewa Olatunji and executive director, Ayuko Babu, an international legal, cultural and political consultant who specializes in African Affairs. PAFF is a non-profit corporation dedicated to the promotion of ethnic and racial respect and tolerance through the exhibit of films, art and creative expression.

Under Mr. Babu’s leadership the Pan African Film Festival has established institutional ties with the Directors Guild of America, FESPACO, where he is currently a consultant, the National Black Arts Festival in Atlanta, Georgia, the Cinema Africano Film Festival in Milan, Italy and the Zanzibar International Film Festival.

Babu (then a consultant to Stevie Wonder, facilitated Mr. Wonder’s participation at FESTAC-Lagos, Nigeria and coordinated the satellite transmission of Mr. Wonder’s GRAMMY appearance from Lagos. He served as a delegate to the 6th Pan African Congress in Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania in 1974, facilitating the performance of Les Ballets Africains de la Republique de Guinee at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984 and serving as Co-Chair of the Program Committee for The Nelson Mandela Reception Committee at the Los Angeles Coliseum, in 1990.

He was named a “Living History Makers” by the business and economic magazine, Turning Point in 2002, and one of Los Angeles’ most influential leaders by the Los Angeles Times and the L.A. Weekly.

Ms. Asantewa Olatunji, PAFF’s general manager and director of programming, began her career as an entertainment lawyer on the staff of Paramount Pictures Entertainment Corporation. She has enjoyed a diversified legal career in the areas of entertainment law, civil litigation, immigration law and labor law. Besides managing a private law practice, Ms, Olatunji was General Counsel for the Los Angeles Black Employees Association, where she currently sits on the Board of Directors.

With an attendance of over 30,000 people, Ms. Olatunji has grown PAFF into the largest and most prestigious Black film festival in the United States.  Ms. Olatunji originated the annual fine arts show presented by PAFF presented every February in conjunction with PAFF during the US Black History Month  Attracting an estimated 75,000 people, the PAFF art show  has become one of the largest Black fine art markets and shows in the United States.

PAFF Institute: PAFF provides a rich array of panels and workshops led by industry leaders.
Location: All panels will be held at RAVE Cinemas 15 & BHCP

Saturday, February 7
Christianity on Trial in Film: Examining the Historical Credibility of Biblical Epics on the Big Screen.
10:00am – 12:00pm
A panel comprised of Christian apologists (intellectual defenders of the faith), biblical historians and Christian filmmakers will discuss the historical record behind Biblical epics such as “Noah,” “Exodus” and the “Bible Miniseries” by examining the corresponding forensic, archaeological and scientific evidence. The audience will have an opportunity to put the credibility of the scriptures on trial through a Q&A session to determine whether they believe these great epics are Fact, Fiction or Folklore.

Meet the Producers
10:00am – 12:00pm
Panelists will discuss what it takes to become a successful producer, getting your work in front of power brokers, and how to have staying power.

Saturday, February 14
A Conversation with a Power Broker
10:00am – 12:00pm
An in depth conversation with one of the most influential power brokers in Hollywood. We will discuss career trajectory, what it takes to become a power broker, what’s next, and how we can make Hollywood history.

TV Directors Workshop
12:45pm to 2:45pm
Some of the most sought after directors in television will cover what it takes to direct for television, shooting a pilot, and helpful tips that any director would find useful in building a career in directing.
Conversation with…
1:00pm- 2:45pm
Stay tuned. You won’t want to miss this one.

Sunday, Feb. 15
The Writers Workshop
10am – 2:45pm
This workshop will be an in depth overview of the fundamentals necessary to be an effective writer, how to take your writing to the next level and the steps to take in order to get your writing seen by someone who can get your name in the credits.
I’ve Secured the Deal, how do I protect myself legally?
10am to 12:00pm
You’ve just closed that big deal. Entertainment Super Lawyer Stephen Barnes shares tips on how to protect your legal rights.

Monday, Feb. 16
The Actors Workshop
12:45pm to 2:45pm
This workshop will be hosted by working actors, casting directors, producers, and directors who will provide insight into acting techniques that guarantee success, what to do in the casting room, how to land a job through networking, and the business of acting.

Festival passes and tickets are on sale now. For more information on PAFF, including screening schedule and events, please visit 
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About Author

Robin Menken

Robin Menken Robin Menken lives in Los Angeles. She was the Artistic Director of the Second City Workshops, taught at UC Berkeley, USC, Barcelona\'s Ateneu and the Esalin Institute. She was Roberto Rossellini\'s assistant, and worked with Yevgeny Vevteshenku, Glauber Rocha and Eugene Ionesco. She sold numerous screenplays and wrote the OBIE winning The FTA SHow (touring with Jane Fonda, Donald Sutherland and Ben Vereen.) She was a programming consultant and Special Events co-ordinator for numerous film festivals, including the SF, Rio, Havana and N.Y Film Festivals. Her first news outlet was the historic East Village Other.

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