Wednesday, October 14, 2020

The Hayti Heritage Film Festival Collaborates with NeXt Doc for Inaugural Drive-In Screenings

Ruth Samuel | September 30, 2020 | Story #5 for MEJO 253

The Hayti Heritage Film Festival Collaborates with NeXt Doc for Inaugural Drive-In Screenings 

DURHAM, N.C. --- Friday through Sunday, the Hayti Heritage Film Festival partnered with NeXt Doc, a community of filmmakers, to host nightly drive-in documentary film screenings, continuing their yearly programming and efforts to safely promote the arts amidst COVID-19. 

“When I moved to Durham, you could find Black-themed films that were made by white filmmakers and I realized how difficult it was to have a Black film ecosystem,” said Lana Garland, festival director & curator. “I decided to make it a festival for Black filmmakers in general, with a focus on Black Southern filmmakers.”

Garland, a media industry veteran and an arts administrator at Duke University, has been leading the festival since 2017. Embarking on its 27th year, the Hayti Heritage Film Festival is one of the oldest Black film festivals in the nation. Traditionally housed within Durham’s historic Hayti Heritage Center, the festival takes place annually in February, accompanied by year-long programming, workshops, and events sustaining the arts and storytelling. This year, due to the pandemic, the festival has been moved to a drive-in experience for safety. 

53-year-old Omisade Burney-Scott said, “I'm a big fan of the Hayti Heritage Film Festival and have been a supporter, participant, and observer in it for the past few years. When Lana started sharing that this pop-up drive-in theater was going to be possible, I was really excited. I haven't been to a drive-in theater since I was nine.” 

In February, Burney-Scott, a 1989 communications graduate of UNC-Chapel Hill, premiered her own documentary “Bonne Mort” about her work as a death doula. Since then, the viewing experience has changed, but she still looked forward to seeing stories on screen and sharing a communal space with others.

“When I first moved here, there were folks who were like, ‘Aren't you afraid to move to Durham?’ It was constantly getting a bad rap in the news. I told them, one thing I've never been afraid of is my people. Ever,” said Burney-Scott, who has been living in Durham since 1997. 

Attracting over 1000 attendees last year, the festival is typically held inside of the Center, supported by the St. Joseph’s AME Church Historic Foundation. Analogous to a marketplace, the event allows festivalgoers to watch films, mingle with one another, and purchase apparel, DVDs, and more. Tickets are approximately $10, similar to movie theater prices.

In previous years, the film festival has shared documentaries through Vimeo and other paid streaming platforms. However, the drive-in screenings were free, made possible by the help of audio/video company Kontek. Attendees pulled up in their vehicles and tuned in to 88.3 FM to listen to the audio as documentaries were projected onto a white screen.  

Garland said, “Radio is just another piece of audio equipment, so we just used a frequency. Before for drive-ins, you would have literal speakers inside of a car, but those don't exist anymore. The whole purpose was to replicate that because people could have a good time, see each other, and be safe.”

Though replicating nostalgia, films produced by NeXt Doc storytellers touched on current issues. Based in Albany, New York, NeXt Doc is a collective bolstering the work of filmmakers of color between ages 20 and 24. UNC-Chapel Hill graduate and NeXt Doc fellow Courtney Station fostered the relationship between Garland and the organization over this summer. 

“We really wanted to partner with an organization that was POC-centered, and not in a way where their target audience is POC, but their leadership is white,” said 23-year-old Staton. “I know Hayti has very big historical significance and is a pillar in Durham, particularly Durham's Black community.”

NeXt Doc fellows sought to challenge notions of white-centric filmmaking through different topics: acknowledging gentrification in Durham, shedding light on repatriation of land to Indigenous tribes, and sharing stories about Black transgender identity. The documentaries, specifically “Native in America” by Brit Hensel, hit home for first-time spectator Carrie Howard. 

The 41-year-old from Barbados said, “That experience of not quite fitting in any world resonated with me because I think sometimes as an immigrant, I feel that myself. With regards to blood quantum, I was thinking about how that has been perpetuated by Europeans with the one-drop rule and there's still tension there in the Black community.”

No Comments Yet, Leave Yours!