When college friends Courtney L. Branch and Noel Braham launched the Micheaux Film Festival five years ago, the event, designed to put a spotlight on diverse and underrepresented creators, was limited to just a one-day affair.
“Really, [we] just wanted to do it as a proof of concept to see if this is something that people wanted, that they needed,” Branch told The News84Media. “And they have responded in droves.”
The now-weeklong festival, which wraps on Sunday, is a testament to how much it has grown and the variety of the projects involved. Key premieres included scrap, a film starring Vivian Kerr and Anthony Rapp about a single homeless mother; The Good Egg about a woman grappling with infertility who gets entangled with a con artist; and the documentary Bad Things Happen in Philadelphia about the effects of gun violence in the city.
There is also a screening of Gran Turismo, the Orlando Bloom starrer releasing Aug. 11,
“We’re aspiring to create a transformational experience, not a transactional one where [it’s like], ‘Hey, thanks for your film, you know, have a good day,’” Braham says. “We want our community to stay locked in after this because they’ve now become part of our family, both metaphorically speaking and also literally.”
the festival, which takes place in downtown Los Angeles and Culver City, is named after Oscar Micheaux, considered the first major Black filmmaker. He released films starring black talent in the early part of the 20th century. Both founders say he has been an inspiration for their vision.
“When we look at just Micheaux’s legacy, you know, from the 1920s to the 1940s, for him to independently direct, produce and distribute over 44 feature films, and he did that all while operating outside of the traditional Hollywood commercial financing system,” Braham said.
But while spotlighting Black talent was important, the Micheaux festival was created as a platform for “all filmmakers, regardless of age, race, pre-background or perspective to come together and to celebrate their unique art,” Braham says.
Some of the films at the festival included Diva, a story about what one would do to simply become a star in Hollywood; The Bloom, a film about the Olympic story of an animatronic flower meant to detonate; Battle Zone H Mart, a project about creepy encounters featuring Asian women at a supermarket; and Autopilot, by Jennifer Zang, which Branch describes as “amazing sci-fi, amazing VFX, really cool story. Very, it’s very timely as far as like what if AI decides to kinda like go crazy on us.”
Besides film screenings, there are also panels, including one dedicated to creating social impact with cinema and another that teaches aspiring actors to break into the business, particularly people of color.
“We know that representation is not always exactly what we want it to be, but it’s really nice to be able to spotlight and showcase those who are knocking down those doors and breaking those barriers and able to really pull it off,” says Branch.
The film fest also works with various homeless advocacy groups, like Covenant House of Hollywood, to employ and mentor young homeless adults and show there are more roles available to them than that of writer, actor or director.
“So, really, what we wanted to do was broaden their horizons and to let them know and see and understand all the different opportunities that this city has to offer all within the entertainment industry,” says Braham, who experienced homelessness when he first moved. to Los Angeles.
“I was having to live out of my car for a bit. You know, just trying to make ends meet and pursue my dream,” he says. “And to go from sleeping in my car and sleeping outta a hostel to now creating an entire platform and bedrock that other people can now sleep on is a real full circle moment that God not only provided us with just grace and the ability to execute but also most importantly just to keep his people warm and to really give back in an earnest and sincere capacity.”
Check the latest Hollywood news here.