Because of the stay-at-home orders, filmmakers have risen to the occasion and this year has been a series of intriguing short films while activist films have also taken off, many of which have been reviewed both here and on Decipher City’s social media. This era has revealed much about how cities work, and there has been extensive exposure at the socioeconomic biases at the local level of government. There are many filmmakers who are still bearing the financial burdens during this troubled year, so if possible, please consider donating to their production groups.
Capital City Black Film Festival handled the virtual transition with seamless ease. The panels were scheduled and filmed beforehand, and they followed a series of films for multiple blocks, giving the viewers a chance to engage with filmmakers while maintaining a social distance. Because the film festival operated from an acknowledged bias, it was pleasant to see a genuine artistic exchange; basically, this was a Black film festival, so the focus was Black people. Even though the movies centered the Black experience, not all of them were about race, which communicated that if race is acknowledged, it is not required to be the focus. With over 60 films, this festival was a success and demonstrated that the difference between dominant narrative films and all others is exposure.
“Building the Bridge” — This was the second year that I had seen the Oak Cliff Documentary team in action, and this documentary tracked the Black student experience relating to the science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) curriculum in public schools. As the educators had also endured low expectations during school, this program searched to encourage Black and brown students to embrace their potentials in STEM fields. Moreover, instructors also worked with students to express themselves to release some of the negativity through art, teaching students that mental health is part of being a whole person.
“The Last Mambo” — The intersection between race and space was front and center in this film as viewers followed the Bay Area music scene over several decades. One of the most important concepts to grasp is that despite segregation, many groups worked together to keep breathing life into artforms that were denigrated by the dominant narrative. One of the goals of this film was to revive the cause of keeping music and dance active for generations to come. This was a debut film by Dr. Rita Hargrave, who managed to do this while maintaining her practice as a geriatric psychiatrist.
“When We Try” — As one of the few feature-length films, Eric Rice did an outstanding job in explaining the barriers to accountability associated with police brutality. Viewers follow the journey of a mother who lost her husband to an “escalated incident,” the partner of the cop who shot the husband, and the activists who railed against the system. This movie explains everything about the difficulties in capturing data, meaningful policy, and image preservation efforts. No one is left in doubt about the barriers to systemic change in local politics after seeing this film.
While this film is not part of the CCBFF, it addresses the ever-ominous questions surrounding race and tech. If decisions are made by machines run by people with agendas, are those decisions ethical? This is one of the many questions raised by this film, and it starts with a Black woman doing research on a completely different topic. While there is excessive praise of the use of artificial intelligence and algorithms, there is very little discussion on how most algorithms are programmed by White men who live in racially and socioeconomically segregated neighborhoods. This on its face might not be a bad thing–except for the fact that algorithms determine who gets homes, jobs, better interest rates on loans, expanded highways, potential rent increases, or targeted for arrest by the police. The scariest part of technology is the myth of objectivity, or the claim that because math is involved, the logic is flawless. If one needs even more reason to watch this film, consider that one of the researchers featured in the film was fired, proving that the answer to the issues of race is technology is not “hiring more people of color who can dismantle from the inside.” The women featured in this film are the authors of Artificial Unintelligence, Algorithms of Impression, The Big Nine, Weapons of Math Destruction, and Twitter and Teargas, with Joy Buolamwini at the forefront.