Late last year, Denton Black Film Festival officials hoped to have a hybrid festival, with screenings mostly online and some events in person, but socially distanced.
But as the holidays approached, festival director Harry Eaddy said officials saw the writing on the wall.
“We saw that we weren’t going to be able to put 10 people in the theater,” Eaddy said. “The bottom line is that we want to keep our guests, our staff and volunteers safe.”
The festival has spent the intervening time working with software to make its motto — entertain, educate and inspire — sing online. Running Jan. 26 through Feb. 1, organizers are still planning to bring films, art, music and poetry to the sixth annual festival. In all, the festival will present 100 hours of programming. Ticket holders can get 62 hours of film content, as well as 36 hours of workshops, panels and talks, and art showcases and discussions.
“Even with Google Meet and Zoom, things are kind of boring right now,” Eaddy said. “How do we bring that same energy that we create in person for the virtual experience — that’s the question we were asking as we started planning the virtual fest. We’re creating opportunities for people to network, and so software has become really important to bring that intimacy.”
This year’s theme for the festival is “Telling Our Stories,” an idea Eaddy said resonates with both the pandemic and the political issues of the moment.
“We wanted to do a lot more than just entertain for this year’s festival,” he said. “Through the stories that we tell, we can educate and we can inspire, and I think we need inspiration right now, too. It’s not just about sitting around watching films, it’s about telling our stories and sharing them. In a lot of different ways, the festival this year is about being better people.”
Linda Eaddy, director of film programing for the festival, said this year’s event presents films according to themes. Both short films and features — narrative and documentary — explore environmental activism, domestic violence and LGBT visibility. The films also examine community, romance, sci-fi and horror. The festival has been broad since its founding, touching on justice, family and love.
One of the film blocks touches on an issue thrown into sharp relief during the pandemic.
“We’ve got some films about mental health and its impact on Black women, especially,” Linda Eaddy said.
In The Rhythm of Blue, seven Black women share their experiences with depression, but celebrate their healing and recovery. In the short film “Black Girl, Bleu,” women confront the costs of the Strong Black Woman trope, and how the cultural presumption that Black women are constitutionally tough blocks them from the care and treatment they need when struggling with mental illness.
“But these films are applicable to anyone, really,” she said. “It’s a subject that I think all of us are thinking about and talking about right now.”
While the festival isn’t able to have the typical concerts its established, it will stream a Dan’s Silverleaf show by jazz artist Tatiana Mayfield recorded live at 8 p.m. on Jan. 30. Mayfield is a Fort Worth artist who writes and composes in addition to singing.
“One of the things we’ve done this year is an original music contest,” Harry Eaddy said.
Acts and artists submitted music videos for viewers to vote on. The winner gets a $300 cash prize and a trophy. The contest line-up features: Born Brown, I Don’t Know, Favour, PEAKING, REBEL, Satan’s Tears and Zeke Forever.
The art component of the festival includes a conversation with Rudoplu “Rudy” Green and Elise Durrette about collecting art; a conversation and virtual exhibition of art by Betelhem Makonnen; and an exhibit of art by the late Black folk artist Ezekiel Gibbs. The exhibit will be at the Patterson-Appleton Arts Center’s Gough Gallery.
Slam poetry has been a popular part of the Denton Black Film Festival, and this year organizers will stream the best of the spoken word poets who won past festival titles. The performances will stream starting 8 p.m. Jan. 28.
“We’ve added traditional poetry, too,” Harry Eaddy said.
Writer-editor Maya Marshal will lead a discussion with poets and activists Faylita Hicks, Amanda Johnston, Joy Priest and Maria Fernanda. The conversation will include readings.
Organizers have also added a new component to the festival: Screendance.
Screendance includes 10 short films that uses movement to explore themes, moods and emotional textures of the Black experience.
“It’s more than just dance, but dance and cinema as a way to tell stories about all kinds of experiences,” Linda Eaddy said.