Last year, the debut San Antonio Black International Film Festival (SABIFF) took place at several locations including the Carver Community Cultural Center, Carver Library, the Institute of Texan Cultures, and the Arneson River Theatre.
The decision to go all-online was practically automatic, organizer Ada Babino said, given the pandemic circumstances. With the 2020 festival entirely virtual, every audience member will “have the luxury to be a supportive audience aficionado in the safety and comfort of your very own home,” as the SABIFF website says.
Babino credited streaming media developers Superlivestreams.com with migrating the festival online. The flexible at-home format might help to attract new audiences to the festival. “People who normally aren’t open to [film festivals] may tune in,” she said. The festival will be accessible far beyond San Antonio’s city limits, making its name refer both to the diverse locations of its filmmakers and its potential audience.
The programming schedule includes entries from France, Ghana, Sudan, Senegal, the Caribbean, and Texas, with The Next 8 Seconds, an hourlong documentary on Texas rodeo cowboy Neil Holmes. Local filmmakers include Dat Mayne DeeWayne and Ray Santisteban, with a documentary shown in January on PBS.
The gala opening night will honor Charles Burnett, whom Babino called “one of those extraordinary filmmakers that no one’s heard of” but who has made notable films including Killer of Sheep, My Brother’s Wedding, and To Sleep With Anger, starring Danny Glover.
For the 6:30 p.m. festival opening ceremony, Babino prerecorded a virtual award presentation from the Carver Community Cultural Center stage, giving the new Ankh Achievement Award to Burnett over the Zoom videoconferencing platform. Babino explained that the Egyptian word “ankh” translates to life, and the award is meant to recognize Burnett’s lifetime of work. She said Glover has said he is in production on a film but will try to attend.
The ceremony will be followed by a To Sleep With Anger watch party, with Babino encouraging audience members to view the film via Amazon Prime, since SABIFF could not acquire streaming rights.
Co-programmer Patsy Whitfield, a filmmaker and one of 18 judges of entries to the festival, lauded the work of the 36 filmmakers chosen from 52 entrants to the festival competition, which included a film that was withdrawn from SABIFF because it has since been picked up by filmmaker Ava DuVernay’s production company and started streaming on Netflix in mid-September.
Residue by Merawi Gerima had also been picked for the competition’s top award, Best Narrative Feature, a testament to the acuity of SABIFF judges, Babino said. Gerima will be present, however, via a virtual conversation with Babino about the process of seeing his first feature film gain such a wide audience.
“That’s every filmmaker’s dream, to get their films picked up on their first try,” Babino said.
The conversation will open the Sunday awards brunch on the final day of the festival, which runs 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., with all 35 of the competition filmmakers in attendance via Zoom.
While last year’s brunch was held on the patio of a local Drury Inn, this year’s will be inside the public meeting room of the Carver Library, with safety-packaged brunches for SABIFF staff and crew, Whitfield said. She encouraged people to take the half-hour between Gerima’s talk and the awards ceremony to pick up or make their own brunches to stay in the spirit of the proceedings.
Other award categories include narrative documentary, narrative short, documentary short, student film, Best Music Video, Best Actor, and Best Actress, reflecting the diversity of the films, Whitfield said.
“These are films … to be exposed to people that might never see them otherwise,” as small-budget independent films are generally viewed in the context of film festivals, she said. But they deserve a wide audience, she said.
“These films hold the interests of everyone,” Whitfield said. “These are everyone’s story. Each one is a story about love, life, comedy,” and current issues such as San Antonio filmmaker DeeWayne’s new Policing, the preview trailer for which will be shown during the brunch.
The audience will have a chance to vote for its favorite film via Zoom, with the Audience Choice Award going to the winning filmmaker. Tickets are available in various formats, including a single movie block, a one-day pass, a full-day pass, and a festival patron all-access pass.