Arts Desk

An African Diaspora Film Fest Primer

The fifth annual African Diaspora Film Festival begins tomorrow at the National Geographic Society Headquarters. Entries include a film about the bleaker side of Jamaican reggae, a Sundance-winning doc on the Civil Rights Movement's Freedom Riders, and a coming-of-age tale set in the diamond-rich area of Congo.

The festival is a part of the All Roads Film Project, whose pretty admirable goal is “providing a platform for indigenous and under-represented minority culture storytellers around the world to showcase their works in film and photography, to promote knowledge, dialogue, and understanding with a broader, global audience.”

Which you should remind your friends of when they demand to know why you’re dragging them to yet another film festival this summer.

Made in Jamaica begins in the middle of a rather wild party on a boat—footage that was captured, you’ll later find out, mere hours before one of the partygoers, reggae superstar Bogle, was murdered in a drive-by shooting. The film then follows Bogle’s funeral, attended by a who’s-who of the Jamaican music scene. Original interviews with some of reggae’s greatest performers offer a compelling look at the genre’s impact on Jamaican society, but what really stands out is the concert footage. Featuring performances from Bunny Wailer (Bob Marley’s step-brother and former band mate), Gregory Isaacs, Toots and the Maytals, and Third World, the doc is at its best when its focus narrows to the music.

Up From the Bottoms, narrated by Cicely Tyson, focuses on 15 residents of Muskegon, Mich., and their journey from the deep South after World War II.

Another strong entry is tomorrow's opening-night film, Stanley Nelson’s Freedom Riders, which premiered at Sundance this year. Nelson, who is widely known for his PBS doc on the murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till, displays that same knack for reviving history in his latest effort. Freedom Riders is the first feature-length film about the legendary group of college students whose bus rides into the South tested those states' obeisance of laws barring segregation.

The festival takes place at the National Geographic Society Headquarters, 1145 17th St. NW. Tickets are $10 general admission; $8 for seniors and students. Festival runs July 22-25.

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