Marvin Scott, HBO honorees Shawn D. Wilson, Darius C. Monroe and Jordan Coleman with MVAAFF co-founders Floyd and Stephanie Rance (Photo by Bernard Fairclough)

*Filmmakers and movie buffs alike converged on the picturesque New England town for Run&Shoot Filmworks’ 9th Annual Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film (MVAAFF), held August 9-13, 2011 (www.mvaaff.com) honoring independent filmmakers and producers.

Fifty-five independent films, including documentaries, feature-length and shorts, written, directed and starring African Americans, were showcased during the festival sponsored by Macy’s department store, global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi and cable television network HBO.  Other sponsors of the MVAAFF included Lacoste, SAGIndie, Arri-CSC, Martha Vineyard’s Savings Bank, Monarch magazine and Flavors.of.Her.

Established by husband and wife team Floyd and Stephanie Rance, MVAAFF provides a platform for aspiring and established filmmakers to screen their work, and draws audiences who may not otherwise have an opportunity to see movies created by African-American directors, writers and actors.  The popular film festival attracted more than 1000 guests, including sponsor representatives, filmmakers, directors, writers, actors, residents, shopkeepers and tourists on Martha’s Vineyard.

Macy’s returned as the festival’s premier sponsor and its VIP sailboat ride on the Tall Ship Alabama and director’s brunch featuring Reuben Cannon, famed casting director and producer of Broadway play “Stick Fly” and director Kenny Leon, were hot tickets.

“Macy’s salutes unique voices and diversity,” stated Lisa Walker, director of special events for Macy’s East.  “We are delighted to return as the presenting sponsor.  We applaud the festival’s founders, the emerging and accomplished talent and the boundless creativity.”

Several films with diverse themes competed for monetary prizes and recognition by Saatchi & Saatchi and HBO including two movies exploring fatherhood in the Black community.

In addition to the bountiful selection of Black independent films MVAAFF offered workshops by SAGIndie’s national director Darrien Gipson and Sheldon Levy, executive vice president, Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising, which attracted more than 200 participants daily.

“Saatchi & Saatchi is proud of its longstanding commitment to the MVAFF and the incredibly talented filmmakers, writers, directors and producers,” said Levy.  “Our internal jury finds judging our nominees extremely difficult because most of the work is compelling and artfully done.  Even though we are only able to provide two awards, we encourage everyone to keep on shooting!”

Conbributing scribe Tracy Fortson, filmmaker Kobie Brown (Photo by Dedra N. Tate)

HBO documentary nominee “From Fatherless to Fatherhood,” directed by Kobie Brown, examines the causes, effects and possible solutions to absentee fathers in the Black community.  “I wanted to show the roles and challenges both men and women face when fathers are absent from the home.  The issue of absentee fathers affects children emotional, physically and financially, and I wanted to bring awareness about this issue,” said Brown about his thought-provoking, touching film.

HBO feature film nominee “Life, Love, Soul,” starring veteran actors Chad Coleman and Jamie Hector and charming newcomer Robbie Tate-Brickle, is a tragedy-to-triumph story of a high-school senior, his tumultuous relationship with his father (Coleman), and his own journey to manhood.  “I just want to tell great stories, and this is one that needed to be told,” said the film’s director/writer Noel Calloway.

The HBO documentary prize went to “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise & Fall of ‘The Spook Who Sat By the Door,” a riveting introspection on the controversial, FBI-repressed 1973 film “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.”

The HBO feature film award was presented to “Payin’ The Price,” which was directed by the youngest filmmaker in attendance – 15-year old Jordan Coleman.  The drama, which stars talented newcomer Rodney Mack Jr., tells the tale of teenage dating violence.  “Payin’ The Price” was inspired from a real life happening.  “After the Chris Brown – Rihanna incident, I wanted to do a film on this subject,” said Coleman.

Two insightful films about the civil rights era were nominated for the Saatchi & Saatchi “Nothing is Impossible Producer’s Award” for the film that faced the most difficult obstacles to complete: “The Barber of Birmingham,” a documentary on Mr. James Armstrong – considered a foot soldier in the civil rights movement and proprietor of a barbershop that served as a cultural and political hub in Alabama since 1955; and award winner, “Separate, But Equal,” a reshaping of Southern history through revealing, images and stories of a vibrant, burgeoning Black middle-class despite the harsh realities of segregation in Greenville, Mississippi in the mid-20th century.

The film – written, directed and produced by Shawn D. Wilson — is based on a book of rare, riveting photographs taken by Henry Clay Anderson, whose pictures have since been commissioned for display by the Smithsonian institution.  “I hope to continue to add to the legacy of this rich story,” said a tearful Wilson, whose personal quest to find pictures of his mother led him to Anderson and the subsequent book and movie projects.

Also nominated in this category was “The Furious Force of Rhymes” — a fascinating look at the power of hip hop music and culture and its global impact on addressing social issues — features artists from America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Drama wasn’t the only genre of movies shown at the festival, as several funny films were also screened including: “Do Women Know What The Want,” a documentary that explores male and female perspectives on dating by nationally syndicated radio personality Michael Baisden; and “The Truth About Beauty & Blogs,” — a witty, short film written by and starring the talented and vivacious 25 year-old actress Kelechi Ezie.

The movie, a hilarious take on blogging, social media and relationships, was inspired in part by the many YouTube videos targeting Black women with natural hair, said Ezie. However, the story, she says has universal appeal, as she has received rave reviews when it has been screened for majority white audiences.

Other standout films screened at the festival included: “Acts of Peace in Northern Uganda,” the story of collaborative efforts between American actors and Ugandan teenagers – many of whom were forced to become child soldiers – to create a theater program in the war-torn country; “Odessa,” a sci-fi thriller that follows a father and daughter on the run; and “Their Eyes Were Watching Gummy Bears,” a romantic comedy short;

Also “Forever no More,” a beautifully-shot short about an elite squad of four female mercenaries; “Harriet Returns,” a humorous journey to freedom from modern-day mental slavery for two young men; and the provocative “Slow,” the HBO Short Film winner.  Filmmaker Bree Newsome, director of “Wake,” was designated as the first-ever Saatchi & Saatchi “Artist-in-Residence.”

The 2011 MVAAFF honors were presented to:

Saatchi & Saatchi Artist-in-Residence — Bree Newsome, B.F.A., New York University and director of “Wake,” a tale steeped in the southern gothic tradition.

Saatchi & Saatchi “Nothing is Impossible Producers” — Christine Acham and Clifford Ward, directors of “Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of The Spook Who Sat by the Door,” an independent documentary on the controversial and FBI repressed 1973 black film, “The Spook Who Sat by the Door.”

HBO Short Film – “Slow” directed by Darius Clark Monroe was awarded a $1,000 cash prize.  The short dramatized the interaction between two men after the protagonist responded to a personal ad; 26YO, DDF, 5’11”, 185 fit, 7 cut. Verse.  Looking to host now, 420 is cool. Send a face pic.

HBO Feature Film – “Payin’ The Price” directed by 15-year old Jordan Coleman won a $500 cash prize.  The feature exposed the shame of teen relationship violence.  Seventeen-year old Jazz Johnson privileged teenaged life is turned upside down when a beautiful young woman from the wrong side of the tracks accuses him of brutal abuse.

“There were some amazing films in the HBO feature film competition, I feel blessed that my film was awarded the top prize.  The ‘Payin’ The Price’ cast and crew worked hard and our efforts paid off,” said Coleman, who sold out two screenings of his film.  “This is a victory for all kids who are bold enough to follow their dreams.  I’d like to continue to make films that entertain, educate and inspire my generation.”  Jordan will use his prize money for his next film “Just In Case,” which deals with teens and sexting.

HBO Documentary – “Separate, But Equal” directed by Shawn D. Wilson also won a $500 cash prize.  The documentary is reshaping Southern history by revealing rare images and stories of an active business and social life despite segregation in Mississippi.

“Amazing!  This is my first film, first time competing in a festival, first audience viewing and first time visiting Martha’s Vineyard,” exclaimed Wilson.  “I am pleased with the strong reception it received.  This is so gratifying.”

The Rances were joined by Sheldon Levy and Marvin Scott, associate manager of multicultural marketing, HBO, in presenting the award statues to the honorees at a standing room only crowd at the historic Katharine Cornell Theatre.

“It is exciting to be a part of the festival and see the very creative and compelling work that the filmmakers are presenting,” said Scott.  “HBO is always interested in supporting the efforts of these great artists emerging from our community who can deliver work that is entertaining, educational and very relevant.”

“We congratulate the 2011 winners and applaud all of the talent and creativity showcased throughout this year’s MVAAFF.  Floyd and I are extremely excited about our upcoming 10th year celebration,” said Stephanie Rance.  “Time has flown by.  We are extremely proud of the work we have done thus far and look forward to a bright future on Martha’s Vineyard.  We will also be launching a new addition to the Run&Shoot family in Feb. 2012.  Stay tuned!”