From films that led to teary eyes and the clutch of a Kleenex tissue, to documentaries that were both thought provoking and inspirational, the 10 year-old Run and Shoot African-American Film Festival fueled emotions with each production that graced the screen.
Talent truly beamed through the auditorium and a sense of pride was felt after watching stories told by and about the Black community. Samantha Knowles' documentary Why Do You Have Black Dolls, filled with beautiful playthings with gorgeous Black faces, was a powerful meditation on the importance of giving our children toys that look like them. I Can Smoke, directed by Tony Ducret, was witty and suspenseful, leaving audience members confused, curious and satisfied all at the same time. Saving Malcolm from director Joseph C. Grant gave audiences goose bumps as the main character goes back in time, twenty-four hours before the assassination of Malcolm X.
Although the movies were enticing, the festival brought more than good films; it brought the simple beauty of seeing images that were uplifting, powerful and for Black people.
In the midst of the hustle and bustle of audience members that anticipated their exposure to raw talent and unforgettable images, stood the founders Floyd A. B. Rance III and Stephanie Tavares-Rance.
The dynamic duo agreed to sit down to speak about the festival’s beginning, the festival today and possible expansion.
EBONY: Why Martha’s Vineyard?
Stephanie Tavares-Rance: We picked Martha’s Vineyard because Floyd and I used to come here and vacation and date before we got married and just really loved it…one year, we rented a house on the beach with people from our town. There was all this free alcohol and food and all these people came and someone brought films just by chance. We convinced [a local theatre to] screen some films and the line was like around the block. It was crazy and I was like 'hey I think I got something here…' Flash forward to like a year or two later, Floyd did a job in Barbados and I went to go hang out with him. I was going to do [a film festival] in Barbados and I just talked to the tourism board. And at the time, they were trying to get more African Americans to come to Barbados…At that time, I had like 10-15 films the first year and Showtime was the sponsor…I don’t even know how I got the films, I think I used like "firstname.lastname@example.org!" People just sent me films in the mail without knowing who [Floyd] and I were…and then 9/11 happened. Barbados pulled out and I was like "I got these films and I got this sponsor, what am I going to do?" So I pushed it and I just said "let’s just do it in Martha’s Vineyard."
EBONY: How do you think the image of Black partnership that you and your husband reflect impacts the film festival?
STR: I think it’s very positive that younger people see that. It is hard to separate work from our married life and we have two small kids. I think it is important to see a husband and wife who have been together for twenty years. It is really positive. [Chuckles] There are some days that I definitely want to set [Floyd] on fire, but I can’t do that. I’m sure he wants to do the same to me. I think that the older people who come to the festival appreciate that and they see Floyd and I like ‘they are our kids’, because they have kids who are probably our age. They are like "oh my gosh, they are a young couple doing their thing, I want to support them!"
EBONY: What does the audience typically look like?
Floyd A. B. Rance III – The audience ranges from early twenties to about fifty-five. So we get three generations, grandparents, parents and kids. A lot of people come here for family vacations, family reunions, sorority reunions, fraternity reunions and college reunions. It’s very nice.
EBONY: Do you feel like the film festival will expand off of the island?
FR: Yeah, we have toyed with that. Every year, we contemplate doing it somewhere else [in addition to the Vineyard.] It is definitely a thought because there are a lot of people who want to come but can’t because of whatever restriction.
EBONY: How do you select the films for the festival?
FR: We have a process where we sit down and review a film once by ourselves and maybe once together and perhaps once more with panel judges. We take feedback from them and then we decipher that feedback and we move on. Some films are no brainers, and it’s easy. Other films are not accepted for whatever reason and then the ones that are really difficult are the ones that are in between. Those are the ones that you really have to put through a process in terms of whether you want to accept it or not. And sometimes being too sympathetic or being too generous, you tend to accept things because you are really trying to make people happy or trying to inspire people to continue their journey. Sometimes that’s for the best and sometimes, it is not necessarily for the best. So we may pare things down a little more next year. It is not as easy as one might think.
EBONY: What are the criteria that you set for the films?
FR: Well, the criteria varies. I think we wouldn’t be telling the exact truth if we say we don’t say 'this filmmaker was here last year' or 'we kind of know this person…'I mean, that kind of works in your favor without a doubt. Typically, you can tell which filmmakers are die hard or very passionate about their craft and their art and what they are doing. Your sole intention is to spur them on and give them feedback and the encouragement that they need to perform at the next level. It means a lot to them to be accepted to a festival even on the lowest of levels. It means a lot to be rejected from a festival as well. No one likes rejection.
Although, sometimes by making the criteria more stringent, it creates more of a standard but you have to be careful with that as well.
Typically the criteria is 360 degrees in terms of visual competency, storytelling ability, editing, cinematography, directing ability and your overall presentation. Essentially, the whole package. We want to know how passionate you are about your film. We can separate the novice from the experienced veterans based on what they submit. I mean essentially it is their calling card. Some people’s calling cards are a little better than others. It is a good pay off to see someone grow and mature with their work and their craft. You pretty much know the sky is the limit for that person. Some folks are learning how to swim and other folks are in the Olympics already going back and forth.
EBONY: Do you guys think the film festival challenges any of the stereotypes that the media plays on in regards to the Black community?
STR: Oh, most definitely. The films that we get are so amazing. We showed one called Wolf and it was about molestation and it was done in a way where the molestee fell in love with his molester…It was crazy. We show really amazing films and really great documentaries. And I don’t want to say that I am amazed that we are so talented, because I have always known that African Americans are a creative bunch, but I just feel like the quality of work and the fact that they want to submit to our festival is an honor. When we get the films, it’s like 'wow I can’t believe they want to be here.' It’s been like ten years and we are still always honored. We keep it real humble!
The thing about our film festival is that Floyd and I are totally visible. We aren’t up island with our sponsors hanging out. We are here and you can talk to us. If a filmmaker wants to say something or if the DVD skips we’re there. Floyd and I are always hands on with people who register. We want people to know that we are not just taking their money and then we are gone. I’m here and anyone can ask me questions.
The ego thing, I’m not about that. It’s not necessary to do that stuff. Maybe in my twenties I did that. I’ll say I did since I was in the music industry and I thought I was fabulous, but you know it takes so much energy to be a diva. Let’s just chill and have a good time!
EBONY: Where do you see the festival ten years from now?
STR: I’d love to stay here. The thing I like about the Vineyard is the thing I don’t like about the Vineyard. It can only get but so big here, but I am happy about that because there is a certain clientele that comes. It is a really gret clientele: nice African Americans and there are no problems. People just come and there is no fighting or any of that. People come here and have a good time.
Eric Holder was here last year and this year and he’s like in a t-shirt and shorts and you want to be like 'can you call Barack so we can say hi?' It’s a real cool laid-back clientele.
Ten years from now? I would like to keep it here and we are going to do another one in 2013. It’s going to be called "The A List." We are still debating on where it is going to be. And that will be the big splashy one. But I like it this size, I think people can talk and network more and Floyd and I have always stuck with the credo that we are not a celebrity-based film festival. If Denzel Washington has a film or his son did a film, you are going to see his film and you are not going to see someone else’s film. It is all about the independent filmmakers and I want people to support independent film because the films are amazing and these filmmakers are so talented. If there is a celebrity who has a film in the festival, we will accept it and that’s fine but I’m not just going to call whomever to walk up and down Circuit Avenue. It's unnecessary.