This week, 50 to 60,000 people from around the world will attend the 10th annual Atlanta Black Gay Pride, the largest black pride celebration in the world. The event, which takes place from Aug. 30–Sept. 4, is officially hosted by In the Life Atlanta, and one of the centerpieces of the Pride celebration is See Us in the Life, a film festival specifically focused on the black LGBT community.
Kenneth Jones, the ITLA board member responsible for film programming, estimates that there are only a handful of film festivals with a black LGBT focus. See Us in the Life, which runs Sept. 2–3, will screen 15–20 films, twice the number of previous years.
“We require that each film reflect some aspect of black GLBT life. That community needs to be central,” Jones says. But submissions need not be made by queer black filmmakers exclusively.
This year's festival offers a cash prize. Jones says this incentive was instated to make the process more competitive than it has been in previous years, when films were mostly solicited through the festival organizers' personal networks.
Nearly half of the filmmakers whose work will be screened at the festival, or members of their casts, will be present. “We wanted to make sure that anyone who was involved with any of the films we were screening were coming to town, so we could schedule workshops and other activities,” says Jones.
“It bridges that gap from the screen to the audience, so individuals can really have an opportunity to interact,” he adds. “I think that's really what's important for this type of event — so it's not something so far removed that at the end of the day it's just that they paid their $8 and leave. They can say that they interacted with these individuals and can identify with more than just a character on the screen.”
Along those lines, See Us In The Life is committed to featuring a wide array of black LGBT representations on screen. Regarding a film that features an interracial couple with a primarily white social network, Jones says: “There are so many political things that could be said about that, but I made sure the selection committee understood what's a fair representation. Who are we to judge what's an appropriate or inappropriate representation? Effeminate guys, drag queens — those are representations, and we want to make sure we're showing all of those images. So it's really See Us in the Life, because it's all the different parts of our identities.”
At first there were very few lesbian submissions. “The ones that we had were so violent,” Jones says, citing the short films Dani & Alice and Rape for Who I Am as examples.
In Dani & Alice, written and directed by Sundance short film programmer Roberta Munroe, the protagonists are faced with ending their tumultuous and physically violent relationship. Rape for Who I Am, directed by Lovinsa Kavuma, is a South African documentary that explores the experiences of four women who struggle with prejudice and the targeted rape of black lesbians.
But Jones says that the violent subject matter did not preclude the films from screening at See Us in the Life. “In that case I said, ‘Wait, I know there are other aspects of lesbian relationships,' and I've never been in a lesbian relationship as a gay man,” he says. “We're showing those two films in our festival this year; we just wanted to make sure there are other representations in addition to that.”