Sink or Swim...or Walk

Many times in corporate meetings with my clients I hear the phrase, “It’s happening (or progressing) organically.” I thought about using that phrase to describe what’s happening with the Capital City Black Film Festival, but… I can’t. I have to say that things are happening and progressing because of God. Tune out right here if you must, but I am just speaking “my” truth. 

This week, I was in a meeting about this year’s Festival and I stated, “Now I know how Peter felt when he walked on water and knew that what he was doing was impossible.”  Then I said, “Now, I also know why he started to sink and Jesus had to grab him.”  Peter was doing the impossible, but then he started to realize that he was doing the impossible. His focus shifted from faith to fear, and that’s when he started to sink. When I went back and read the rest of that scripture, I was taken aback by Jesus’ response: “Oh thou of little faith…”

What the Capital City Black Film Festival is accomplishing is simply unbelievable.  We are a small, intimate-yet-effective Festival that is making a recognizable impact in the film industry for, with, and on behalf of the market we serve.  In conjunction with the Black Film Collective, our fiscal sponsor, we have attended meetings about legislative actions concerning the Texas Film Commission and the film industry rebate program. I have attended meetings with the Texas Motion Picture Alliance and the grass roots organization Texas Entertainment Incentives.  Being present at these meetings and representing your interests is a part of our responsibility and service to you.

Connections and Collaborations

My Aunt Reba Gilmore once told me, “It’s a sorry dog that won’t wag its own tail.”  So, to go from not knowing any Hollywood notables when we first started CCBFF in 2013, to hanging out with one of the top actors in America, a-waggin’ I must go!  Let me explain…

Recently, I was honored to attend a ceremony in Los Angeles where our friend and supporter, Viola Davis, received her star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.  At the ceremony, I met Meryl Streep, Denzel Washington, Derek Luke, the cast from “Fences” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” I also had the honor of visiting the home of Willard Earl Pugh (Harpo from “The Color Purple”) and witness his natural comedic personality and absorb the wealth of knowledge he poured out.  As I spoke to people about The Capital City Black Film Festival and the talented filmmakers who attend, I was amazed by the positive comments and encouragement. People want us – they want you – to succeed!

I’ll never forget the meeting I had in 2013 with the Austin Urban Music Festival (AUMF) regarding the desire to start our Festival. They simply said, “Let’s collaborate.”  That phrase has become a mantra within CCBFF.  We continue to partner with organizations and promote the work of the market we serve. A great example of this is our partnership with soulciti and the Alamo Drafthouse for monthly screenings. Our first four screenings have SOLD OUT!  Thank you, soulciti and Alamo Drafthouse, for this awesome collaboration. 

CCBFF has another great relationship with Austin Public/Austin Film Society.  The purpose of this collaboration is to design and promote film industry training, workshops and panels to/for our filmmakers.  I am honored to serve on Austin Public’s Community Media Advisory Committee.

In 2015, CCBFF joined Black Professional Alliance (BPA), and was the first arts organization among BPA’s member organizations.  The mission was, and still is, to “elevate the arts” and promote recognizing artists as professionals.  In November 2016, BPA elected me President of the organization.  I am honored to serve ALL professionals and capture the electrifying energy in the air to take us all to higher heights.

With all of this and more happening, you may begin to see why Peter was on my mind. We tend to only talk about the part where he begins to sink. I like to remember this: Peter was the only one who had the courage to get out of the boat! The Capital City Black Film Festival is out of the boat. We’re walking and reaching for what some may say is the impossible. But we know better, and we will not lose our focus.


Full STEAM Ahead!

By Winona Youngblood

In the public eye, art exists as a bit of a singular and miraculous object. It is consumed in a way that preserves a bit of magic, and provides an experience that is personal and collective at the same time. But how often do we think about art we enjoy from a practical standpoint? From inspiration to source material, the influence and methods behind production of art can be classified as routine, or perhaps even a type of engineering.

In America, there has long been a crisis in education; most of the focus has been on improving STEM fields (Science/Tech/Engineering/Math), where as a nation we ranked 38th internationally in the scientific arena.  The Federal Government funded the creation of a Committee on STEM education in 2015 to support the development of a more effective curriculum. As encouraging as this is, one has to wonder what the implications of heavy, long-term focus is on such materials. Talking with Kasai Omar, Director of Research & Development for CCBFF, STEM tends to manifest as “a drive towards well-defined careers,” in the US, which is harmful to “the observational spirit [that] is the very nature of cognitive development in children.”

This is where STE(A)M comes in. An infusion of the arts into a heavy science curriculum gives a necessary and vital breath of fresh air into these fields. For all of the perceived security that STEM advancement may bring, the arts are there to demonstrate our ability to observe and perceive the world around us with regard to and outside of scientific inquiry. Omar highlights that “the arts, as mentioned, are a catalyst for unlocking one’s way of thinking, and this can complement how one learns more scientific concepts…on the other end, various STEM studies can provide context for the nature of the Arts and the methods we appreciate in them today.” Of course, this was not entirely lost on the Government either: the Every Student Succeeds Act and reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act openly elevate arts curriculum as central to a student’s overall education, ensuring that the arts get access to privileges like Title I funding.

For the most part, it is very encouraging to know there’s a consensus that to have STEM without the arts would be a disservice to students everywhere. Winston Williams, Executive Director of the Capital City Black Film Festival, reinforced the point that “the arts are the cornerstone of every great society…When the ‘A[rts]’ is left out of STEM, I get motivated to fight for inclusion.” More importantly, he felt that “both areas of study…are connected” but too often STEM conjures up images of people/students that are “left out” of the promising influence of artistic courses.

So what does any of this have to do with film? Film, perhaps more than any other type of art form, is a unique conflation of science and creative efforts. Omar brings up that “Film is an amazing medium for an arts curriculum to explore…[film] incorporates a variety of creative and technical skills that can be refined at minimal cost, especially with the variety of modern tools available at our fingertips.” Thinking on the design and implementation of a camera, the physics of using mirrors to capture moving images, the chemistry is takes to develop film…the entire backstory of producing movies comes from an engineering effort that took over a century to create! More importantly, film is a science and art that can be a tool for empowerment. Historic filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux, all the way through Ava DuVernay, didn’t just become artistic leaders overnight; they refined the science and engineered their stories into pieces of visual magic.

Says Williams: “The United States must recognize the arts as an equal player among science, technology, engineering, and math. We must not only focus on the stars in front of the camera, but the millions of people who develop the technical tools which enable the final product to reach the masses.” Film stands independently as an artistic medium that reflects both how we see the world, how we would like to see the world, and all the ways we can think differently about the world at the same time. Especially as Black film (makers and stars) expands on mainstream possibilities, the opportunity that film provides as an outlet and as a voice is almost unparalleled. For what it’s worth, Viola Davis’ Oscar speech was right: “I became an artist – and thank God I did – because we are the only profession that celebrated what it means to live a life.” The entwined powers of interpretation and observation that are at the heart of all study are also at the heart of our day-to-day lives. This is especially important in the world of film, where one can create themselves as they want to be seen and heard.

As we see what unfolds for this new attempt at refining education, there is a lot of encouragement. Within the last couple of years, more and more festivals supporting this marriage of arts and science is getting back at the heart of what filmmaking and art production is about: observing and remarking on the world around us, and the experiences that we share. 

Thanks for reading and supporting the Capital City Black Film Festival!

Do You See What I See?

Merry Christmas!

The holiday season always leads me to reflect on the year that’s coming to a close while looking forward to the new beginnings that the New Year brings. I usually do that while a Christmas soundtrack plays in my head. One of my favorite songs, Little Drummer Boy, has been playing on repeat; the lyrics somehow made me look at what’s going on in the film industry – and with CCBFF – in a different way.   

Winston G. Williams, Executive Director of the Capital City Black Film Festival

Winston G. Williams, Executive Director of the Capital City Black Film Festival

“Said the night wind to the little lamb, do you see what I see?” 

After we wrapped up CCBFF 2016, I spent a lot of time catching up on the many Black movies and TV series available through network, cable and VOD channels. “Do you see what I see?”  There is a lot of Black content out there right now! Time Warner Cable News (now known as Spectrum) invited me to do an interview in their studio recently about the explosion of Black content and what filmmakers should do when there is a lull in Black content to view. We know there are ebbs and flows in business, no matter what industry you’re in. That’s why the Capital City Black Film Festival makes it a priority to stay on top of what’s going on in the market so we can educate our filmmakers about all of their independent film distribution options for increasing revenue. CCBFF is also committed to making film lovers aware of where to find the content produced by our Filmmaker Alumni.

“Said the little lamb to the shepherd boy, do you hear what I hear?” 

Recently, I was honored to be elected President of the Black Professional Alliance (BPA), the umbrella organization for many Black professional groups in Austin, Texas. The Capital City Black Film Festival was the first arts/entertainment-related organization to join BPA. We joined to “elevate the arts” and recognize artists as “professionals.” What an honor to be elected President and for the Board of Directors to support our mission! In my acceptance speech to BPA, I spoke about the energy that is in the air and how I wanted to harness it to reach new heights. Do you hear what I hear?  It’s the sound of CCBFF positioning itself to be a reckoning force in many aspects of arts and business. 

“Said the shepherd boy to the mighty King, do you know what I know?” 

Now… there are three segments of our audience: filmmakers, film lovers, and those entities that need content for their channels. CCBFF 2016 was a break out year for us, in that we assembled an awesome group of industry professionals for panels, conversations and one-on-one access for our attendees. Here’s what I know: the industry powerhouses emphasized the importance of the work we do. 

“Festivals like [CCBFF] are such a big resource for up-and-coming filmmakers and content creators, because it allows your film to get recognition, to get buzz. We pay attention to that; it’s a way for us to watch out for you when you don’t even know we’re watching out for you. It’s a way for you to get on the radar.”      
Candice C. Wilson, Executive Director Acquisitions & Development CODEBLACK Films and Laugh Out Loud Network
“You have to get into these festivals. Somebody you don’t even know could be in the back of the room and say ‘I see some potential there’ and you never know who that person is.” Miguel A. Núñez Jr., Actor, Writer & Producer

Our 2016 panelists have become friends and advocates of CCBFF, and we will continue to create and nurture those relationships to benefit our past and future filmmakers.

Now, “Said the Executive Director to the people everywhere, listen to what I say!” May you and yours enjoy good health, peace, joy and love this Christmas and throughout the New Year!


#BlackFilmLife: Cheryl Ash-Simpson

#BlackFilmLife highlights and celebrates our family of filmmakers and what they have accomplished since screening their films at CCBFF. Recently, we caught up with Sunshine Noodles and Me (SNM) Executive Producer Cheryl Ash-Simpson, who walked away with a First Place – Documentary Feature win at the 2015 Capital City Black Film Festival. Read about where Cheryl's journey has taken her since the Festival.

 CCBFF: What made you want to tell your story?

CAS: When I was living in Malaysia, I wanted to share my Malaysia / Singapore experience because many people do not get to travel to that side of the world. After a while, that morphed into sharing my breast cancer journey because I felt it would be inspiring to others. Then I decided to put the two of them together so I can share both experiences.

CCBFF: Did you have any filmmaking experience before you started your project?

CAS: I had no filmmaking background at all! When I was working in Singapore, I was in the aerospace industry. I dipped in and out of working in printing and acting, but my primary career has always been in corporate America in the aerospace industry.

CCBFF: How did you begin? Who did you ask for help?

CAS: I reached out to my childhood friend, Joyce Fitzpatrick, who I had not seen in a long time. On Facebook I saw pictures of her producing various films. So I reached out and said, “Hey Joyce, this is what I’m thinking about doing, can you help me?” And she said yes! I already had travel plans to come back to the States through Los Angeles, so we arranged to meet there. We met at LAX for about an hour, talking about the possibilities. It just so happens that her boyfriend is a director. The three of us spent lots of hours on the phone talking about what story we wanted to tell and how we wanted to tell it.

CCBFF: What has happened since SNM screened at CCBFF?

CAS: After CCBFF, we went to another film festival in Atlanta and we also placed there. In October, SNM was shown on a Los Angeles PBS station that has 14 million viewers. I’ve had several speaking engagements and on-air interviews. In November, SNM premiered in Malaysia. We wanted to make sure everyone there had an opportunity to see it, so we held a benefit event where we showed the documentary and raised $8,000 for cancer research.

CCBFF: What’s next for SNM?

CAS: KweliTV! SNM has just started showing on KweliTV, and we’re very excited about that. KweliTV is an interactive, streaming TV network dedicated to the stories, issues and culture of the global black community. We’re also still looking at other distribution avenues.

CCBFF: Do you have any advice for others who may want to tell their stories through film?

CAS: Do it. Do it because everybody’s story is special. I had no experience when I started. Now I have the filmmaking bug, so I’m already thinking about the next project. If you have an idea, just go for it. If you don’t do it, you’ll never have it. But if you just get started, there are people out there who are willing to help you. If you tell your story, you can inspire someone else to tell theirs.

You never know who you may help. What’s been really delightful for me is how people send me notes saying that they saw SNM and were inspired. One lady saw it when it premiered on PBS and was touched by it. She wanted to know how she could get a copy of the film because her mother was going through the same journey, and she thought it would be helpful to her to see SNM. Now that’s a winner.

CCBFF: What would you tell others about your experience at CCBFF?

CAS: Love, love, love the Capital City Black Film Festival! Networking with all of my fellow filmmakers was great. The fact that it is well supported by JuVee productions is a huge plus, and Julius Tennon shared invaluable knowledge about how to get into the film industry. The panels and seminars were great, too. I loved it. Kudos to Winston Williams – he’s done a fabulous job with the festival. I only have high praise for CCBFF!

'Sunshine, Noodles and Me' is a documentary about the journey of a woman who discovers she has breast cancer just three days before her wedding. Blessed, bald and beautiful, Cheryl Ash-Simpson shares her heartwarming story, giving an honest portrayal of her battle with breast cancer and her determination to beat the disease. With the love and support of her fiancé, Cheryl shows you that can get through adversity, especially if you're armed with love. 'Sunshine, Noodles and Me' is co directed and produced by Joyce Fitzpatrick and Brian Shackelford.