Articles: Black Film Festival Thrives In Germany




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Janet Singleton

   When we think of Germany, chances are, black film festivals are among the last things we associate with that country. After all, less than 60 years ago that nation had a leader who wanted to crush all things black, Jewish and non-white.
   Yet, for 15 years the Fountainhead Tanz Theatre Black International Cinema festival has thrived in Berlin. Co-founder Donald Griffith recalls getting the event up and running in 1986 "with sighs and cries a plenty!"
His favorite saying is one he got from composer Oscar Brown Jr. "He told me years ago, 'I may not make it if I try, but I damn sure won't if I don't.'
   "So we developed a plan," Griffith says. "We combined efforts with a number of individuals and groups in Berlin and elsewhere, and proceeded."
   His reward was seeing it all come together. "I remember experiencing a feeling of great physical and emotional relief at being able to sit peacefully in the darkened Arsenal Cinema and let the screen do the talking," Griffith says
   The festival was the cinematic offshoot of the Fountainhead Tanz Theatre Griffith and three fellow artists, including partner Gayle McKinney Griffith, established in 1980. They staged politically meaningful dance, music and live performances
   In 1979 the Griffiths, black Americans, were living in New York when they were invited by West Berlin's Theater des Westens to perform a production of Showboat. They stayed.
   But the young thespians wanted more than applause. They wanted to change the world. Art was the way to do it, they thought. According to its mission statement, Fountainhead Tanz Theatre is a community dedicated to "the elimination of violence, anti-Semitism, homophobia and racial hatred through the process of art, education, culture and dialogue."
   Like the restless characters in Ayn Rand's Fountainhead, the Griffiths have created their own world. In a modern Germany that feels less racist than the US, they have surrounded themselves with those who share their passion for art, enlightenment and equality.
   The XVI Fountainhead Tanz Theatre Black Cinema, opening in May, will be another dynamic reflection of those values. One of the films slated is comprised of candid interviews with Germans and minority members about their attitudes regarding race and racism.
   Other films tackle a plethora of social issues. From Sweden, a work called Shocking Truth follows a young woman investigating the human costs of the pornography business. A Caribbean-set gangster tale comes out of Switzerland. And from Zimbabwe, comes an endearing story of how a rising teen soccer player copes with unexpected fatherhood.
   On opening night in Berlin, for the 16th time Donald Griffith will likely sit in a darkened theater, relieved that the hard work done by him and his colleagues has come to fruition. There will be quiet anticipation in that last moment before the movie "does the talking." The only noise might be Adolf Hitler spinning in his grave.

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