There was no red carpet filled with celebrities posing for photos, no snarky commentary by commentators about designer duds, but the Run & Shoot Filmworks annual Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival at Martha’s Vineyard has been the must-attend events each summer for 10 years.
The brainchild of Floyd and Stephanie Rance, the annual festival provides aspiring and established filmmakers a venue for showcasing work and gives sponsors an audience for their brands. Major sponsors include Macy’s and global advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi.
Filmmaker Floyd Rance said the start of the festival “happened kind of serendipitously.”
“My wife and I, we’ve been doing events for a long time. We used to come to the Vineyard even before we were married and we organized some bus trips. She was working for a spirit company and then started working for a record company…we came to Martha’s Vineyard and did an event and some filmmakers came along and we set up a showing of their films and there was a line around the corner and the light bulb went off then.”
They considered doing a festival in Barbados in 2001, where Rance was shooting a film, but after the Sept. 11 attacks, their plans were derailed. The couple regrouped and the festival was brought to Martha’s Vineyard.
Sponsorship, Rance said, also happened serendipitously.
Once one sponsored signed on, others began to follow. In one instance, Rance said, “I just happened to call them and got in touch with the right people and that’s life, meeting the right people at the right time.
“I do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to sponsorship,” he added. “God has highly favored me.”
Additional multiyear sponsors included HBO, CNN, and LaCoste.
This year, HBO and CNN are awarding prizes for documentaries and Wharton Sports Business Academy sponsored a screening of “The Jesse Owens Story,” featuring a question-and-answer session with director Laurens Grant and producer Stanley Nelson, moderated by New York Times sports columnist William Rhoden.
Saatchi & Saatchi also created the "Nothing Is Impossible Producer’s Award", given to filmmakers “for the best content with the least amount of money,” Rance told BlackAmericaWeb.com.
“The Power Brokers,” a film about the late civil rights activist and National Urban League Executive Director Whitney Young screened last week at the Aug. 7-11 festival, is a finalist for the award.
In addition, the ad agency sponsored a workshop on how to develop a commercial from concept to shooting to finishing. Participants also will learn how to choose an appropriate director for a commercial.
The festival is an opportunity for emerging artists to show their films, do a little networking and give island vacationers an opportunity to see original productions.
“It’s not predicated upon celebrities and we don’t sell celebrity, although they do come,” Rance said.
Among the actors and prominent African-Americans in attendance this year were actors S. Epatha Merkerson and Tanya Wright, and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Merkerson’s film “The Contradictions of Fair Hope” makes its debut Friday at the Harbor view Hotel in Edgartown, while Wright’s directorial debut, “Butterfly Rising.”
The youngest filmmaker was 12-year-old Gayle “Scout” Davis, who produced a short film about the efforts of her brother Jackson Davis V to persuade the U.S. Postal Service to approve a commemorative stamp recognizing York, an enslaved man who played a pivotal role in the Lewis & Clark exploration.
The filmmakers come from all across the globe and 63 films were scheduled for the showcase at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center and the Oak Bluffs Public Library.
Oak Bluffs is a new venue for the festival, Rance said. For the past nine years the event was held in Vineyard.
Asked how he and his wife divided the labor, Rance said it was like asking how a couple splits parenting responsibilities. “If the person who usually cooks isn’t home, you cook,” Rance said.
Putting on the festival, he said, is multilayered and while he’s doing the fundraising and his wife does a lot of the public relations work, each pitches in wherever needed and volunteers are brought in to assist.
Because the festival is held on an island, it cannot grow overwhelming large. The intimate setting, Rance said, adds to the experience. You don’t have to buy tickets in advance, “you can just buy them at the door.”
“If you come to the Vineyard, talk to people and they’ll tell you where you should go.”
Those interested in learning more about the festival are encouraged to visit www.mvaaff.com.