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Black world cinema all under one roof

CELEBRATING BLACK FILM: The Black Filmmaker International Film Festival (BFMIFF) will take place in London from July 2-5

LOVE BLACK films? Then the Black Filmmaker International Film Festival (BFMIFF) is, most definitely, the place for you.

Screening over 40 films under one roof, the internationally renowned festival seeks to celebrate and showcase the work of black filmmakers across the globe.

Providing a platform for films that reflect the range and dynamics of the black experience, the 2015 festival will be held at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre and will, once again, show some of the best films from Africa, America, Europe, South America and the Caribbean, as well as providing numerous seminars and workshops.

Launched in 1999 by revered British filmmaker Menelik Shabazz, BFMIFF was a groundbreaking concept, enabling audiences to experience black cinema, which – unless it hailed from Hollywood – received little to no mainstream exposure.

Here, the dynamic director, famed for documenting the black experience through films including Burning An Illusion (1981) and The Story of Lovers Rock (2011), talks about the development of BFMIFF – and the lack of opportunities for black British filmmakers.

VISIONARY: British director and BFMIFF founder Menelik Shabazz

What inspired you to launch BFMIFF in 1999?
I was fortunate enough to attend a lot of international film festivals all over the world where I saw great films by black directors and wanted UK audiences to experience these films.

What is your proudest achievement in terms of the festival’s development throughout the years?
Being able to maintain the festival and become the biggest black film festival in Europe. Also, being able to create a legacy for others to follow, in terms of showcasing a programme of black cinema.

What are some of the highlights of this year’s festival?
There are many exciting films and events at this year’s festival including Afua’s Diary, Kingston Paradise and Melvin: Chronicles Of A Player. My personal favourite Faroeste Caboclo is a modern Brazilian film reminiscent of Django Unchained.

Another highlight is The Skin – the first movie to come out of Antigua starring [Jamaican actor] Carl Bradshaw in a story of how the obeah of the past affects the lives of a young couple.

There’s also the documentary Through A Lens Darkly and of course my own film Looking For Love, which is about male/ female relationships.

In addition, we have a number of workshops and seminars where you can learn about various aspects of the filmmaking industry like Marketing Film Using Social Media, taught by [entrepreneur and social media expert] Franklin Boateng.

In your statement on the BFMIFF website, you say “not much has changed” over the years, in terms of audiences having access to the work of black filmmakers. Why do you think there has been a lack of development on this score?
This is due to the failure of the film and TV industries to acknowledge black British talent and the failure of our community to demand much better programmes. The two go hand and hand. The industry recognises there is a problem but they only talk silver words and unless we as a community and community media push them things won’t change.

BLACK ON THE BIG SCREEN: A selection of films on offer at this year’s Black Filmmaker International Film Festival (BFMIFF)

Have there been any positive developments in terms of opportunities for black British filmmakers, since the launch of the BFMIFF?

Wow. So what keeps your love for filmmaking alive?
It’s what I love and when you have that, it helps to see you through the rocky roads.

Were you ever worried that your passion for documenting the black British experience might leave you typecast?
No. It is normal for filmmakers to reflect their cultural stories.

Which of today’s young, black British filmmakers do you like and why?
I don’t have any particular filmmaker to point out – it’s all very fragmented at the moment. Many are working online, making shorter content. This year’s festival showcases talents including Ben Owusu, Lawrence Coke and Onysha D Collins, who all have films to look out for in our programme.

What is your proudest professional achievement?
I have been blessed with many from being a filmmaker, publisher and festival director; all have made me a very proud man.

The Black Filmmaker International Film Festival (BFMIFF) will take place at the Bernie Grant Arts Centre, London N15 from July 2-5. For more information and full programme details visit

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