The Capital City Black Film Festival (CCBFF) leadership team went back and forth about this year’s focus. In the midst of a global pandemic that is disproportionately impacting Black people, racial protests spurring from the killings of more Black men and women by police, and an overall “Black tax” many have been feeling as the stakes in the November election seemed to get higher each day, many on the team felt it was important to talk about Black empowerment.
But for Winston Williams, Executive Director of the festival, now in its eighth year, addressing mental health in the Black community is Black empowerment. Especially with everything going on, and the additional tax of trying to be okay when nothing is okay. And so the decision was made: the 2020 festival’s focus would be “Breakthrough: Unleash Your Power.”
“One thing that I’ve experienced in this creative space is there are some generational mental health issues that need to be addressed. We have been discriminated against and done wrong, but we’ve had to learn how to live within that type of environment, and that has caused some issues that are deep within us that we need to have our breakthrough. We need to learn how to unleash our power,” said Williams.
Acclaimed actor Anthony Anderson, CCBFF’s 2020 Celebrity Ambassador, said artists have a responsibility to tackle these issues, not only to address anything they may be facing themselves but to raise awareness for issues happening with viewers.
“We’re storytellers, first and foremost,” said Anderson. “And in telling our stories, we’re shining a light on things that may not normally be addressed or have a light shined on them. So it’s important for us to tell our stories as truthfully and as authentically as we possibly can.”
Mental illness isn’t something that we should be ashamed of, or shy away from.
As families gather for the holidays, Anderson said people sometimes joke “about that uncle that lives in the basement, that uncle or aunt that lives in the back room that never comes out,” but the challenges family members are facing are very real. “Mental illness isn’t something that we should be ashamed of, or shy away from,” he said.
The challenges of 2020, namely the COVID-19 pandemic, have exacerbated those issues for many. But they have also challenged the way the CCBFF team has been able to present the festival. The team decided to host virtual panels in place of the in-person events, and allow attendees to stream the films on-demand during the entire festival, taking place December 4-6.
“There’s nothing constant but change, and in this life you cannot get settled and comfortable in the way things are, because they’re bound to change. And unless you are flexible, you become fossil fuel,” said Williams. “Thank God for my team, because they did a lot of research and kind of just figured it out.”
In addition to the challenges associated with deciding how to go virtual and maintain the integrity and privacy of the films, the CCBFF team also faced the challenge of a down economy. Many potential sponsors faced declining revenues in 2020, but Williams said there was still a recognition among many that the festival had an important role to play in the current landscape. The increased attention on the movement for Black lives this summer highlighted the importance of CCBFF as a platform, and several sponsors still prioritized support for the festival.
“For the future, I hope that we get more recognition, because every year with the major awards, you only see a trickle of minorities represented, and now we just hope that the future will reveal that America gets it, finally,” said Williams.
“Many of (the filmmakers) were fearful that they were going to lose this venue and not have the opportunity to display their films in this environment. And they were very appreciative that we chose to carry forward, to pivot as necessary, but to keep this venue because it’s not many like us out there,” he said.
The Eighth Annual Capital City Black Film Festival runs virtually from Wednesday, December 2nd – to Friday December 4th and tickets are available online.