African American Spotlight

Pier Kids

2020 Sarasota Film Festival

Pier Kids is a verité documentary that’s inspired by Marlon Riggs’s Black is Black Ain’t and the Maysles brothers Gray Gardens, and Field Niggas by Khalik Allah. The film was made in the moment run and gun guerilla style. The interviews are often on the go to reflect the transience experienced by the characters. Like the work of Marlon Riggs, Elegance the film’s director is character on and off screen. The viewer is offered a type of access that’s rare in documentary films. It’s goal is to shrink the distance between the concepts of racial/gender marginalization by making the experience personal and specific. The film asserts that the individual experience of black queer life is not complete without engaging the community at large. The film is also an act of resistance to traditional storytelling forms. The director wanted to make a film in a visual language that mimics the way the people on screen speak and share knowledge with each other. People appear in this film, form a meaningful connection, and disappear without any explanation. It means so much that the audience experience the sense of loss in a way as similar as possible to what the Pier Kids experience. This is the only way to make their plight palpable so that viewers can no longer play innocent. The film is also about the value of public space for brown and black queer bodies to become their most realized versions of themselves. The film is mostly shot outdoors on purpose. It sees the presence of these bodies in this space as natural and necessary. Pier Kids is directed by the truth of the experience of coming of age outside.

Desert One

2020 Sarasota Film Festival

DESERT ONE, directed by two-time Academy Award-winning filmmaker Barbara Kopple (MISS SHARON JONES!, HARLAN COUNTY, USA) reveals the true story behind one of the most daring rescues in modern US history: a secret mission to free hostages captured during the 1979 Iranian revolution. It has been called “the most audacious, difficult, complicated, rescue mission ever attempted.” DESERT ONE uniquely blends emotion and bravado to tell the incredible tale of America’s secret mission to free the hostages of the 1979 Iranian revolution. Kopple discovers a wealth of unearthed archival sources and receives unprecedented access, engaging in intimate conversations with many of the soldiers closest to the story, some for the first time, as well as President Jimmy Carter, Vice President Walter Mondale and TV newsman Ted Koppel. Evocative new animation brings audiences closer than anyone has ever gotten to being on the inside for this history-making operation. At a moment when tensions once again rise between the governments of Iran and the U.S., old wounds remain painfully current for many on each side who detail their recollections in DESERT ONE — but talk of hope also emerges, that the lessons of the past might finally guide us to a better future.


2020 Sarasota Film Festival

What if the most important story in your life was not your own?

Billie Holiday, one of the greatest voices of all time, was always controversial – a proud black woman who preferred white audiences, an exploited artist and a violent drug addict, a loyal friend and a vindictive lover, a blues singer who didn’t sing the blues, and when she sang the seminal protest song Strange Fruit, an enemy of the state. Her enigmatic accounts of her own life were a mix of half truths and free-form improvisations.

Then, in 1971, journalist Linda Lipnack Kuehl set out to write the definitive biography of Billie. Over 8 years, she tracked down and tape-recorded over 200 hours of interviews with the extraordinary characters that populated the iconic singer’s short, tumultuous life. Raw and brutally honest, incredible testimonies from Charles Mingus, Sarah Vaughan, Tony Bennett, Count Basie, her step-parents, school friends, jail-mates, lawyers, pushers, pimps and even the FBI agents who arrested here – but Linda’s book was never finished and the tapes never heard. Until now.

Anchored around these never-before-heard interviews, BILLIE will play out like a film noir. Melding archive, drama, animation and still images, BILLIE will capture the complexity of a legend through the eyes of the woman whose obsession would lead to her own mysterious, untimely death.

Arthur Ashe '68

2020 Sarasota Film Festival

Previewed at the 2018 US OPEN, The Ashe ’68 Virtual Reality Experience brings viewers into the intimate moments right before Arthur Ashe’s historic 1968 US Open win, weaving together 360° video re-creations, archival material and evocative, never-before-seen 360° stop-motion sand animation to tell the story. From his walk through the halls of the West Side Tennis Club, to his historic pre-match press conference to his winning match point, the viewer is right there, all presented in Virtual Reality. From the internal pressures he felt during the tumultuous cultural shift of ’68 while walking down the halls of the West Side Tennis Club, to his historic pre-match press conference to his winning match point, the viewer is right there, immersed in Arthur’s historic day, witnessing his defining moment as an athlete and his emergence as an activist on the world stage.

9/11 KIDS

2020 Sarasota Film Festival

It’s one of the most memorable moments from 9/11: White House Chief of Staff Andy Card walks up to President George W. Bush and whispers in his ear: “A second plane has hit the second tower. America is under attack.”

The place was Emma E. Booker Elementary School in Sarasota, Florida. Sitting in front of the President were sixteen school children, all 6-7 years old. They were chosen because they were some of the best readers in their school and Emma E. Booker was a success story, test scores were up compared to other schools in the district. It was the perfect place for Bush to promote his education program, No Child Left Behind.

While the President processed the shocking news, the kids read from the book The Pet Goat. The imagery is surreal to watch, even today. An American President on camera at the exact moment he learns of a major attack on the country. Members of the press and Bush’s advisors stand nearby, shifting nervously and waiting. The kids keep reading; their voices are strong and full of hope. It’s like history is on pause. These are the final moments of innocence, right before the storm.

What happened to those kids? Which ones went on to graduate college and get a good job? Who fell on hard times and why? We’ve tracked them down to find out what they remember, what’s happened since, and their dreams for the future.

Eighteen years later, they are all in their mid-20s, trying to get their footing in a country and world shaped so much by 9/11. Some have joined the military or started their own businesses, while others have fallen on hard times.

They bore witness to the very moment a new American reality was born. They are the generation of Google, smart phones and Facebook, but also cyber-bullying, global terrorism, and climate change. All of them are African-American and Latino in a country that will be majority minority in less than 30 years. President Bush came to speak to them on 9/11 because they represented the future. They still do. It’s time to catch up.

This film is about the 9/11 Generation and the American Dream. It shines a light on a unique group of Americans, exploring their personal and professional lives, and giving voice to their hopes and fears. The 9/11 Kids provide a window into some of the most vital themes of the American experience.

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