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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Black festival takes on Hollywood
Dog Eat Dog
Dog Eat Dog will receive its world première
By BBC News Online's Rebecca Thomas

A film producer has accused movie distributors of being obsessed with profit and scared to champion black film-making talent.

British-born Charles Thompson was speaking to mark the launch of the UK's only black film festival in London, of which he is director.

If Thompson is outspoken, he believes he has a right to be. Due to popular demand, this is the third and biggest black UK film festival he has staged.

The success of the event is proof that there would be a substantial audience for these films if they were given a chance.

Spike Lee
Spike Lee will be a guest at the festival
Star visitors to the festival, such as acclaimed director Spike Lee, are a further endorsement of the festival's importance.

"They are there to make money in the shortest possible time and spend the least amount of money in doing that," Thompson said.

"They know they would have to nurture the audience and they simply do not know how to market these films and so they chose not to take the risk.

"But we are trying to show them there is an audience for these movies."


There are 60 films, made by and starring black actors from all over the world, showing at the festival which runs from 7 until 13 September.

Charles Thompson
Thompson: Mission to get wider distribution for black film-makers

Thompson said he expected most, if not all, to sell out.

"There is generally huge demand for the screenings. Audiences tell me they are amazed these films are not shown regularly in regular cinemas," he commented.

Among the highlights are Spike Lee's new movie A Huey P Newton Story, which will receive its UK première.

Love Come Down, a US drama about two brothers - one black and one white - directed by Clement Virgo and starring Larenz Tate - will receive its world première.

Irreverent British comedy Dog Eat Dog will also receive its first public showing.

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph: A major star of black cinema

It is written by former Radio 1 DJ Mark Tonderai and stars Rik Billick, Nathan Constance and features Melanie Blatt, Martin Kemp and Ricky Gervais.

There are also a number of innovative movies from film-makers in Europe such as French/German collaboration Little Senegal.


Thompson was quick to dispel preconceptions that festival-goers are predominantly black.

"We get an urban audience, reflecting the cosmopolitan make-up of London," he explained.

"These films reflect issues of popular culture that are global.

Once in a Life:
Once in a Life: "Rescued" from the video store
"Blacks, Asians, whites - they all come. They are just people who are interested in cinema and good film-making about issues they can relate to."

Thompson said that most black-orientated films "go straight to video", especially in the UK.

As such, one of the principal aims of the festival is, he said, to "rescue" movies from the shelf.

Hard-hitting Once in the Life was such a film, according to Thompson. It is directed by and stars Matrix actor Laurence Fishburne in a story of drugs and gangster underworld.

"We're giving this film the profile it richly deserves. But if a film like that can't get distribution in the UK then who knows what is going on," Thompson commented.


Sean Tuomey, marketing spokesman for independent film distributors Metrodome, defended the strategy of companies like his.

"We do take risks and go out on a limb when we think an independent, non-mainstream film is good enough.

"But, at the end of the day, even that is not always enough.

Lumumba: Made in Haiti and an example of a strong international movie

"The majority of the audience want pure escapism for their money, which is what Hollywood movies with CGI graphics and big stars provide."

Mr Tuomey added that he intended to make it down to the film festival to see what was on offer. He might also have discussion with its director.

As for Thompson, though excited about the outcome of this year's event, he remains cautious.

"The reality is that the money just does not go to black and other independent film-makers. They are marginalised simply because they do not fit into the Hollywood mould.

"So, if what we are doing is seen as a "black film movement", so be it. All we are trying to do is get a piece of the mainstream action - without compromise."

The Black Film-Maker International Festival runs in several London venues from 7 to 13 September. See website for details.

See also:

20 Oct 00 | Entertainment
Spike attacks TV ghettos
31 Aug 99 | Tom Brook
US networks accused of racism
14 Jul 00 | Entertainment
Spike Lee slams Patriot 'disgrace'
05 Apr 99 | Entertainment
Disney tells Spike Lee to cool it
07 Feb 00 | Entertainment
East is East is best
15 Jan 00 | Tom Brook
US TV plays the race card
13 Oct 00 | Entertainment
London cinema goes independent
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