Education, Arts & Culture

Pan African Film Festival Celebrates 25th Year in Los Angeles

This year, the Pan African Film Festival celebrates its 25th year with a 12-day movie marathon taking place February 9-20, at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills Crenshaw 15 Theater located within the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza, at 3650 Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard near Leimert Park. The festival will screen 202 films, 124 of which are feature-length. The 78 short films screened are up for consideration for Academy Awards. The Academy approved the PAFF as a qualifying festival.

“Cinematic stories matter,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Mark Ridley-Thomas. “And this film festival taking place just blocks from Leimert Park has become an international cultural resource to showcase new narratives over the last quarter of a century. We are indeed privileged to have it in our backyard.”

During Black History Month and representing 56 countries on six continents, the festival will screen the largest selection of black films ever screened at one event. The PAFF screened the first films of such prominent black filmmakers as Gina Prince Bythewood (“Beyond the Lights”), Malcolm D. Lee (“Best Man”), Michael Jennings (“Moonlight”), Ava DuVernay (“Selma” &“13th”) and Academy Award winner Gavin Hood (“Tsotsi”). The PAFF also screened films by Raul Peck (“I Am Not Your Negro”), Oscar nominated Mahamat Saleh Haroun (“Gris Gris”) and many others.

“It’s been an incredible experience to witness the growth of this PAFF and at the same time witness the tremendous development of the Pan African film Industry,” says Ayuko Babu, PAFF Executive Director. “Both have allowed me the pleasure of working with thousands of filmmakers and honoring the artistry from South Africa to Atlanta – all of whom tell their own stories and present their images to the world so beautifully. So now in our 25th year, PAFF will again present the largest selection of Black films ever to be screened at one event and honor the best storytellers and artists for their work.”

Watch an exclusive interview with Executive Director and co-founder Ayuko Babu below:

This year, the festival will celebrate the work of actress Alfre Woodard with The Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by PAFF Co-Founder Ja’net Dubois during the Opening Night Gala, Thursday February 9th held at the DGA Headquarters in Los Angeles. The Lifetime Achievement Award will honor Woodard’s’ extraordinary career, having captured the hearts of theater-goers, moviegoers and TV watchers. Woodard has been able to transcend both genre and medium with work that scans over 30 years– all reflecting strong yet flawed black women. Alfre will share her journey with the PAFF audience in a hosted, one-on-one “Conversation With Alfre Woodard,” on Sunday February 10th at 3pm, narrated by Director Neema Barnett held at the Cinemark Baldwin Hills Theater.

“I get excited every year right about this time because I know the Pan African Film Festival is coming. This means that I have felt this exhilaration 25 times!,” says honoree Alfre Woodard. “PAFF always delivers artfully curated entertainment and information in diverse genres. This year I’m particularly thrilled that they have invited me to represent their legacy of bringing engaging stories from filmmakers of the African diaspora to Los Angeles, the birthplace of American Cinema. As always, Feb 9-20th promises stimulating conversations and lively celebrations. You won’t want to miss it!”

The complete Screenings, Special Screenings & Events Lineup are available here:

Paying Tribute to the late California Historian Kevin Starr

_3MZ0039Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas mourns the death of Dr. Kevin Starr, a noted California historian and visionary leader in the field of public education and literacy programs.

“The Golden State has a golden history and thanks to Dr. Starr we now have a wonderful record of our glorious past. He was a friend, a beloved history professor at USC and supporter of the Empowerment Congress, a national model for civic engagement. Dr. Starr provided an eloquent keynote address at the 15th anniversary of the Empowerment Congress Summit. My deepest condolences go out to his family and to the countless people he helped over the years through his steadfast commitment to educating the public.”

Acting on a motion by Supervisor Ridley-Thomas in September 2009, the Board of Supervisors honored Dr. Starr for his contributions to public education and longtime promotion of literacy.

Dr. Starr is best known for his multi-volume history of California, America and the California Dream. Dr. Starr served as the California State Librarian from 1994-2004 and was subsequently named as State Librarian Emeritus by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger. In 2006, President George W. Bush awarded Dr. Starr the National Humanities Medal for his work as a scholar and historian.

Inspiring Girls to Reach for the Stars

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Photo courtesy of the LA Promise Fund for Public SchoolsStriving to inspire girls to reach for the stars – literally and figuratively – Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas joined Oscar winner Octavia Spencer (“The Help”), Grammy winner Pharrell Williams and Grammy nominee Janelle Monae in screening the acclaimed film Hidden Figures to nearly 10,000 middle and high school girls from across Los Angeles County.

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Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas and Octavia Spencer. Photo by Martin Zamora/Board of Supervisors

The LA Promise Fund for Public Schools sponsored the screening for Girls Build LA, an initiative that challenges middle and high school girls to better their communities. Supervisor Ridley-Thomas, through a motion approved in September 2016, committed funding from the Board of Supervisors to transport the students from their respective campuses to USC’s Galen Center. He said, “It is important that we empower girls and women to break the glass ceilings that remain, particularly in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).”

Hidden Figures tells the story of African-American women mathematicians at NASA who were instrumental in launching astronaut John Glenn into orbit in the early 1960’s, despite the racial and gender discrimination that existed. Before the screening, Williams told the girls he decided to co-produce the film to “kill that very old school mentality that STEM is made for a male mind.”

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Dr. Knatokie Ford, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Aldis Hodge and Pharrell Williams. Photo courtesy of LA Promise Fund for Public Schools

Spencer, who plays mathematician Dorothy Vaughn in the film, urged the girls to “be what you want to be and don’t allow anyone else to tell you that you can’t.” Her co-star Janelle Monae, who plays engineer Mary Jackson, spoke of how her mother had been a custodian and how she herself used to clean houses to earn money to go school. Monae also appears in Moonlight, which recently won Best Picture – Drama at the Golden Globes. “Take advantage of every opportunity,” she told the girls. “Embrace what makes you unique.”

The girls also listened to the success stories of White House senior science and technology policy advisor Dr. Knatokie Ford and NASA/JPL engineer Dr. Diana Trujillo, an immigrant from Colombia who didn’t know any English and had only $300 in her pocket when she arrived in the U.S. as a teenager, but now is among the leaders of the Curiosity Rover mission to Mars. They also heard inspiring messages from Hidden Figures actor Aldis Hodge, as well as astronaut Dr. Peggy Whitson, who delivered a video message from aboard the International Space Station.

Video courtesy of NBC Los Angeles.



Feeding Families for the Holidays

For the eighth consecutive year, Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas partnered with Golden State Water Company to deliver 200 turkeys to families in need.

“We all deserve a hearty meal and a joyful celebration for the holidays,” said the Supervisor.

Since 1990, Golden State has been donating turkeys to disadvantaged families for the Thanksgiving holiday through a program called “Operation Gobble.” Operation Gobble is a non-denominational and non-partisan undertaking in which the company partners with local elected officials who help direct the donations to community food banks, churches and other non-profit organizations. Throughout November, Golden State delivered more than 10,000 turkeys to families through various organizations and charities in California

The turkeys were delivered to over twenty community organizations who will in turn feed families in need for the holiday. This year Florence Firestone Senior Center, Lennox Senior Center, Asian Senior Center, East Rancho Senior Center, Roosevelt Senior Center, Lynwood Senior Center, Willowbrook Senior Center, Yvonne Burke Senior Center, and L.A. Academy Middle School were among the participating organizations.

“Thanksgiving is a special time for families,” said David Craven a resident of South Los Angeles.

Tennis Courts Named after Venus and Serena Williams

venus-and-serena-7Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas renamed the tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park after two of the sports’ greatest athletes, Venus and Serena Williams, who played there as children.

“East Rancho Dominguez builds champions and we have this community to thank for that,” Supervisor Ridley-Thomas said at a dedication ceremony attended by both sisters. “Now, we honor two of this park’s most esteemed, successful and inspiring alums, Venus and Serena Williams, who are role models for the youth of this community.”

venus-and-serena-2“We are really excited to be here,” said Serena, who with 22 Grand Slam titles is considered one of the best tennis players of all time. “We definitely want to see some more champions come from these courts.”

“To have the tennis court refurbished, to make sure that there’s coaching available, to make sure that these programs go on, and to make sure that this sport stays here in our community, it’s a big part of bringing us all up and creating positivity for young people,” said Venus, who has seven Grand Slam titles.

venus-and-serena-5Venus and Serena were toddlers when their family moved to Compton in the early 1980s. Both started playing tennis soon thereafter, coached by their parents, Richard and Oracene. They considered the tennis courts at East Rancho Dominguez Park, formerly East Compton Park, as their “home court” until they moved to Florida in the early 1990s to further their athletic careers.

In September 2015, the East Rancho Dominguez Neighborhood Association, then led by Sinetta Farley, launched the campaign to rename the tennis courts after the Williams sisters. “East Rancho Dominguez Park has a youth tennis team that plays on the court. Now they have role models that they can identify with,” Farley said after the dedication ceremony.

LA County Department of Parks and Recreation Director John Wicker added, “The Williams’ sisters are such an inspiration.  With hard work, dedication and perseverance, they have shown that you can reach your dreams. We are so honored they started their successful careers with practices at one of our LA County parks.”