By JR Valrey, The Minister of Information
The Oakland International Film Festival, one of the Bay Area’s premiere events, will take place this year from September 16-25, screening dozens of films created locally, nationally, and internationally. All of the films will be available online, and a few screenings and panels will be held at outdoor locations. The COVID pandemic environment has changed everything, and most people have not been able to enjoy the annual events that they normally would attend throughout the year, because of the fear of being biologically attacked, so the 19th Annual Oakland International Film Fest has organized around these concerns, and given people COVID-proof alternatives, where they could attend virtually. Co-founder and director of the Oakland International Film Festival, David Roach, sat with us to discuss how the Oakland International Film Festival has transformed to survive the pandemic scenario that we are currently living through. Check out how COVID is changing the face of this phenomenal film festival, as it morphs into doing more in the virtual space, and is revamped to deal with the times. This year’s schedule and events will be available on September 1, ’21 online at oiff.org. Check out, the director of the Oakland International Film Festival, David Roach as he discusses this year’s cinematic explosion plan.
JR Valrey: How will the Oakland International Film Festival look this year, with us being semi out of the pandemic? Will there be outside screenings?
David Roach: The 19th Oakland International Film Festival will look somewhat like last year’s COVID Festival, meaning, the films will be available on-line from our site – oiff.org. Conversations/ interviews with filmmakers and special guests will take place on ZOOM. This year we are planning some outdoor events, panels, and film screenings at various locations in Oakland.
JR Valrey: How has the Covid pandemic changed the look of the Oakland International Film Festival over the last two years?
David Roach: We are not out of COVID yet. So we are evolving everyday. Our look is a real indication of how the world we live in looks; not only The Oakland International Film Festival, but festivals in general. Last year, most of them closed. Why? COVID. But also, because the theaters closed. So, what happens in the real world really affects what happens with us. Where did people go to see their films? They went to Netflix and Hulu, on-line, etc. We are also featuring our films for audiences to view from their devices in the luxury of their homes.
COVID forced us to make this change immediately. However, prior to COVID, we were planning to offer the on-line option in addition to hosting screenings, because the trends have been going in this direction, for some time, meaning, people do not attend films in theaters like they used to. But people still enjoy films, so, why not provide it for them, the way they like to view it?
But, seeing a film is only one aspect of a typical film festival. The best part, is to see and hear from somebody connected to the film, after the film screens (the question/answer session). We missed the question/ answer session last year. This year, we will host smaller outdoor screenings, with the filmmaker either physically present or sharing their film with us, virtually. COVID has changed our entire face – from everything being indoors to now everything outdoors.
JR Valrey: What are some of the films that you are excited about this year? Documentary? Feature length? Short? Comedy? Animation? Foreign?
David Roach: Some I am very excited about are: the documentary film: “LU LUCHA SUGUE (The Struggle Continues) by Sam Vinal, which speaks to what’s happening in Honduras, with the Lenca and Garífuna people trying to defend their land. They are not backing down. They are fighting to uphold their spirituality and Indigenous ways of life in the face of state backed megaprojects and narco-traffickers, who seek to assassinate them, destroy their lands, and erase their existence. “THE ALTERNATIVE” by Alrick Bursell, an Oakland filmmaker is a Sci-fiction feature length, which follows Jake, a videographer who discovers a portal to another dimension, in which he has everything he has always wanted: the perfect version of his wife Kris, the filmmaking career of his dreams, and the daughter he never had.
There’s a short film out of Peru, PACHA KUTI : THE GOLDEN PATH by Reed Rickert. It’s a atmospheric exploration into what biodiversity conservation means to this Machiguenga community, living in one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. When Arnold returns to his native community in the Peruvian Amazon after living in the urban world, he remembers the stories told to him by his grandfather and the great importance of maintaining balance with the jungle. And, lastly, “ I LIKE IT HERE” by Amartei Armar out of Ghana, who tells a story of a Ghanaian-American youth, who takes the taxi ride of his life in an attempt to catch a flight out of Accra, leaving his country, ailing Grandfather, and deep rooted feelings of cultural displacement behind.
JR Valrey: Will there be extracurricular events connected to the OIFF this year, like it was pre-covid like parties and panels?
David Roach: Yes, panels and mixers. But smaller settings outdoors.
JR Valrey: How long has the Oakland International Film Festival been in existence? How did it start?
David Roach: I co -produced the feature length film: Sydney Byrd- Private Eye with my brothers Paul and Mack Roach, and things kind of organically grew into The Oakland International Film Festival.
We four -walled the film: Sydney Byrd, meaning: we rented out theaters to show to as many people as possible at several venues in the Bay Area, in search of a distribution deal. We attended the Sundance Film Festival and The American Film Market in Los Angeles, in pursuit of a distribution deal.
Although, Sydney Byrd – Private Eye, was selected into a few film festivals around the country, it had some flaws.
However, from participating in these festivals, as a filmmaker, we appreciated festivals like The Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, which showed Sydney Byrd two years in a row; and gave us a free theater in Los Angeles, to tell as many people as we could to come to the Pan – African Film Festival, to see our film.
Looking back, I believe, the seed was planted then to create this experience for other independent filmmakers in the City of Oakland.
From screening our film, we started adding other short films from local filmmakers. We then partnered with Film Life, the producers of The American Black Film Festival to showcase mostly Black films to a 12 city circuit, called Black Cinema Cafe, and then we formed The Oakland Film Society. A few years later, we kicked off the first Oakland International Film Festival in 2002. This year will mark the 19th year.
JR Valrey: What made you and your brothers decide to make this an international film festival other than a local film fest or a Black film festival?
David Roach: The world is smaller now. We are discovering more and more, how an action here in Oakland can have an impact somewhere else around the world. To illustrate, let’s say, a plastic bag used to carry a few items in Oakland, CA blows in the winds and lands in our Bay waters. A month or so later, that plastic bag ends up on the shores of India. We need India to say, “hey America, (Oakland) your stuff is ending up here”. If they don’t tell us, we may not know. For this reason, we chose “International”. Filmmakers are artists. And most artists that create something, don’t create it for only one segment of society to see it. They usually want everyone to see it.
JR Valrey: What do you hope people get out of the Oakland International Film Festival this year/?
David Roach: Aside from the films and the filmmakers, we hope people get out of The Oakland International Film Festival a vision called “Familyhood”, an inter-generational governance strategy that utilizes schools as the center of the communities development, and its “do now” strategy 1st Saturdays, a monthly volunteer day in the schools. See: 1stSaturdays.com. We also hope people are better equipped to feed our small planet. We will showcase 18 short films from around the world that feature institutions using rocks to grow food, instead of soil, using a method called Geological Agriculture – see: tosoilless.com.
JR Valrey: When will the full schedule of films be released?
David Roach: Sept the 1st, 2021.