Lens Craft

Documentaries stand out at this annual fest.

Every ethnic group gets its own film festival because every ethnic group, in one way or another, has been misrepresented, insulted, or misused by Hollywood. In its third year, the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival is presenting its biggest ever lineup, which perhaps speaks to the enormous task of righting past wrongs. The documentaries among the fest's 40 titles are significant in this regard. The Untold Story of Emmett Louis Till (7 p.m. Tuesday, April 25) re-examines and adds new reporting to the notorious 1955 Mississippi torture and murder of a 14-year-old for allegedly whistling at a white woman. For good reason, The Village Voice called it "a triumph of documentary activism."

Racism exists abroad, too, and Brazilian director Joel Zito Araujo will attend the fest to talk about two films: A Negação do Brasil (2 p.m. Sunday, April 30), his documentary about casting and stereotypes perpetuated on TV soap operas; and Daughters of the Wind (2 p.m. Sunday, April 30), a feature about the legacy of Brazilian slavery, as felt by the female members of a diverse family.

There are triumphs, too, as in A Knockout (8 p.m. Wednesday, April 26), which charts the European career of English pugilist Michele Aboro, a lesbian whose managers dropped her despite a 21-0 record. (Imagine: Lesbianism wasn't deemed suitable for the wholesome sport of boxing.)

Many documentaries about the decimated, predominantly poor and black population of New Orleans are surely in the works. As a harbinger, completed before Katrina struck, Desire (2:15 p.m. Sunday, April 23) follows five girls through five years of their difficult teens. They're not all black, but it's the two residents of the Desire housing projects in the Lower Ninth Ward, since flooded, whose stories are most resonant. Kimeca and Cassandra both become mothers as teens (Cassandra twice), yet it's not clear how the unplanned pregnancies have derailed their lives. Director Julie Gustafson also chronicles some privileged suburbanites who worry about getting into the right college, while the Ninth Ward girls' choices seem to be the Army, fast food, hotel maid, or nursing home assistant. Says Kimeca, "Being that black people have had so much trouble surviving in America, every child is a blessing." She doesn't sound proud or defensive about it, and though the film provides no post-Katrina postscript, you know that her options—and those of other New Orleans exiles—have probably only gotten worse.


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