LHAAFF celebrates its 15th anniversary and runs April 19-22. Short films and features from more than 30 countries will be screened, alongside parties and workshops.
As a recent transplant to Seattle in the early 2000s, Karen Toering was feeling stuck.
“I was one of those black folks that moved to Seattle and could not find community,” she said.
And then something happened that was “pretty magical.”
Toering made a connection with Zola Mumford, the curator of the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival (LHAAFF), a fledgling event in its second year, and found a spot volunteering.
“The film festival really kind of saved my life,” she said. “[It was like,] here’s where your people are. Here’s where your stories are. Here’s what you were looking for.”
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Now, Toering is a consulting producer for LHAAFF, which is celebrating its 15th anniversary with a festival that runs April 19-22. Short films and features from more than 30 countries will be screened, alongside parties and workshops on screenwriting and virtual-reality filmmaking (for a schedule of events, go to langstonseattle.org).
Most of the events take place at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, an important home base for the festival to be rooted in, Toering says.
“I think it means a lot to the community, especially because of the obvious things, like displacement,” she said. “The Central District [is] the former home of the black community. They still see Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute as their cultural home.”
The festival’s Thursday-night opening program has a theme that mirrors the motto of the newly formed nonprofit LANGSTON that now presents the festival: Celebrating Black Brilliance. Seven shorts, including dance film “AJE IJO: ‘7 Reflections’” from local filmmaker Kiana Harris, are scheduled.
Also screening from local artists: feature-length comedy “La Vie Magnifique De Charlie” (April 20), about a woman’s unusual grieving process, co-written by Nikki Wade, and closing-night film “My People Are Rising,” a feature documentary about Aaron Dixon, the founder of the Seattle chapter of the Black Panthers, directed by Rafael Flores.
It’s not just local creators who will be there. Two-dozen filmmakers are scheduled to attend to present and discuss their films — another reason the festival feels so communal, Toering says.
Filmmakers are eager to share, and audiences have responded in kind.
“They want to see these stories,” Toering said. “They want to talk about them. They want to tease out these ideas a little bit more than some sort of ‘fast food’ situation where you eat it, digest it and don’t remember it.”
For Toering, the festival is an opportunity to see the complexity of the black experience, and as LHAAFF has aged, more voices have emerged.
“There have always been black filmmakers, all the way back to Oscar Micheaux and beyond, but I think that more and more people are giving themselves permission to tell stories,” she said. “They’re not waiting for the next Spike Lee or the next great director to tell the story they want to tell. That makes us really lucky, because we get to see all these amazing ideas about blackness that wouldn’t necessarily be represented in the mainstream.”
Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, April 19-22 at Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute, 104 17th Ave. S., Seattle; $7-$12 for individual tickets, $90 for full festival pass $90 (langstonseattle.org).