17th Annual Oakland International Film Fest Offers Rare Screenings

By Pendarvis Harshaw

The 17th annual Oakland International Film Festival is happening Sept. 19–Sept. 29, with 25 rare, independent films screening at various venues around town, including Regal Jack London, the Grand Lake Theater, Holy Names University, the Oakland Asian Cultural Center and an outdoor venue that's yet to be announced.

There's a wide array of films. I've watched a few of them, and from what I've seen, let me tell you: bring a tissue.

Lalo's House by Kelley Kali was one of the festival's heavier films. Although hard to watch because of the subject matter—people posing as missionaries while sex-trafficking children in Haiti—it was nonetheless a good movie. It was so well shot, and the plot was short but gave enough to the audience to draw them in. That, coupled with engaging acting, provoked my frustration as I wrapped my mind around the injustices playing out on screen. And I finished the film, one that, given the subject matter, I'd usually turn away from.

Another heavy topic, the oppression of African Americans, was a central theme in Froi Cuesta's film Unalienable Rightsan animated tale that looks back at the confrontation between the MOVE Organization and the Philadelphia Police Department in 1978. That event served as a precursor to another incident in 1985, in which authorities dropped a bomb on a house where members of MOVE were barricaded.

Leon Lozano's film, My Father Belizewas too much for me. Not because of the heavy subject matter, but because it was a heavy-handed approach to telling a story about ending the cycle of fathers stepping out on their kids. The overall message was cool, but the delivery wasn't believable. Too many plot twists in too short a time.

A still from the film 'Decade of Fire' (directed by Gretchen Hildebran and Vivian Vazquez), which screens at the Oakland International Film Festival

Lucas Guilkey's documentary What Happened to Dujuan Armstrong? hit me the hardest. I've been following Armstrong's story for some time: he was a young man from Oakland who was found dead in Santa Rita jail in June of last year. I even did a radio piece a few months ago focused on a group of young people working to bring attention to his case.

I knew a bit about how Armstrong had arrived at Santa Rita: he was looking to serve a weekend and ended up dead before Sunday. I knew the coroner ruled that asphyxiation was the cause of death.

I also knew that Armstrong was just one of the 35-plus inmates who've died in custody at an Alameda County jail in the past five years.

But there's a lot I didn't know, like the fact Santa Rita is the 5th largest jail in the country. What?

And I didn't know Dujuan Armstrong's mother, Barbara Doss, is still looking for answers about what transpired on the weekend that her son died.

Again, if you're going to this film festival, be ready to be moved, be ready to learn and be ready to use a tissue or two. It gets heavy.


September 19, 2019

Various venues in Oakland

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