Last Updated: May 8, 2021By Tags:

Like all of 2021’s film festivals the Harlem International Film Festival will also be a hybrid event. The event kicked off Thursday, with some screenings being held in that section of New York and the rest being online—even as more and more people get vaccinated against covid-19.

Unlike other festivals whose film complements can be set almost anywhere—real or fictitious—those playing at Harlem Film Festival typically take place in Harlem, the Bronx and Upper Manhattan, giving the festival a hyperlocal feel and spotlighting the neighborhood itself. In addition, the entries are primarily making their premieres this week as opposed to having already played at previous events.

One of the in-person events held Thursday is the double feature at the Magic Johnson AMC—with limited capacity. The bill includes “Coogan’s Way,” centering on a Washington Heights bar whose open atmosphere made it a haven for many New Yorkers who too often felt overlooked. Another offering for opening night is “100 Years From Mississippi,” a documentary about Mamie Lang Kirkland, a black woman born in 1915, and whose family escaped a lynch mob when she was young.

The festival is adapting to changing times. Even though the precise date of return to in-person film festivals is unknown, Harlem’s organizers are proud of what they are able to present this year.

“We originally planned to do a four-day live event coupled with a virtual selection as well, but a few weeks ago we got word from AMC (theatres) headquarters that New York was restricting capacity to 50 seats due to the spike in cases last month,” B. Lorenzo Roaché, director of operations, said in an email. “We went right back to the drawing board and decided we should have a mini-fest with safe, structured, and staggered screenings throughout opening night—hence the birth of the Double Triple Feature (also known as the Triple-Double Feature).”

“The thing about this year’s programming is that perhaps more than ever before, it is a sign of the times,” added Program Director Nasri Zacharia, who said that Harlem International’s 2021 crop “resonates with a depth and maturity that reflects and echoes the world we have been thrust into during the past year and a half.”

Zacharia emphasized that film has not only a chance but often a duty to hold up a collective mirror to society. This has become even more necessary in the surreal times of covid—and all its attendant troubles.

“It is not strictly the subject matter alone…from international social justice movements to anti-Asian hate crimes and the pandemic—but also the reckless collision of profound tragedy against whimsical farce that have come to define this current era,” Zacharia said

For more information on the Harlem International Film Festival, which runs through May 9, visit https://harlemfilmfestival.org/

(featured image: a still from “Queens of the Revolution”)

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