Opening a Door: Richmond Festival Highlights Black Filmmaking Community

Richmond's Afrikana Film Festival celebrates its fifth anniversary this year.

By Arianna Coghill

September 15, 2020

The Afrikana Film Festival goes virtual, celebrating its fifth anniversary in the middle of a pandemic.

RICHMOND–  Cinema is more than just watching movies to Enjoli Moon. It’s an entry point to a culture. As the founder of Richmond’s first Black film festival, she hopes the event will draw people to RVA’s vibrant but rarely talked about Black filmmaking community.  

“I want the world to meet Richmond. I’m a Richmond girl, born and bred,” said Moon. “Richmond is dope right now. We’re doing a lot of good work but there’s still more work that needs to be done. I want to tell that story. I want to champion our city.”

The Afrikana Film Festival kicks off its fifth anniversary with a twist this month. Moon started the festival back in 2015, as an opportunity to include Black art in the city’s rapidly growing arts scene. A Richmond native, Moon witnessed the RVA’s arts and cultural scene flourish in the past decade. However, in that wave of new culture, she didn’t see any Black faces.

“Richmond for a long time had no culture. It didn’t have a culture that was vibrant and able to live on the surface. I’m seeing this evolution and it’s exciting. As someone from Richmond, I’m like it’s about time,” said Moon. “But what you don’t see is Black representation.”

At the same time, Moon had just started to get interested in short films, when she began to wonder why Richmond didn’t have its own film festival?

“I got a really clear vision for a Black film festival here in Richmond,” she said. There was one slight problem. Moon had no background in filmmaking. In fact, she originally created the idea with the intention of pitching it to someone else. But armed with event planning savvy, support from her friends, financial help and a love of short films, Moon made it happen.

Going Virtual Creates Some Challenges

Over the past five years, the Afrikana Film Festival grew into a multi-day, jam-packed event.However, this year they faced a unique problem. Planning a film festival in the midst of a pandemic carries more than a few challenges.  The biggest challenge was no longer being able to hold the event in person. This was a huge blow to Moon.

“That was the primary challenge. All those things that made Afrikana special, to me, we had to find more creative ways to bring it to the table,” said Moon. But, they made it work. This year, the entire festival will be virtually interactive. Art exhibits, discussion panels, live performances, and film showings will all be available virtually.

“We have amazing films, both short and feature-length. We have round tables and discussions on Richmond being the cradle of American Blackness,” said Moon. Local black-owned businesses, like the Richmond Night Market, will also be available.

Afrikana will also unveil their first free commissioned art project- a free standing mural called “Her Flower” that will have the names over a hundred Black women who’ve lost their lives to police brutality. Eight Black local artists will paint a bouquet of flowers on the mural.

‘The Importance Was Always There’

After the recent deaths of Black people at the hands of white officers, some may argue it’s more important than ever to elevate Black voices. But to Moon, the importance was always there. There’s just a heightened level of awareness right now.

“There were George Floyds and Breonna Taylors months and years before,” Moon said. “It’s just a very interesting moment we’re in right now. People have a heightened level of attention and energy to give to these things. That has increased the awareness. We’re happy to be a part of the spreading of the global Black experience.”

While developing the idea, Moon knew it was significant to host a Black film festival in the former capital of the Confederacy.

“One of four African-Americans can trace their lineage through this place. It is here that Blackness in America was invented as well as ideas of white wealth and white privilege,” said Moon. “I think that helping people understand the importance of the Black story in America.”

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