The Western New York Black Film Festival is screening only one movie this year. But it is intense.
“Wolf,” an independent film written and directed by Ya’Ke Smith, is about child molestation. It raises issues no one wants to discuss or confront and takes place in a Protestant, African-American church.
“It’s a difficult film to watch,” director Smith said in an interview posted on YouTube. “It tackles a subject that is very, very taboo, a topic people don’t want to deal with, that they don’t want to see on the screen. But I think that if we watch this film we will begin the conversation of sexual abuse. We’ll begin the conversation of spiritual abuse, and I think a lot of healing can take place.”
The film is controversial. Its critics complain that it portrays molestation as a homosexual problem. It also shines light on a fact that sexual abuse is a problem in Protestant churches as well as in the Catholic Church.
The film has been praised, though, for its oddly beautiful cinematography (by Yuta Yamaguchi) and its raw honesty.
The sisters of Delta Sigma Theta hope the movie will promote healing and dialogue.
The Western New York Black Film Festival began in April 2002 as the Delta Film Series, a partnership between the Buffalo chapter of Delta Sigma Theta and then-Erie County Legislator Demone Smith. From the start, their movies were thought-provoking and challenging.
The first year’s festival took an unflinching look at Emmett Till, an African-American boy slain in Mississippi at the age of 14 after reportedly flirting with a white woman. Another year, a film by a white filmmaker explored civil rights history.
“Wolf” dovetails with Delta Sigma Theta’s national mental health initiative, “My Cry in the Dark.” The goal of this program is to raise awareness about societal ills stemming from mental illness, domestic violence, child abuse, personality disorders, anger management issues and substance abuse.
Jennifer Parker, spokeswoman for the festival, said that the movie is a call to action. It promotes awareness of the abuse problem, and also mental health issues. “The African-American community, we don’t deal with mental illness well,” she says. “We don’t get help.”
“Wolf” stars Irma P. Hall (“Soul Food,” “The Ladykillers” and “Collateral”) and Eugene Lee (“Lackawanna Blues” and “Coach Carter”). Other actors include Mikala Gibson, Shelton Jolivette and Jordan Cooper.
Lee, Hall and director Smith will be present for a panel discussion after the screening.
Parker says the choice of the movie was not easy for Jayme Smith and the rest of the festival’s organizers. She encouraged them to prescreen the film for a focus group, including area clergy. The clergy approved it, she said.
No one argues with how relevant the topic is.
“Look what’s going on with the gun conversation. Mental illness is a big part of it,” Parker says. Sexual predators, too, have infiltrated many institutions. “Look how it’s in the news. You’ve got Penn State, the Catholic Church, the military.”
Organizers stress that the film festival is open to everyone.
“Our audience has been diverse,” Parker says proudly. “I think that’s good. It gives a great opportunity for the community to have a conversation about these topics.”
What: Western New York Black Film Festival
When: 5 p.m. Saturday
Where: Market Arcade Film & Arts Centre (639 Main St.)