ALBANY — From June 22-25, the streets of Albany will be packed with more filmmakers, movie lovers, and rising stars than the city has seen all summer. The first Renaissance Black Film Festival (RBFF) is coming to the Capital District.
The event will feature screenings at the Palace Theatre and Renaissance Hotel, along with panel discussions, private networking mixers, public afterparties, and visits from some of Hollywood’s biggest names, including Morris Chestnut, Gail Bean, Jamal Hill, and Kevin J. Nelson. It is the culmination of months of hard work by the Capital Region African American Film Festival, Collectiveffort — a creative agency based in Troy — and BIPOC creatives seeking to spotlight the work of up-and-coming Black filmmakers within the industry.
“The reason why we started this was because we wanted to create tangibility,” filmmaker and the festival’s Head of Programming Micah Khan said. He explained that one of the RBFF’s main goals is to make being a part of the film industry feel more attainable.
“The reality is that you can make Hollywood anywhere,” he said. “You can make movies anywhere, and you can bring talent anywhere.”
“We received almost 100 film submissions from all over the world,” Executive Director of the Palace Theatre Kevin Johnson said. “We pulled from those films to program the festival.”
According to Collectiveffort Co-Founder and Festival Manager Patrick Harris, fielding film submissions from all over the country, in addition to Canada, Africa, and South America, made the selection process an exhaustive one.
“The difficult part for me is always the programming part and deciding what an audience is going to see and how the audience is going to see it,” Khan said. “We don’t want to just hit them with all sad stuff and then they leave the screening with no energy at all. We want to give them kind of a rollercoaster.”
“It’s hard deciding on what short films to pick because the lengths of them are all so different,” he explained, adding that being a filmmaker himself made the selection process especially tough.
“I see people’s effort. I see what they’re trying to do. And it sucks because you’re not able to reward them because you want to do what’s best for the audience,” Khan said.
Coordinating visits with the rising stars participating in the festival also proved to be a challenge.
“They keep getting jobs and as a result, we have to juggle the schedule to accommodate their popularity,” Johnson explained.
Why Albany has been chosen as the festival’s location is a question that Khan and Harris said they get frequently. To both, it is no mystery.
“The honest answer is one, we’ve got talent, two, we’ve got location, and three, we’ve got tons of support,” Khan said. “Filmmakers have a diverse amount of locations to film and a lot of support from people to make movies here.”
“My whole thing has been how do we try to create all these opportunities and environments to just show off how cool this place is to folks that are here,” Harris said. “It’s important enough for these celebrities to pull up for a weekend and be like, ‘Hey let’s watch some movies together.’ It’s at least that cool.”
Johnson described Albany as an important new hub for filmmaking in the state, having already been used as a filming site for dramas like HBO’s “The Gilded Age.”
“I saw first hand the cultural and economic impact that the Gilded Age had on not just the Palace Theatre, but other venues like the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall and the entire Capital Region,” he said. Johnson added that the festival’s exclusive premieres will be a first for Albany.
Tickets for the festival may be purchased online via Ticketmaster or at the Palace Theatre Box Office, located at 19 Clinton Avenue. Awards and cash prizes will be given to Best Narrative Feature, Best Documentary Feature, Best Narrative Short, Best Documentary Short, and Best First Project.
“This year is just the beginning,” Johnson said. “We are committed to building the festival over the next three years.”