Legacy Film Festival
Laura Green and Jasmine Richardson
Last fall, Jasmine Richardson and Laura Green decided to launch a minority film festival in Baltimore. Previous partners in various nonprofit endeavors and events sponsors for various urban leagues and young professional auxiliaries, Richardson, 31, and Green, 36, turned to their professional and social contacts to see if a film festival was possible. Some six months later and the pair has realized it’s not only possible, but it’s happening. The debut Legacy Film Festival opens at the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History March 1 with two-days' worth of screenings and panels. (For a full schedule, see the festival’s web site.)
The festival planning and organization happened so quickly that pair wasn’t able to contact local press until this previous weekend, too late for City Paper to devote any substantial festival coverage in the print edition, but Green, who works in creative technology industry, and Richardson, who works in corporate finance, were kind enough to chat with us briefly a few days before the festival’s launch to discuss Legacy’s impressively accelerated birth and plans for the future.
City Paper: How did the festival come about?
Jasmine Richardson: Laura and I have worked together before, and this is something that we wanted to do anyway. We’ve done screenings before—liked we screened The Boys of Baraka at the Charles [Theatre]. We’ve done events and we support a lot of community events in the downtown Baltimore area. But this year we said instead of doing a screening we wanted to do a film festival. And so we talked with April Yvonne Garrrett, who is over at Civic Frame, and she just did the Tavis Smiley/Cornel West event during the Republican debate, and she had a film coming up that she is currently touring around the country called Revolutionary ’67. And we just thought it would be perfect timing.
Laura Green: We were looking at what to do in 2008 for Black History Month. And with a number of the organizations that we work on independently and together, that’s what comes up in the fall—what are we going to do for Black History Month? Our first thought was to do a black film expo, where we could show the ’70s exploitation films, just have a weekend where we could pay tribute to great black films. It would be entertaining and fun. Then we started doing some research, and we realized that Baltimore did not have an official minority film festival. So we said, well, wait a minute, why do just one thing this year—create a true legacy. What a great benefit for the city of Baltimore and Black History Month—well, this year it’s going to be in March. We took black privilege and extended Black History Month into March. [laughs] A lot of that had to do with scheduling, but we said, “You know what? We deserve 31 days, so we’re going to take them.” [laughs]
CP: OK, so you decide to have a film festival. How to you move from idea to actuality in such a short time?
LG: We hit BOPA [Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts], we hit the Maryland Film Office, we hit the Maryland Film Festival, we hit the mayor’ office and the president of the City Council’s office almost simultaneously. And every single one of them got back to us on the same day. It was so welcoming and it made us feel like we were doing this right at the right time. Because everybody came back and said, ‘This is wonderful,’ but nobody knew what to tell us.
JR: And basically when anyone sat down with us they said, ‘Of course, Baltimore should have a minority film festival.’ And we were able to get sponsorships from the community to support the operating costs of it. 100 Black Men has been supportive, all the different urban leagues—the Reginald F. Lewis. Whole Foods is catering for us. The Cordish Co., Banks Contracting, UPS. A lot of companies came in and heard the idea and said, ‘It’s about time,’ and, like I said, they covered our operating expenses for the most part. And they’re looking for us to grow.
LG: The response has really been amazing. Vellegio’s, the 71-year-old Italian restaurant in Baltimore city, the owner, Harry Hoffman, has donated a Italian buffet and free drinks for 40 people for us to host our VIP reception afterward. So we’re going to walk right across the street to their restaurant. And I just have to say, the philanthropic work they do in the city—you have no idea. He has an after-school program with over 230 kids. And that’s just one thing he does. He didn’t even know who we were. We called him and said we wanted to do a reception there, we’re doing this film festival. He said, ‘How many people?’—and I was just looking for a discounted price. And he said, ‘I’ll do it for you.’ And that’s just the kind of generosity that was unexpected and appreciated and that has practically greeted us every step of the way.
CP: Still, Fall 2007 to March 2008 is a very short time to put together anything, much less an inaugural film festival
LG: It came across in an organic way and then it came across really quickly. I remember meeting with VMG [Visionary Marketing Group] on Christmas Eve saying, “Look, we came up with this idea about two weeks ago, it’s going to take place in March, which is sooner than we know. By the time Christmas and New Year’s get over, we’re already going to be mid-January, and the event is going to be six weeks away. I need your help.”
JR: And I think everyone realized this is a great idea and didn’t know why nobody had thought of it before. I know [City Council President] Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, it has been on her roll call as a featured Black History Month event. So I think what we have here is an idea that found the support of many people who could help bring it to fruition. And I think that we’re setting something in place that can be carried forth.
CP: By calling this a “minority film festival,” are you looking to include not exclusively African-American films in the future?
JR: It’s films by or featuring people of color. Really the point of it is to explore different aspects of perceived differences. Not just ethnicity and race, but obviously gender, cultural differences, and looking at a way that we can do that because we want very mainstream audiences—we don’t just want a minority audience. Because the point of us having the films and the discussions is that we want this to be a vehicle to have positive dialogue. And there were some great things we couldn’t include this year.
LG: One of the things we want to do in the future is spotlight Baltimore’s minority filmmakers. One of the shorts, “The Doll,” was shot in Annapolis and part of Duke University’s film project, so there is some Maryland representation. But moving forward we want to make sure that we roll out the carpet for out local filmmakers.
CP: So you’re already thinking about next year?
JR: We’re going to start working on next year right after this year. We’re going to be putting out a call for submissions in the spring. We just feel like it was time for something like this and we feel that it’s something that can be sustained and we definitely see how it's going to grow. And the plan is for the weekend to continue to grow and to get on the national circuit within the next five years. We think that we can do that. This year, it’s a branding campaign and we want to set a precedent, we want to get it in people’s minds, basically get it out there, have a strong showing for both days, and kind of let people get the idea of where we’re going and watch it grow. Really, if you have a good idea, it sells itself.
CP: Since this happened so fast, how are you going to measure the success for this debut event?
JR: I think this year we will measure our success by not just the turnout as far as numbers but by the response. I think that we’re going to try do some type of a polling so we can get some immediate response to see if people felt topics were relevant and provocative enough. Most importantly, I think the mailing list—people who want to hear about it next year. I don’t think that you can look at sales and numbers on the first year. I think it’s more the quality of the experience and the feedback that you have to go on. I’m looking for that—those intangibles.
LG: I think success will be measured by the support we’ve received. Having BOPA come on for an inaugural event is a wonderful thing. To have the support of the Maryland Film Office, to have the support of the Maryland Film Festival--these are the people who have helped push this out in terms of marketing this year and who have all come on and said, "We get the vision. Baltimore should have three film festivals. Three different festivals, three different markets, three different times of the year." And for me, that was a huge success and indicator to us that we were on to something.
JR: So I think we’ve done a good job for next year—and we’re going to get started on next year immediately after this. Laura and I have worked on so many events with each other under so many pressures, and we feel like with everybody we’re working with for this, we’re in good shape. There’s always surprises, but in all honesty, I really feel like this weekend is going to be a celebration of a great idea, and with a lot of hard work and support, look and what we’ve all done in our first year. So I’m just looking forward to this weekend being a lot of fun.
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