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Newark Black Film Festival ‑ Saturday, July 16, 2022 | Photo by Chrystofer Davis

Newark Black Film Festival

Established in 1974, The Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF) at the Newark Museum of Art is the longest‑running Black film festival in the United States.

History

The Festival focuses on the work and history of African Americans and the African Diaspora. Screenings are typically followed by a Q&A session with the filmmakers and scholars.

Since its introduction, the NBFF has provided a forum for writers, directors, producers, performers and film patrons who enjoy African American and African Diaspora cinema. The goal of the festival is to present programs that reflect the full diversity of the black experience both past and present, encompassing a wide range of forums and formulas from documentary to the avant-garde. Since its inception, NBFF has screened over 800 films to an audience of almost 180,000 adults and youth, including the work of young, independent, Black filmmakers, such as Spike Lee, Ayoka Chenzira, and Warrington and Reginald Hudlin. Other luminaries that have participated in the festival over the years include James Earl Jones, Danny Glover, Pam Grier, Donald Bogle, Richard Wesley, Euzhan Palcy, Ava DuVernay and S. Epatha Merkerson.

The NBFF started in 1974 with a touring black film festival that was put together by filmmaker Oliver Franklin who worked at the Annenberg Center for Communication, Art & Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania. The late Gus Henningburg, who was then the Executive Director of the Greater Newark Urban Coalition, learned about the festival and proposed it to The Newark Museum of Art.

In 1976 when the touring festival was no longer available, the Museum made the decision to produce the Newark Black Film Festival and established a Selection Committee, whose volunteer members represented important institutions in the community.

‘‘When we introduced the festival, few black filmmakers were successful in bringing their projects to the screen and those that made it, didn’t stay long,’’ said NBFF Chair Gloria Hopkins Buck, a charter member of the festival. ‘’The founders were sensitive to the need for creative expression and we did our best to make it happen. Challenges still exist but the quality of work and their artistic accomplishments on a global scale are changing the landscape.’’

‘’NBFF is a festival unique for its longevity,’’ said Rutgers professor and historian Dr. Clement Price, also a charter member, ‘’and the endearment in which it is held by patrons of more than a generation.  It is also civic ritual that has witnessed the emergence of black film as a genre important to understanding multiple narratives about the human spirit.’’

Warrington Hudlin, President, Black Filmmaker Foundation said, ‘’The NBFF came into existence to fill the void left by movie theaters that were fleeing Newark and other inner cities throughout the United States.  The real beneficiaries soon became the newly minted generation of young African American filmmakers who were graduating from film schools with films under their arms and looking for a place to screen them.  And even today, if a filmmaker wants to put his or her film to a litmus test for authenticity, I say ‘screen it in Newark’.’’

Festival Archive

The 2004 NBFF Committee

2014 Paul Robeson Awards. Ralph Scott, right, filmmaker/producer/director of the film “Barbasol,” and producer Kiara Jones, left, accepted the Paul Robeson Award for short narrative at the 40th Newark Black Film Festival and dedicated the award to the late Betty Lawson.