National Black Arts Festival highlights

The National Black Arts Festival has had its share of growing pains this year — its 21st year of existence. A new executive director, Neil Barclay, was installed in June, and economic challenges forced organizers to trim the festival to five days instead of 10.

But if strength is truly generated from difficulties, this year’s festival is flexing its muscle with a packed schedule of events and appearances from notables including singer Dianne Reeves, actor/director Robert Townsend and visual artists Whitfield Lovell and Carrie Mae Weems. Here are just a few events not to be missed:

FILM

Pan African Film Festival

Films from South Africa to Brazil. July 29-Aug. 2. General admission; $8 per film, all-film pass — $150 (available at www.nbaf.org along with full schedule). All showings in Rich Auditorium, Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta, 404-815-6674.

Friday

4:00 p.m.

Prince of Broadway

Two immigrants, one from Ghana and one who is Armenian-Lebanese, struggle to keep their personal lives intact as they make ends meet by selling illegal goods in New York’s fashion district.

Saturday

11:40 a.m., 12:20 p.m., 1 p.m.

Princess and the Frog

Sneak preview of Disney’s fairy tale about a young girl named Princess Tiana who lives in New Orleans’ French Quarter during the Jazz Age.

6:15 p.m.

Medicine for Melancholy

Jo’ and Micah, two African-American twentysomethings wake up in bed together, realize neither knows the other’s name and later discover a connection unlike any other. A panel discussion to follow includes filmmaker Barry Jenkins and former NPR host Farai Chideya.

Sunday

6:30 p.m.

Icons Among Us

Rare archival stills, interviews with 75 jazz artists and live recordings culled from 25 hours of concerts. A conversation with director Michael Rivoira, jazz trumpeter Russell Gunn and Emory University music professor, Dwight Andrews to follow.

MUSIC

Sing the Truth – A Tribute to Nina Simone

Dianne Reeves, Lizz Wright, Lisa Simone Kelly and Joi share the stage with the original Nina Simone Band, led by Nina’s music director Al Shackman.

8 p.m. July 31, $55- $20; Atlanta Symphony Hall, 1280 Peachtree St. N.E., Atlanta. 404-733-5000, www.atlantasymphony.org.

Lush Life: The Music of Billy Strayhorn

The Atlanta Gay Men’s Chorus and Jazz Orchestra Atlanta will honor the work of Billy Strayhorn, the openly gay composer of such classics as Take the A-Train, Satin Doll, Lush Life and many other tunes made famous by Duke Ellington. 8 p.m. Aug. 1, Atlanta Symphony Hall

LECTURES

In Retrospect: Robert Townsend & Creatively Speaking

Actor, director and producer Robert Townsend is honored for his influential black films.

8 p.m., July 30, reception, 7 p.m., Woodruff Arts Center Rich Auditorium, $22.50, (Film follows the conversation), www.nbaf.org

Les Brown: The Art of Inspiration

The motivational speaker and best-selling author helps participants live their dreams.

4:15 p.m., Sat., $22.50; Woodruff Arts Center Rich Auditorium

THEATER

A Cool Drink of Water

Contemporary, comedic twist on A Raisin in the Sun.

Through Aug. 30. Wed. - Fri., 8 p.m., Sat. 8:30 p.m., Sun. 5 p.m. $20-$25. Horizon Theatre Company, 1083 Austin Ave. N.E., Atlanta. 404-584-7450, www.horizontheatre.com.

The Night Writers

Set in the late ’60s, friends discover an abandoned printing press and its underground newspaper. They reconnect with voices from the past and write their own futures.

July 29 - Aug. 2, Tues. 3 p.m., Wed.-Sat. 7:30 p.m., Fri. – Sun. matinee, 2:30 p.m.; $15 adults. $8, students, seniors; Hertz Stage at the Woodruff Arts Center.

VISUAL ARTS

Mercy, Patience & Destiny: The Women of Whitfield Lovell’s Tableaux

Artist Whitfield Lovell and photographer Carrie Mae Weems discuss their exhibit curated by the Savannah College of Art and Design. Thurs. 5 p.m., Rich Theater, Woodruff Arts Center.

Documents: City Life

Exhibition of photographers Dawoud Bey, Paul D’Amato, Wayne Miller, Malick Sidibe. Opening reception, 5:30-9 p.m. Fri. Exhibit through Sept. 4. Mon. - Fri. 10 a.m.-

5 p.m.; Sat. 11 a.m. - 5 p.m., Hagedorn Gallery, 425 Peachtree Hills Ave.

No. 25, Atlanta, 404.467.1991, www.hagedornfoundationgallery.org

SPECIAL EVENTS

NBAF Gala Brazilian Cool

The NBAF Gala fund-raiser of the year includes Afro-Brazilian performers. Aug. 1, 7 p.m., America's Mart, Building 2 160 Spring Street N.W., Atlanta, www.nbaf.org.