BronzeLens Film Festival Executive Producer Kathleen Bertrand didn’t dream up what is arguably Atlanta’s largest gathering of black filmmakers and creators. That credit goes to her former boss at the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau, where she worked for over three decades.
“My CEO William (Pate) said that Atlanta ought to have a film festival that appeals to the African-American market; after all, Tyler Perry’s here,” she recounted following an Aug. 9 VIP reception and Facebook Live announcement of key films for the Ninth Annual BronzeLens Film Festival.
“Conceptually, when you look at the original mission statement, it was to promote Atlanta as a destination for people of color interested in film and television production and to provide a platform for those same people to network, be educated, entertained and empowered to create,” she continued from the Atlanta Metro Chamber of Commerce, which hosted the special announcement. Fittingly there was a clear view of the Marriott Marquis, the host hotel for the festival.
Earlier in the evening, Choose ATL Executive Director Kate Atwood praised BronzeLens’ role in promoting Atlanta as an incubator for creativity as she announced the addition of a dedicated channel for the festival to THEA, which Atwood boasted as “the first city-based streaming platform in the world” launched in March. “It will show the next generation of content creators, the next generation of filmmakers, that where you need to be to get discovered, where you need to be to make your dreams come true, is in Atlanta,” she explained to the intimate crowd.
Patti Kim Gill knows that firsthand. “BlacKorea,” the short film Gill wrote and produced about her childhood experiences growing up black and Korean, is one of this festival’s featured shorts. Prior to coming to Atlanta, the serial entrepreneur, who has run a talent agency in Chicago and Atlanta for several years now, never realized her dream of producing films. “I feel like my hands are tied in Chicago as opposed to Atlanta,” shared the mother of two.
In Atlanta, she met her producing partner Genia Nooks, who initially found a door into film — after years of working largely in music with celebrated radio personality and DJ Frank Ski — through casting. Together they were able to make the Chicago-set short film in Atlanta with acclaimed independent director Christine Swanson, herself black and Korean. “Although I kind of wanted to always do something about my life,” Gill reflected, “it happened in Atlanta.” Gill was also excited about BronzeLens’ status as an Academy Awards qualifying festival for shorts.
Tirrell Whittley, CEO of Liquid Soul Media, a marketing agency that has helped amplify multicultural marketing strategies for such films and TV shows as Disney’s “A Wrinkle in Time” and USA’s “Unsolved,” is a dedicated supporter of the festival. Over the years, he has marketed films and TV shows in the festival as well as helped secure prominent talent.
This time, as the executive producer of “Brian Banks,” a biopic about the aspiring NFL player who was imprisoned for a rape he didn’t commit, Whittley is on the filmmaker side of things. Aldis Hodge (“Underground”), Sherri Shepherd (“The View” and the NBC comedy “Trial and Error”) and Oscar nominee Greg Kinnear star. For Whittley, the festival’s success over a relatively short time frame, while unique, is not surprising given Atlanta’s large role in entertainment in general. What impresses Whittley most is the wide range of experiences the festival shares.
“For those of Caribbean descent, those of African or even South American (descent), I think BronzeLens is a dynamic landing spot,” Whittley shared via telephone from Dallas.
That diversity is what BronzeLens Artistic Director Deidre McDonald cherishes most. “That’s why we call ourselves BronzeLens, because we want to be about people of color, stories by and about people of color,” she shared.
Select standouts include: “Jinn,” a Muslim-centered coming-of-age story starring Atlanta’s own Zoe Renee, best known for the short-lived BET series “The Quad,” with Simone Missick from “Luke Cage”; “Isoken,” the Nigerian romantic comedy filmed in the U.K. and directorial debut of female screenwriter/producer Jadesola Osiberu; and the documentary “Cimarronaje en Panama” about African resistance to slavery in that country.
Commercial fare includes a first glance at the Atlanta-filmed BET miniseries “The Bobby Brown Story,” free family-friendly screenings, the Cinema and Social Justice showcase, ample panels and signature presentations like the BronzeLens Women SuperStars Luncheon presented by BETHer and Sunday Brunch with the Brothers.
“We’re not monolithic, and there isn’t just one story for us,” McDonald stressed.
BronzeLens Film Festival
Aug. 22-26, with a special kickoff screening on Aug. 19. Free-$300. The Atlanta Marriott Marquis, 265 Peachtree Center Ave. NE, Atlanta, plus various locations. bronzelens.com.
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