by Mark Van Streefkerk
Bring a lawn chair or blanket and head to El Centro de la Raza in Beacon Hill tonight around 9 p.m. for a screening of Attack The Block, part of a free series of outdoor Black cinema hosted by Sankofa Film Society. Every Saturday night through the end of October, Sankofa will host Black Summer Camp, a series of movies based on the Black experience. Upcoming films include The Last Black Man in San Francisco, Moonlight, Jackie Brown, and much more, ending with Blacula on October 30.
“Some of these films are campy, some of these films are silly, some of these films pack a punch, but all of these films are about the Black experience,” said Karen Toering, who founded Sankofa with Jackie Moscou about five years ago. “We just picked the films we love. The films we know that afterwards — or even during — folks will want to talk about.”
Revolution Staging provides the projector, screen, and sound equipment. There’s a free popcorn machine, and people have been known to order their own takeout from nearby restaurants on Beacon Avenue, but otherwise it’s a low-key affair.
“Pull up a lawn chair or sit on a blanket and enjoy the movie,” Toering said. “It’s no more and no less than that. People need this kind of easy connection to each other and to build community.”
Toering comes from a background of media justice and started programming films with the Seattle Black Film Festival (formerly the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival), working with former artistic director Jackie Moscou around 18 years ago. She also helped organize the Gary International Black Film Festival in her hometown of Gary, Indiana, now in its 11th year.
In June, Toering reached out to Chef Tarik Abdullah, one of the co-creators of Feed The People Plaza — and head chef of the community kitchen of the same name — to see about hosting a small film screening in remembrance of Rahwa Habte’s birthday. Habte was a beloved community organizer, artist, and activist who passed away during the pandemic. Abdullah immediately said yes, and on June 12, Toering and close friends and family held a screening of Habte’s favorite film, The Last Dragon. “[It’s] the campiest Black kung fu movie ever. We hated that film, but she would make us watch it every year,” Toering remembered.
During the movie, people from the neighborhood took notice and asked about the occasion. After Toering explained, the neighbors stuck around to watch the rest of the movie. “That’s when I realized, as a programmer, we had something here,” she remembered.
Seeing an opportunity to create conversations and connections around film, Sankofa asked Abdullah if they could host a weekly summer cinema series at the plaza. Abdullah was enthusiastically on board. They secured sponsorship from the City of Seattle and 4Culture to help with blocking off the street, promotion, and film licensing. After the July 17 screening of The 40-Year-Old-Version however, the City rescinded their license. According to Toering, the City claimed the screen on Beacon Avenue was too much of a distraction for drivers. After moving this week’s screening to El Centro, Toering hopes to continue the rest of Black Summer camp there.
“What I’ve learned is you can get people to explore a lot of different concepts with film as a catalyst,” Toering said. “Not everybody’s going to go to a lecture. Not everybody’s going to a political debate … but you can get people to come out to a film and use that as a catalyst for deeper conversations.”
While the films are free to everyone, Toering suggests families learn a little about the films before bringing kids. Some films have language or sensitive situations that might not be suitable for children.
Saturday movies will start at sundown, rain or shine. Bring your own seating, dress for the weather, and be a good neighbor. “Leave all your -isms at home,” Toering said. “Just leave them at home so we can all have a good time.”
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