Slaves in Texas didn't learn of the Civil War's end and the announcement of their freedom until nearly two-and-a-half years after Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation became official. It took until June 19, 1865, for Major General Gordon Granger's Union soldiers to land in Galveston and begin spreading the word. And now, nearly 139 years since that first Juneteenth and its accompanying celebration, comes Dallas' first Juneteenth Film Festival.
You can't toss a plastic tray of movie-theater nachos without hitting a film festival in this town. But the Juneteenth Film Festival's lineup for this year's program appears to be more solid than some of its long-running contemporaries. Confirmed guests so far include Steve Harvey (who will host a formal awards ceremony), Bill Duke and Stanley Clarke (an actor and a jazz musician, respectively, who will host workshops) and singer Erykah Badu. The schedule also calls for screenings of entries to the national film competition and the student scholarship competition, roundtables about African-American filmmaking, workshops for filmmakers and a concert with R&B and hip-hop artists.
But such ambitious plans can't happen without some cash, which is where this weekend's fund-raiser comes in. And while the event includes the obligatory auctions, drinks and appetizers, it also kicks off the festival with some promising choices. The feature is To Sleep With Anger, Charles Burnett's film starring Danny Glover and Sheryl Lee Ralph that premiered during the proliferation of New Jack Cinema but broke that genre's expectations of drugs, guns and gangs, using old-fashioned suspense and tension instead. Burnett and Ralph will speak after the film. There's also the unveiling of the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection, a group of films directed by and starring African-Americans made in the 1930s and 1940s. Here's to a festival that skips the baby steps and gets a running start.