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Ohio filmmakers take Afrofuturism to the big screen at Cleveland festival

Women click glasses at a table.
Long Walk Productions
The Cleveland Urban Film Festival is showcasing work from several Ohio filmmakers including "Come to the Table," illustrated in this screen shot, from Long Walk Productions.

The Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival is highlighting Black Ohio-based filmmakers this week through a set of screenings.

GCUFF, a festival focused on Black creators, has included films by Ohioans since its inception in 2012. But this is the first year the films are being shown together as part of the festival's Reel Ohio Films programming.

“Once these filmmakers entered their films into the film festival, we said, ‘Hey, why not just highlight them on a special particular day?’” said Betty Halliburton, GCUFF spokesperson and film festival participant.

This year’s theme, “Afrofuturism: The Next Level of Black Film, Life and Culture,” explores ideas about the future of Black filmmaking. More than 70 films, including features, shorts, animation and documentaries will broach this theme in different ways.

One of the Ohio-created films is “Come to the Table,” a think piece by Long Walk Productions, focusing on a conversation between creative director Courtney Clayton Jenkins and her five friends. All Black women living in Cleveland, the friends discuss navigating life and faith.

As senior pastor of South Euclid United Church of Christ, Clayton Jenkins said she was inspired to create the film because she believes storytelling is the future of preaching.

“I'm not extremely confident that the future of preaching is in a pastor standing before a congregation with the text and title,” she said. “I think the future of preaching is in hearing the stories of people on a long walk with God.”

This film, along with Long Walk Productions’ “In To the Water,” are scheduled to screen with the Ohio films.

Afrofuturism: Black Lives Will Exist in the Future,” another Ohio film, is a surrealist music and imagery-driven short directed by Theresa J. May and McKinley Wiley that spotlights May’s work as a trumpeter.

Mourning [A] BLKstar, May’s band, has been described as representative of Afrofuturism, which is where the film got its name, May said.

“To me it's centering Blackness, incorporating science fiction and technology and other futuristic elements, and thinking about how I see my Blackness in the future,” she said. “Also, acknowledging my elders and the wisdom that has come from my elders.”

The imagery of the film focuses on May playing her trumpet around the city.

“I wanted to make a statement even though all these horrible, racist killings and murders and shootings are happening, we are here to exist forever,” May said.

In addition to screenings, other festival activities such as workshops, creative competitions and guest speakers contribute to the theme of Afrofuturism, Halliburton said.

“We're not just doing films at this festival. We're actually dealing with some technology workshops and we're dealing with different ways in which we're communicating,” she said. “It's all from the lens of our Black culture.”

In-person screenings take place at Atlas Cinemas Shaker Square Sept. 14-22.

Jenna Bal was a news intern at Ideastream Public Media from January 2023 to May 2024.