April 26 - April 30
When Ashara Ekundayo talks of her accomplishments and ongoing projects, the listener might imagine that she has a "Wonder Woman" costume hidden somewhere and a handy telephone booth where she can whirl into a caped crusader capable of super human feats of community activism. She is a blur of motion. Weekdays she works with kids diagnosed with AIDS and HIV in her role as Youth Projects Coordinator at Children's Hospital. Other times she can be found writing grant proposals, composing articles for a community newspaper, running a Five Points coffee shop that promotes art and AIDS testing, and laboring to keep Denver's first black film festival afloat.
Soon she'll be haunting the screening rooms of Burkina Faso (once known as Upper Volta), in Africa, to find quality work for the 2nd Annual Real/Reel Black Pan African Film Festival. This year's fest will be held at Denvers Tivoli and Mayan Theatres April 26 - April 30.
"In Colorado," Ekundayo says, "we've got the Jewish Film Festival, the Latino . . . the Jazz . . . Yet there wasn't a black one. Remedying that required more than just some phone calls.
"There were, and still are, corporations that wouldn't sponsor us," she says. "They think the minority community here is not a black one, but Hispanic."
Ekundaya persevered and put together a patchwork quilt of funding and support from public and private sources. Just when it seemed she saved the day, the site for the event, Tivoli Theater in lower downtown, closed after being sold.
So what does an ace activist do when she has dozens of amazing films and no place to show them? The festival was moved to the Tiffany Plaza in far southeast Denver.
Ekundayo and her Pan African Art Society colleagues were nervous opening night, she remembers. "This was something we'd never done before.
"But I was trying to be an arts activist," she says. "I wanted to activate people's political beliefs and make them see how beautiful we are as a black people."
Before graduating to the realm of smooth operation, the festival had to go through the school of hard knocks. Though moviegoers numbered in the thousands, tickets didn't sell out.
Both location and price thinned attendance Ekundaya speculates. "That was a long way for some people to come," she says.
The opening night pic Dancing in September along with admission to the following Mayor's Afro-Chic Gala cost $45. And though Wellington Web is a big supporter of the festival, he wasn't able to appear because of a commitment in Africa.
This year will be different. The Denver Film Society is now runs the Tivoli and it's now a dependable venue for Pan African fest screenings. And the mayor called to say he'd definitely be there opening night, Ekundayo says. After leaping over the requisite challenges, she may be close to getting her hard knocks school diploma.