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African Diaspora Film Festival Focuses on Black Experience - 2003-12-06

The annual African Diaspora Film Festival showcases a range of movies that delve into the black experience around the world today. Issues of cultural clashes and the search for love and identity are at the forefront of many the films.

In the movie, The Tracker, an aboriginal tribesman leads three white men on horseback through the Australian outback in search of a native who is charged with killing a white woman. On the way, they come across a tribe of aboriginal people. The white men ruthlessly interrogate the Aborigines, who don't understand why they are being chained up and shouted at. The Tracker, played by aboriginal actor David Gulpilil, tries to tell the men these people are innocent, and watches helplessly as they are tortured.

"We wanted to show a missing link of our history of aboriginal people in Australia. What happened, white people and what they had done," explains Mr. Gulpilil, who has starred in more than dozen pictures including the 1971 movie Walkabout, is a tracker in real life, and he was instrumental in creating the storyline.

The Tracker is one of more than 60 films from around the world showing at the eleventh annual African Diaspora Film Festival in New York. Festival director Reinaldo Barroso-Spech points out that the movie's themes extend beyond national borders.

"When we talk about Australia we can also talk on the same wavelength about the situation of the American Indian in the Americas, could be Mexico or the United States. So this is a common experience, that of the clash between the Europeans and the non-Europeans," he says.

Such conflict is at the center of many of the films, which focus on the black experience in dozens of different countries, including Jamaica, Algeria, Peru and the United States.

A movie called Me and My White Friend features an African student who befriends a white parking attendant in Paris. When they discover a stash of illegal drugs, they find themselves pursued by gangsters, and are forced to flee to the student's native land of Burkina Faso, where the white character learns what it's like to be judged by his skin color.

Romance across borders of culture and religion is a theme in the movie One Love. Actor Ky-Mani Marley, the son of the late Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, plays a Rastafarian musician who discovers forbidden love with a churchgoing girl.

The pursuit of justice is another theme that is seen in several of the films.

In The Tracker, David Gulpilil's character is chained by the necked and marched across his land like a slave. Eventually, the aboriginal man regains control, and hangs the white man by his neck from a tree.

Mr. Barroso-Spesh says these films tell truths about the global society that are rarely seen in mainstream cinema. But he sees proof that the messages are important, because several independent films that have shown at his festival were later picked up by major moviehouses. "We have motivated the imagination of certain people and enriched the need for these types of films," he says.

The African Diaspora Film Festival also hosts panel discussions to explore the ways black women are being represented in cinema, and to discuss new developments in the black film industry in America.