Courtesy of March on Washington Film Festival
Courtesy of March on Washington Film Festival

When the March on Washington [MOW] Film Festival first took shape here in the District, its founders wanted to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. The inaugural festival drew more than 1,000 people who traversed the City to 10 different venues for conversations, demonstrations and presentations, all utilizing film screenings as a foundational platform.

The Festival returns Sept. 20-27 with the focus turning to the historic 1965 debate between James Baldwin and William F. Buckley. There’ll be a modern-day reenactment featuring The Atlantic writer David Frum and Harvard University professor Dr. Khalil Gibran Muhammad.

James Baldwin (Courtesy photo)

Nicholas Buccola, author of “The Fire is Upon Us,” the definitive text on the Baldwin-Buckley debate, will moderate. Questions will then be posed by Howard University debate team leaders, Michael Franklin and David “Tre” Edgerton.

As one might expect, there will be many changes to the format this year. But as the artistic director for the MOW Film Festival, Isisara Bey, explains, the vision remains the same: to find, encourage and bring to life stories of both icons and foot soldiers from the Civil Rights Movement while facilitating a better understanding of our history.

“The film of that seminal debate has long been part of pop culture but for many Baldwin has been a touchstone and while I thought about using the debate last fall, because of what’s happened now it’s even more fitting and appropriate,” Bey said. “We’re witnessing the push and pull between progressives, liberals, Democrats and Republicans – the extremes. And we’re going to use the debate as a departure point, comparing where we are today to 1965.”

“However, we’ve revised the original motion which Baldwin proposed. He said, ‘the American dream is at the expense of the American Negro. Agree or not.’ We say, the American dream is still at our expense. The presenters, with similar beliefs and sentiments as Baldwin and Buckley, will address that revised motion.”

Isisara Bey (Courtesy of JKDowd Media)

Bey says the weeklong Festival will feature a combination of previously-recorded sessions and live Zoom presentations along with the many films that will be screened and discussed. Getting ready hasn’t been easy.

“Maybe it’s generational but I’m one who likes the in-person gathering so some of the adjustments we’ve had to make – shifting to a virtual environment – have been a challenge for me,” she said. “As we entered the month of March, when we were directed to sequester and as cities shut down, we were already in high gear, planning for the Festival. Fortunately, as half of our programming includes films, that lends itself to a virtual format. Whether we like it or not, some parts of virtual, I believe, are here to stay.”

When asked about how the MOW Film Festival can connect today’s generation to those who walked in the marches of the 60s or participated in and remember other seminal moments from the Civil Rights Movement, Bey answered quickly.

“I was watching a movie a few years ago about Ferguson and someone had on a T-shirt that said, ‘not your Momma’s movement,’” she said. “I wanted to hear more from the young man and he said the way protests happened in the ’50s and ’60s were not as advanced as today’s. I told him there was nothing different. We are standing on the shoulders of those who came before us.”

A scene from a recent March on Washington Film Festival (Courtesy of JKDowd Media)

“But unless we study, we may either repeat the mistakes made in the past or take steps backwards. We cannot afford to do either,” she said.”

D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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