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2nd annual Baltimore International Black Film Festival unspools Wednesday

2nd annual Baltimore International Black Film Festival unspools Wednesday
From left, Kenneth Moore, founder and director of the Baltimore International Black Film Festival, with organizers Jacob Pierce and Eric Cotten, at the Charles Theatre where many of the screenings for the second annual festival will be held. (Amy Davis / Baltimore Sun)

Attention, cinemaholics.

There's a new film fest in town, and it unspools Wednesday with nearly seven dozen films aimed at promoting "reel unity" in Baltimore and beyond, across races and sexual orientations.

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Technically, the six days of films from 16 nations that will be shown at the Charles Theatre and at the University of Baltimore Learning Commons represent the second annual Baltimore International Black Film Festival.

But the festival's organizers acknowledge that the inaugural event, which was held in December 2014, had a comparatively modest beginning, with just 10 films showcased.

"Last year, our theme was 'bridging the gap,'" said Kenneth Moore Jr., a biochemist and film fanatic who founded the festival.

"We thought a film festival would be a great way to start a conversation about how to prevent being divided by race or gender or age or sexual orientation. This year, we want to present positive films that represent the African experience around the world and that demonstrate unity and cultural awareness."

The lineup, which was culled from about 200 submissions, includes features, documentaries, short films and Web series. Though there's an emphasis on movies that tell the stories of members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities, Moore said they're interspersed with films that explore other forms of inclusiveness.

For example, the festival includes a series of "Black Lives Matter" short films. A Baltimore teen, Tyson Sanford-Griffin, put together a 90-second film called "Free Running in Baltimore," in which he jogs through Baltimore, vaulting off walls and flipping head over heels. The young filmmaker recites crime statistics and wonders what life would be like in Baltimore if his city were safer.

In addition, the writer-director Carla Usher contributed a 15-minute film titled "Ferguson Documented: In 36 Hours," which asks how a small Missouri suburb became the epicenter of racial tension in America when Michael Brown, an unarmed African-American teenager, was fatally shot by a white police officer on Aug. 9, 2014.

"Part of bridging the gap means having more voices represented through film in the city of Baltimore," said Eric Cotten, the festival's coordinator. "We also wanted to create an event that would bring other artists to Baltimore."

Cotten is a registered nurse and longtime film buff who formerly helped scout locations for the HBO cable series "The Wire." (Cotten's home stood in for the residence of Detective Shakima Greggs.) He's also a member of the screening committee for the Maryland Film Festival.

The festival also includes such traditional film festival staples as presentations by some of the films' directors, an opening night reception at the Pen & Quill restaurant, an awards brunch and closing reception at Nancy by SNAC, and a workshop for actors and filmmakers presented by the Screen Actors Guild — American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Festival highlights include:

•The opening film, "Knucklehead," starring Gbenga Akinnagbe and Alfre Woodard and directed by Ben Bowman. Akinnagbe portrayed gang enforcer Chris Partlow on "The Wire." Here, he's a mentally disabled man who struggles to put together a new life after the one person who had protected him — his brother — is shot. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Charles Theatre.

Writer-director Jay Dockendorf's first feature, "Naz & Maalik," focuses on two closeted gay Muslim teenage boys who try to protect their relationship from the surveillance of their religious families and the FBI. 4:45 p.m. Thursday at the University of Baltimore Learning Commons.

•After the great Jamaican reggae singer Bob Marley died in 1981, editors at the British Broadcasting Corp. found lost interviews in their vaults, and put together a retrospective of his life, "The Untitled Bob Marley Project." 4:30 p.m. Friday at the University of Baltimore Learning Commons.

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•Emmy Award-winning director Sam Pollard received unprecedented access to late playwright August Wilson's archives when putting together "August Wilson: The Ground On Which I Stand," the first documentary about the man some describe as the American Shakespeare. 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the University of Baltimore Learning Commons.

•The festival's closing-night film, "Romeo Is Bleeding," is a documentary by Jason Zeldes about a play put on by members of two warring gangs in Richmond, Calif., who took William Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet" and put it into their own words. 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the University of Baltimore Learning Commons.

If you go

The second annual Baltimore International Black Film Festival will take place Wednesday through Oct. 12 at the Charles Theatre and the University of Baltimore Learning Commons. $8.50-$250. For details, go to bibff.com.

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