Note: In 2019, I had the opportunity to interview Ayuko Babu, co-founder of the Pan African Film Festival while interning at L.A Focus, a Black-owned newspaper serving the church community in Los Angeles.
Los Angeles, CA–“Amazing Grace” is a documentary that follows the making of Aretha Franklin’s gospel album of the same name. The film will debut on opening night at this year’s Pan African Film Festival, which runs from Feb. 7-18 at the Baldwin Hills Cinemark Theatre.
Over a two-day period in 1972, Franklin recorded this double gospel album at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Watts. A live audience was used and the making of the album was also filmed. Amazing Grace would go on to become one of the top selling gospel albums of all time.
Ayuko Babu, PAFF co-founder says “Amazing Grace” is one of the projects he is looking forward to this year. Due to conflicts over rights to the footage, the film has never been shown publicly before. Babu is a graduate of Cal State Los Angeles and UCLA’s School of Law. He serves as an international consultant on matters cultural, legal and political with a specialty in African affairs.
“First and foremost, we’re grateful that we have this film,” says Babu. We want every spiritual ministry and church to consider coming down and seeing one of the all-time greatest gospel films that’s ever been done in the history of gospel music.”
Babu says attendees are in for quite the experience this year, with over two hours of praise and worship from Franklin and her backup singers. He describes the documentary as a spiritual, cultural and intellectual experience and is something that you will never forget.
In 1992, Babu co-founded PAFF with actors Danny Glover and Ja’net Dubois to promote and celebrate independent Black filmmakers and fine artists. The annual festival is approaching its 27th year and continues to be a pillar for Black filmmakers domestic and abroad.
“We have a lot of great films. In fact, we have 170 brand new black films from all over the planet. We also have 75 fine artists, painters, clothes designers and jewelers from all over the world for 12 days,” Babu details. “You can move around the world for a few days without the airline tickets. So, get up and travel.”
There are a few other films Babu is looking forward to at this year’s PAFF. Films that include “Dry” by Nigerian actor and director Stephanie Linus. The film follows a young Nigerian psychologist who lives in Wales. Another film, “Inglewood Morning Session” is about the 1994-95 Inglewood High School basketball team coached by Inglewood Police Department Lieutenant Scott Collins.
Although funding continues to be one of the main aspects that can limit the full reach and potential of the PAFF, Babu says the organization is on track with their vision and goals.
“We are on track. This was our vision. We wanted to showcase Black art and show there was an audience to stimulate distributors to pick these films up. There is rampant racism in the museums and galleries. You almost can’t find Black painters and artists. So we wanted to showcase Black artists and clothes designers.”
In addition to showcasing over 100 films from African & African-American filmmakers worldwide, the PAFF also includes a Saturday Children’s Festival, SpokenWord Fest, a LOL Comedy and fashion show. Closing night includes a red carpet, Q&A panel discussion, and after party.
“It’s not just secular films. This is authentic black humor, authentic stories about who, where, when and how we got here. Aretha has a song on her Amazing Grace album called “How I got Over.” The festival talks about that. And the films talk about that.”
Babu notes the PAFF is incredibly lucky to have support from people like Los Angeles City Councilman Herb Wesson, who shows continual support by assisting with funding and resources for the festival.
“He has shown tremendous support. We have support from the other elected officials and so forth, but Herb has been absolutely outstanding.”
Babu notes that thanks to Wesson, the festival is able to use school buses to take kids to and from film screenings through the PAFF Student Fest program. For Babu, it is important for youth to have access to these films because he still remembers one of the earliest films he saw about Black life outside the U.S.
The 1959 Brazilian romantic film “Black Orpheus,” had such a profound effect on Babu that it seems to have served as one of the precursors to broadening his perspectiåve on Black life and the work he would eventually come to do through the PAFF.
Although, Babu says that he never really envisioned himself working in the film industry.
“I did have this vision and understanding that I would be participating and working towards improving the conditions of Black folks and participating in the Black power and civil rights movement. As well as being apart of expanding our awareness and consciousness.”