In 1976, an extraordinary group of Black feminist artists and activists—Michele Wallace, Faith Ringgold, Patricia Jones, Margo Jefferson, and Monica Freeman—co-organized the first ever Black women’s film festival: the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts. The festival, held at New York’s Women’s Interart Center, powerfully linked Black women’s filmmaking to other artforms: Ntozake Shange and Joanne Braxton gave poetry readings, Faith Ringgold debuted a performance piece, Camille Billops lectured on art history, and an array of artists participated in panel discussions. Situating new film-work by Black women within a broader Black feminist arts ecosystem, the festival was simultaneously a celebration of the emerging world of Black women’s filmmaking as well as a radical call for the kinds of socio-political and institutional changes necessary for a Black women’s film culture to thrive.
Four decades later, The Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 2023 will commemorate the 1976 festival with a nine-week screening series, held in conjunction with Professor Allyson Nadia Field’s winter 2023 course on Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s, and a two-day symposium about the original festival and the tradition of Black feminist filmmaking. Course screenings will be free and open to the public as part of the Film Studies Center’s “Open Classroom” series, which invites members of the public to attend and take part in course screenings and discussions. At the conclusion of the screening series, the final symposium, featuring roundtable conversations with some of the original festival participants and contemporary filmmakers, will provide an opportunity to reflect on the past and future of Black women’s filmmaking.