The Social Justice Now Film Festival: The Spotlight Features
by Mark Millien



October 16, 2020


9 Minute Read


The Social Justice Now Film Festival: The Spotlight Features

Courtesy of Tommy Oliver/SJNFF
Courtesy of Tommy Oliver/SJNFF

Many of us across the country have already cast our vote in the 2020 presidential election. It was still dark outside when I pulled up to a full parking lot and a socially distanced line wrapped around several corners.  This year, many families voted in shifts, to keep children at home safe while parents cast ballots with their eyes turned toward their future.

Whether you are a parent or caregiver or student or entrepreneur or disenfranchised or essential or married or single or activated or disillusioned, we are all an active participant in the American experiment. While the pandemic has made it difficult for us to engage with one another, there are opportunities for each of us to interact with content that will inform, immerse, and inspire. The Social Justice Now Film Festival, just a week away, is one such opportunity.

The festival describes itself as “a noncompetitive showcase of narrative feature films, documentaries, shorts and new media that highlight the themes of social justice, and explore issues of racial injustice, implicit bias, Black identity and human rights.”

Brought to you by the creators of the American Black Film Festival, SJNFF will feature both a physical and virtual experience. The Paramount Theater in Los Angeles will host drive in screenings on opening night, Wednesday October 21, 2020 of Just Mercy and Fruitvale Station. The festival will run until Sunday October 25. 

The inaugural ambassadors for the event are actor and producer Michael B. Jordan, and human rights activist and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, Opal Tometi.

Opal Tometi and Michael B. Jordan
Opal Tometi and Michael B. Jordan

To attend the festival digitally you will need to download the ABFF PLAY app. Once you’ve created a free account, all of the films selected for this year’s festival, and the panel conversations, will be available on our nearest personal device. The panels will feature a collection of thought leaders, experts, and activists discussing topics spanning the spectrum of individual activation, police reform and wealth management. The app is available on Apple’s App Store for iphone and ipad as well as any device that features Google Play.

A mix of documentaries and narrative features comprise the four films that will be spotlighted each day of the festival. These films will be distributed either theatrically or via a streaming service at some point in the future, in some cases later this year. The festival is offering one of these films a day for free prior to their debut in other paid formats. 

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Tommy Oliver’s ’40 Years a Prisoner’ is a Story of Love, Family and Resilience


40 YEARS A PRISONER  | Documentary

The film chronicles the controversial 1978 Philadelphia police raid on the radical back-to-nature group MOVE and the aftermath that led to a son’s decades long fight to free his parents.

Featuring a production team that includes John Legend, Common, Black Thought, Questlove and Tommy Oliver, the film debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival this year.

Mike Africa Jr., born behind bars and the ideological heir to the movement his father founded, charts a path through America’s tragically recent and brutal interactions between urban communities and law enforcement.

“I spent three years of my life making a film about the indomitable will of a son to free his parents who were fighting against police brutality, systemic racism, and wrongful incarceration in the 1970’s,” director Tommy Oliver said. “Three years of work that I would have happily tossed away if our country was in a responsible place where things like police shootings of unarmed Black people weren’t daily occurrences and where phrases like “I can’t breathe” weren’t treated as memes…but that’s not the world we live in and as long as it’s not, it’s the role of the artist to shine as bright of a light as possible on those things. 40 Years a Prisoner is my light.”

Reefa  | Narrative Feature

Written, directed and produced by Jessica Kavan Dornbusch, Reefa tells the story of Israel “Reefa” Hernandez, an 18-year-old Colombian immigrant and artist, as he spends his last summer in Miami, before moving to New York on an art scholarship.

Dornbusch, who was born in New York and graduated from high school in Miami, is herself the daughter of Uruguayan immigrants. “I found such beauty in his life and the way that he just always knew he wanted to be an artist,” Dornbusch says. “From the time he was young, he always wanted to create and paint, and I just thought that was so beautiful.”

Now a cultural icon whose story has been adapted into a young adult graphic novel, whose art graces the bellies and spines of skateboards, whose name has become synonymous with the terminus of potential bisecting aggressive policing, Reefa immerses you in the life of an unfinished artist.

SNCC  | Documentary

The story of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, as told through the 1963 photographs of Staff photographer Danny Lyon, the amazing music recorded in the churches and mass meetings, and the narrations by Julian Bond and John Lewis in his last interview.

Lyon created many of the images the SNCC would use to disseminate their message about racial equality. Pamphlets, posters and flyers with depictions of peaceful protests and Black thought leaders.

He also directly helped free more than two dozen women who had been imprisoned because of their involvement with the movement. He snuck into the stockade where they were being held and took pictures of them through a barrier of broken glass. The photographs circulated across the country and secured their eventual release.

Pharrell Williams is the executive producer of the film.

Us Kids  | Documentary

Determined to turn unfathomable tragedy into action, the teenage survivors of Parkland, Florida catalyze a powerful, unprecedented youth movement that spreads with lightning speed across the country, as a generation of mobilized youth take back democracy in this powerful coming-of-age story.

Kim A. Snyder, who directed and produced the film, also won the Peabody Award for the 2016 documentary Newtown. Her short film, Lessons from a School Shooting: Notes from Dublane, is currently streaming on Netflix. Snyder is on the front lines of the American gun debate, whose previous work has been noted for its unflinching empathy and transformative emotional impact.

Us Kids tracks the genesis of the March For Our Lives movement and the 18 months that changed how we talk and think about the possibilities of gun reform in our country.

The SJNFF website is adding new information daily and you can follow them on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook . Keep checking Blacklove.com for the complete list of films and conversations in the festival. The festival runs from October 21 – 25th. Don’t miss it!