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Juneteenth Film Festival Returns For A Powerful Second Year

Juneteenth is one of the most important days in African American history. It’s a day that represents freedom and new possibilities. And to honor it, the 2nd annual Juneteenth Film Festival returned to Kansas City, Missouri this June. The festival was created to give Black independent filmmakers a platform to showcase their work, allowing fresh voices to tell new and exciting stories particularly about the Black experience. It’s one of the many ways all of the films selected for this year's festival embody the spirit of the holiday. 

This year’s iteration primarily features films written, directed and produced by Kansas Citians. It has showcased three feature films including “Bad Boys: Ride or Die” which opened the festival, four documentaries and one short film. 

A highlight from this year’s programming is the documentary “The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks” directed by Kevin Willmott, who won an Academy Award for co-writing “BlacKKKlansman” and is a native of Kansas. About Kansas City, Missouri civil rights icon Alvin Brooks, the documentary is based off of his 2001 memoir Binding Us Together: A Civil Rights Activist Reflects on a Lifetime of Community and Public Service. The film is a heartfelt, inspiring narrative that is inextricably linked to the nation’s past and present. The 92-year old Brooks shares engaging, funny, and tragic stories about his life and career of advocacy in Kansas City.

Brooks has tirelessly served the city’s community for decades — as one of its first Black police officers, and was appointed the City’s first Black department head and established the first human relations department shortly after the 1968 riots. He was also an educator, a city councilman, Mayor Pro-Tem of Kansas City, Missouri and founder of Ad Hoc Group Against Crime in 1977. 

Kevin Willmott is arguably among the most significant filmmakers working today. He has uniquely and unwaveringly captured the Black experience through cinema. From his masterful satire “C.S.A. Confederate States of America,” to the quietly powerful “Jayhawker” to the moving and insightful “The 24th,” Willmott has delivered keen, meaningful observations on race, politics, and culture with all of his films.

Other stellar documentaries include “Kansas City Dreamin’,’' a film that chronicles the history of Black music in Kansas City. It features interviews with Melissa Etheridge, Tech N9ne, Bobby Watson, Oleta Adams, Lonnie McFadden, Oscar-winner Kevin Willmont, and more. With segments on Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Janelle Monae, Big Joe Turner, and other Kansas City natives the film celebrates Kansas City's contribution to American music. 

“The Pistol'' is also a gripping documentary that delves into the real-life accounts of notorious local gangster Kenneth Rayford. Directed by Paul Rayford, the film details the exploits of Rayford from his time as a youth growing up on the mean streets of Kansas City, Missouri up to adulthood when he ran the streets of Kansas City and robbed banks. Through interviews with Kenneth and his accomplices, combined with actual news footage, the documentary reveals the life of a real-underworld crime figure. The film paints a compelling portrait of a man who literally dedicated his entire life to the criminal underworld, maintained a solid reputation and actually lived to talk about it. 

“What’s N Kansas City?” is a fun look at the businesses and establishments located primarily on the city’s east side that make Kansas City unique. Street journalist Skiem Heim takes viewers on a unique guided tour of the places at the heart of Kansas City's Black culture.

Feature films include “Drout 2” the continuation of the underground hit coming-of-age crime drama “Drout,” which was only released in 2021 and currently streaming on Tubi. The festival will also screen “Underneath: Children of the Sun” which has become a festival darling around the country. Set in 1857, a slave in Little Dixie, Missouri is thrust into an intergalactic crisis after helping an alien from a crashed spaceship. An ultra-powerful alien artifact passes through generations of bloody fingers and inheritors here on Earth, including the present, and ultimately leads to an epic battle for control. This mind-bending Afrofuturist story is a breathtaking journey of galactic politics, heritage, and destiny. "Underneath: Children of the Sun" is St. Louis filmmaker David Kirkman's feature film debut. 

2ND ANNUAL JUNETEENTH FILM FESTIVAL REMAINING SCHEDULE

Wednesday, June 19th: The Black Archives of Mid-America presents “The Heroic True-Life Adventures of Alvin Brooks” Directed by Kevin Willmott (Screenland Armour) 6:30PM and 8:30PM

Wednesday, June 26th “Drout 2” Directed by Isiah King (Screenland Armour) 7:00PM

The short film “BF” directed by Jamie Addison will screen before each feature every night of the festival. 

Fox 4 News film critic Shawn Edwards is curator of the Juneteenth Film Festival which his held each June in Kansas City, Missouri.

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