'Phoenix Rises': Black Film Festival Organizers Hold 'Pop-Up' Event After Sponsors Pull Out

Aug 21, 2017

After corporate sponsors backed out and funding dried up, the Capital City Black Film Festival was canceled this year. But organizers decided that wasn't going to be the end.   

“Filmmakers were sending e-mails among each other saying, ‘Well, we're still going to Austin.' And they came, and we're here,” said Winston Williams, executive director of the festival. “We're calling this the Phoenix Rises.”

The hastily put together two-day “pop-up film fest” screened about 24 films at the Millennium Youth Entertainment Complex in East Austin over the weekend. There was no advertising for the event, just a word-of-mouth campaign to fill the 154 seats available. A total of 172 people attended over two days.

Things had been looking up for the festival. In its fifth year of showcasing black independent films, it was set to screen dozens of movies, host filmmaker panels and welcome Golden Globe and Emmy winner Louis Gossett Jr.

Williams said he doesn’t know why the sponsors pulled out, but he’s well aware of the city’s low black population and how that affects money for black events, especially in the arts.

But he also said there’s a hunger in Austin for more events like this.

“I grow weary of the reputation that Austin seems to have around the country,” he said. “I know that I'm here and I have a lot of friends who are here, but we will need to elevate it so that the world knows that we're here and we are doing things.”

LaToya Devezin, a community archivist at the Austin History Center who attended the festival, agreed that the city’s black community still wants events like it.

“We still would like to be part of the city of Austin and a part of the community and have events that cater to us," she said, "even though we don’t make as much of the population as we used to."

Los Angeles Director Dalas Davis, who presented his film Break the Stage, said although he was disappointed the festival was canceled, it was still important to be a part of "a fight for hope."

“We have to be willing to come out and support what has to do progressively with our culture, as a city, as a community, not just as black, but as white as well,” he said.   

Williams said next year’s festival is still up in the air, but he may have to increase the festival’s reach to keep things going.

“We have to keep educating the entire community,” he said. “Now, I will admit there's some awesome funding available and we’ve accessed that, but it's still not enough. ... Even though it’s a black film festival, it's for everybody because these are human stories.”

All ticket sales and filmmaker submissions for the canceled film festival will be refunded.