‘Visions’ film festival a celebration of the black experience

Film festival posterBy Jim DeLa

New College is hosting a festival Dec. 5-7, focusing on the celebration, study and exploration of various aspects of the African American life experience through film.

The 2019 inaugural Visions of the Black Experience lineup is a mix of feature films and documentaries, panel discussions and workshops, with a world premiere Dec. 5 of “No Lye: An American Beauty Story.”

One of the organizers of the festival, assistant professor of sociology Queen Meccasia Zabriskie, said the idea for the festival came from people and organizations that helped organize an African American spotlight at last year’s Sarasota Film Festival.

The group explored the idea of creating a stand-alone film festival and began to think about a theme. “It was important from the beginning that we talked about history, because there’s such a rich history in terms of film,” she said. “We also wanted to talk about contemporary issues; it was important that we grabbed a different number of audiences. We settled on health and wellness, broadly defined, as an overall theme. We began looking for films that could speak to that.”

Films for the festival were selected on more than pure entertainment value. “It was about entertainment and celebrating and highlighting films, but we also wanted it to be educational … [to select] films to help us build dialogs.”

Zabriskie said several of the films focus on hair. “That comes from students,” she explained. “There a huge debate right now about natural hair and whether or not it’s professional. A student came to me for help to create an event around natural hair, where students could talk and techniques for maintaining natural hair, and doing so in a way that is appropriate for their professional career.”

When organizers decided to show “Something The Lord Made,” a drama about the life of Dr. Vivien Thomas, an African-American pioneer in the field of heart surgery, Zabriskie said a panel discussion following the film was a no-brainer. “We said, of course we have to have a panel that’s speaking about how disparity in the local community and thinking about the experience of black health care practitioners.”

Another offering at the festival is “American Ascent,” a documentary film about the first African American expedition to tackle Denali, North America’s highest peak. “We all really liked the fact that is was a film that was trying to speak about the kinds of boxes we create for black folks or that get created for black folks,” Zabriskie said, “The importance of breaking those boxes and allowing for multiplicity of identities and interests and images for people to think about back, There was something about being able to break existing ideas about black folks and black myths that his movies does that we really appreciated.

“Plus, it’s a really good movie. It was really important that these films were entertaining but educational also and that we could have events around the film that would highlight people in the community who were doing great work, as well as produce dialog around issues that are important.”

The 2019 inaugural “Visions of the Black Experience” film festival will take place Dec. 5-7, on the campus of New College of Florida at the Harry Sudakoff Conference Center, 5845 General Dougher Place, Sarasota.

Seating is limited. While admission is free, reservations for each show are required. For more information and to reserve your tickets, please follow this link.

Presented in association with the Sarasota Film Festival, the Boxser Diversity Initiative, Multicultural Health Institute, ASALH Manasota, Andrew Mellon Foundation, New College Foundation, Barancik Foundation, and Sarasota TDT.

Festival schedule:

Thursday, Dec. 5:

6 p.m. — Introduction by Bob Fitzgerald of the Manasota ASALH, the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, and Frances Presley Rice, executive producer of “No Lye.”

6:15 p.m. — World premiere screening: “No Lye: An American Beauty Story” (2019), a documentary about the history of the black beauty industry.

7:30 p.m. — Discussion.

Friday, Dec. 6

6 p.m. — Introduction

6:10 p.m. — “Something The Lord Made” – a film that explores the life of Dr. Vivien Thomas, an African-American pioneer in the field of heart surgery.

8 p.m. — Panel discussion, led by Dr. Lisa Merritt, discussing local issues involving health care in lower-income communities.

Saturday, Dec. 7

10 a.m. — Interactive Hair Demonstration with Monique Moore, an inspirational public speaker and stylist.

11 a.m. — Introduction: Prof. Zabriskie

11:15 a.m. — “Back to Natural” – 67 minutes – documentary about the contemporary natural hair movement.

12:25 p.m. — Conversation with Prof Zabriskie and stylist

12:45-1 p.m. — Lunch

1:30 p.m. — Introduction

1:40 p.m. — “American Ascent” – a documentary film about the first African-American expedition to tackle North America’s highest peak, Denali.

2:45 p.m. — Panel on “American Ascent”

6:00 p.m. — Introduction – Bob Fitzgerald

6:10 p.m. — “Oscar Micheaux, the Black Czar of Hollywood” – 1 hour, 7 minutes – documentary about Oscar Micheaux, an African American author, film director and independent producer of more than 44 African American-themed films.

7:20 p.m. — Panel Discussion (led by Bob Fitzgerald)

— Jim DeLa is digital communications coordinator at New College of Florida.


Located in Sarasota, New College of Florida has educated intellectually curious students for lives of great achievement since its founding in 1960. As the State of Florida’s designated honors college, New College provides an exceptional education that transforms students’ intellectual curiosity into personal accomplishment. The 110-acre campus on Sarasota Bay is home to more than 800 students and 80 full-time faculty engaged in interdisciplinary research and collaborative learning. New College offers nearly 40 areas of concentration for undergraduates and a master’s degree program in Data Science.

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