Lisa Simmons

Lisa Simmons: Curating 20 Years of Diverse and Fiercely Independent Films

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By Evan J. Cutts

Roxbury, MA — For the last two decades, the Roxbury International Film Festival has championed provocative, entertaining, and fiercely independent films by people of color.

Founded in 1999 by ACT ROXBURY and The Color of Film Collaborative, the then-named Dudley Film Festival has grown into an international hub for filmmakers of color and film lovers to appreciate new narratives.

“It’s so rewarding to support independent filmmakers and their commitment to creating content that tells a wide array of stories from people of color around the world,” said Lisa Simmons in a statement.

The ten-day festival celebrated its 20th anniversary from June 20-30th with a competitive selection of fifty-nine international films. Screenings were held at the Museum of Fine Arts, the Haley House Bakery Café, the historic Hibernian Hall, the Shirley-Eustis House and State Street Pavilion at Fenway Park.

For Lisa Simmons, each film is a favorite and the opening night screening of Liyana (dir. Amanda and Aaron Kopp) was one of the most exciting yet.

“I was really excited about screening Liyana because the story is told so beautifully and the animation is simply brilliant. It was also really special to screen the work of Liyana’s animator Shofela Coker,” she said

This year’s programming followed the theme of storytelling highlighting fresh, untold stories like Jewel’s Catch One (dir. C. Fitz), a monumental documentary of the life of businesswoman and activist Jewel Thais-Williams, the owner of America’s oldest black-owned LGBTQ disco club.

“These filmmakers bring us stories of unknown heroes and places; stories that educate, inform, and are seldom seen in mainstream media,” Lisa commented. “These films allow for people of color to be seen in different narratives and in all walks of life—that is why it is important to champion these stories.”

One such narrative recently brought into light is Gina’s Journey: The Search for William Grimes. The Sean Durant directed documentary/docu-drama follows the twenty-year journey of Regina Mason as she scours dusty archives and old genealogies to discover that her Great-Great-Great Grandfather William Grimes wrote the first runaway slave autobiography in American history.

“Everybody has a story. The more stories are placed on-screen and recorded in history, the more people will want to share their stories for the world to see,” said Sean Durant.

“It’s exciting to see it all come together: the films, the audience reactions, and the connections formed between filmmakers and film lovers,” Lisa said. “Some of the most memorable moments happen during the Q&A.”

“It’s because of those moments that we will keep supporting the work that filmmakers of color are producing as well as those who are creating more diverse images of color in media.”