Financial consultant and film distributor Ayuko Babu inaugurated the Pan African Film Festival (PAFF) in 1992. Working with a very limited budget, Babu wanted to help revive Los Angeles not only physically - the city scape - but also the spirit of the people of L.A. The goal was to establish a hybrid festival, connecting the wide reach of the popular medium of film with the visual arts. A special focus was made to present films and documentaries made by black directors from around the world. A-listers like Whoopi Goldberg and Babu’s friend, Danny Glover showed up at the opening night gala. Later that year, PAFF received one of the major lump sums from the Los Angeles Arts Recovery Fund, distributed by then-Mayor Tom Bradley.
Fast forward to the present day, and PAFF is still going strong. Babu was recently awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the prestigious African Movie Academy Awards and has steadily expanded PAFF’s size and scope since its first run at the former Laemmle Sunset 5 in West Hollywood (now called Sundance Cinemas). PAFF is now regarded as the largest and most prestigious black film festival in America, and is the largest event during Black History Month, celebrated in the U.S. every February.
Over 150 films are screened during the 10-day festival. In recent years, PAFF has centered at RAVE Cinemas 15, located at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza. The creators of the selected films hail from the U.S., Europe, the Caribbean, the South Pacific, Latin America and Canada. What makes PAFF truly unique is not just the sister festival in Atlanta, but also the accompanying ArtFest. Attendees can browse and buy visual arts and crafts created by over 100 diverse artists who are accepted through a juried application process. The high-quality works include fine art and photography, one-of-a-kind craft art, designer and traditional fashions, jewelry, home decor and fashion accessories.
PAFF hopes to attract a wider audience for non-mainstream films made by creators of African descent who send positive messages and break negative stereotypes. One benefit is the opportunity for making connections, from negotiating distribution deals and back to the root of Babu’s original vision: to serve the community at large. Coming from a town with a marginally small black population, Babu saw the need and opportunity to spread cultural perspectives via the popular on-screen medium. He’s introduced workshops on job opportunities in the industry, the PAFF Filmmaker’s Award honoring outstanding talent, panel discussions, and the Student Fest Program, which offers qualified 6-12 graders and teachers free admission to screenings each year. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Babu sums up an important factor of PAFF’s success story: “Films can touch your senses. They can make you a better person.”
For updates on the film festival and art show, visit the PAFF website at www.paff.org.