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The CineOdyssey Film Showcase 2023 begins Friday, June 16, with a screening of Nayola, an animated film that follows a grandmother, mother and daughter finding their way in the aftermath of the Angolan civil war. Among the audience members seeing this richly imagined film for the first time will be festival director Tre’ McGriff.

“I’m really excited because I haven’t watched the film,” McGriff says. “I refused to watch it because I’ve got to see it on a big screen! The animation, the color palette that they use, it’s just fantastic.” 

The film’s striking visual style encompasses both realism and fantasy. Director José Miguel Ribeiro described his vision to Variety last year: “From the outset I wanted to explore a very expressionistic style based on my experiences in Angola, where you feel a presence of intense colors, such as the red earth, or the blood-red sunsets and the powerful aromas.” Following the screening will be a panel of local Black animators to discuss the film and the art of animation.

Nayola is just one of the gems McGriff has planned for the festival, which he started in 2018 as a platform for filmmakers of color. The idea, he says, was to expose local audiences to a diverse slate of films and filmmakers, from here and around the world. This year, the festival also serves as a celebration of Juneteenth and African-American Music Appreciation Month.

The festival’s second day, Saturday, June 17, offers a free screening of Wattstax, a 1973 concert documentary that for decades went mostly unseen. The legendary Stax Records organized the concert — sometimes called the “Black Woodstock” — to commemorate the 1965 Watts riots, and the film features performances by The Staple Singers, Isaac Hayes, Richard Pryor and others, including a not-to-be-missed rendition of “Do the Funky Chicken” by Rufus Thomas. 

Also showing that day is Fannie, a short film about the civil-rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer. Before the films, hip-hop artist Nani Layilaa will perform and poet Jah Smalls will read a poem he wrote inspired by Wattstax. 

On Friday, June 30, the festival finishes with a night of seven short films, including The Couple Next Door by Nigerian-American filmmaker Abbesi Akhami. When an African couple move in next door, a single African-American woman feels a powerful longing. “It’s an interesting story,” McGriff says, “about how loneliness can compel you and elicit feelings outside of what you would normally do.” Also in the lineup is a micro short called Know Why, created by the Queens City Film Project, a collective of women filmmakers, in response to the killing seven years ago of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte. All the shorts have compelling stories to tell, and some of the local filmmakers will be on hand for a Q&A following the screening. 

McGriff is always thinking and creating and is already focused on next year. He plans a reimagining of CineOdyssey for 2024, which he will announce at the festival. “I’m really excited about it,” he says. So stay tuned.

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