It was a great experience working with Mahen Bonetti and her team to create a moving and historic Digital Diaspora Town Hall meeting that celebrated past supporters of the 23rd New York African Film Festival and brought in new audiences for 2016! Mahen and her team helped to select the special guests whose family albums and testimonials would frame the entire show with audience participation in between each of the curated guests. As we were to discover again, the magic of the collaboration with partners and the spontaneity of the unscripted audience participation produced a very special magic!
As the testimonials of the various panelists showed, visibility through self- representation is an important instrument in promoting the full enjoyment of economic, social, cultural, civil and political rights by people of African descent in combating racism and racial discrimination. The panelists discussed how individuals, communities and nations have used self-representation as a tool for social change and as a way of achieving political and cultural representation within societies.
Each DDFR Roadshow is always unique and surprising in its outcome and discoveries and this one was no different in that regard. No one could have predicted that two family members – cousins – would meet here for the every first time through this public sharing of their family photos.
If that was not amazing enough, both cousins – Delphine Fawundu (from Brooklyn and Sierre Leone) – and Berette Macaulay (from Jamaica, Germany and Sierra Leone) are both photographers and artists! It was such an emotional and moving moment watching these two women/artists/cousins realize their connection, embrace one another and recount names of family members, places, dates amid laughter and tears. It was a true family reunion. And it was manifested through the sharing of their family photos & narratives! The program also featured several other great guests – spoken word artists, filmmakers, writers, dancers, and photographers hailing from such disparate places as Lagos, Nigeria to Sao Paulo, Brazil to Flynn, Michigan. Their testimonials all set to music by the kora player – who hails from a family of Griots.
Just as we were about to bring the event to a close, one participant the collector Leonard Davis nearly rushed on to the stage with a huge portfolio stuffed with images which he insisted we take a look at. The images included his great-great grandfather, a self made man in the South who owned a negro league ball team and his great-great-great grandmother who never left the plantation on which she and her ancestors were born, lived and worked. Hearing the names and stories of the audiences ancestors, relatives and children and seeing their photos, after the public performances and storytelling, the DDFR participants were photographed holding their family photos in a studio that was created in homage to Malick Sidibe.
Following the Digital Diaspora roadshow was a lovely panel moderated by Rev. Malika Lee Whitney. Afterwards, we had a catered reception following the event. Meanwhile Mahen and the DDFR team began plotting for the next Digital Diaspora event and the evolution of this abundant partnership!
“I am proud and honoured that we opened the 23rd New York African Film Festival, with the town hall event curated by the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Roadshow. This project has reignited our deferred dream for a renewed African Unity. In the late 60s’ my family experienced one of the first post-independence coup d’etat’s that took place on our continent. In the chaos of trying to find a safe shelter, one of the first things my mother tried to secure and take along with us, were the family photos. When we arrived in the U.S., the atmosphere in our household was always gloomy and the expectation was that we were only here to stay temporarily. However, whenever our diasporan relatives came to visit, the photo albums came out and this created laughter, tears and hope!” – Mahen Bonetti
“Dancer Nairobi Hamilton(My mother) Thank you so much for having me and my mom at the event. What a great event and experience ! It was so interesting to share stories and pictures and I felt this really brought people together. (especially in a time when people need to be brought together and made aware of the stories we all share with family and and friends)
The event was both an emotional and enlightening experience for me and for my mother. The medium of images is such a powerful tool of communication and i look forward to hearing more about future events and projects that you may be working on. sincerely Quenia Ribeiro” – Quenia Ribeiro
“So much of who we are is where we come from. The tapestry of stories that weave through our familial history play a deep role in our understanding of self. In our fast paced society and lives, many at times we don’t take the time to reflect on how pictures both past and present, play an intricate role in understanding our familial history. And then a special opportunity comes along in the form of the African Film Festival’s Digital Diaspora Family Reunion Townhall that inspires a trans-formative form of reflection. From panelists like myself to audience members, we all walked into the DDFR Townhall as strangers but left with a unifying bond that felt so familial. Such a special transference of energy can’t be forced. It just happens. It did happen and it was nothing short of sublime. I can’t encourage everyone enough to connect into the experiences New York African Film Festival continues to provide us with its curated events. I have no doubt the upcoming festival will once again triumph beyond my already high expectations.” – Ayoinmotion
“My friend Thomas Allen Harris invited me to attend the Digital Diaspora Road show at Lincoln Center on Sunday. he said bring along some of your family pictures to share. So, I looked all my family photos which I have framed and hanging the Living room and couldn’t decide which relatives to bring and who to leave behind. So, I brought them all. Although I accepted Thomas’s invitation to attend this event, I didn’t really know what to expect. Perhaps an elaborate Black American “Show & Tell”. However, I witnessed an amazing and inspiring concept that has changed my life forever. Thomas has once again utilized his gift of inspiring and uniting the world, by providing this unique opportunity for people of color to display photos of their “ancestors”, call their names and acknowledge their victories and honor their legacies. We are all aware that throughout the 400 + years of slavery our families were divided and disbursed. However, as we continue to share the narratives of our ancestors and keep their memories alive, these stories will overlap with other narratives and ultimately unite us with long lost family members! Thomas is on a mission that comes from a higher power, to help us reconnect. Thanks, Thomas” – Leonard Davis
To see more photos from the roadshow, visit our Flickr album.