It’s hard for words to sound anything other than empty when we are dealing with such profound moments in our lives and culture as we are now. Yet in words there is power, and in the right words there can be solace and insight. Words that can perhaps support, or provide some “Ah-ha!” moments. And: this is a time for listening.

As programmers and educators working with film, we’ve often had the privilege of being in the company of many great artists and creatives whose words have moved us from the Rafael and Sequoia stages. The CFI programming teams have re-visited our archive of onstage conversations and Q&As to seek out some of the wisdom we’ve been party to. We’ve pulled together some quotes that we offer here along with links to the Q&As. Watch out for others we’ll be posting on social media.

A lifetime high point for me was the conversation after MVFF36’s 12 Years a Slave premiere, with Steve McQueen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Lupita Nyong’o. Their eloquence and their insights on the heritage of slavery and about the creative process continue to inspire me. There’s always something to be learned in small moments. You can read the whole conversation here.

This film was Lupita’s first feature. She was just out of Yale, and the role won her the Best Supporting Actress Oscar®. What she said then continues to resonate:

“I just want to say that what I’m excited about in sharing this film is it gives us a common story, a common reference point to start talking about things. When I first watched this film, I watched it with my team and my best friend. My best friend is half black and my team, my agent and my manager are both white, and the first time we left, after about an hour of crying, and went to a restaurant and had a conversation about our relationship with the opposite, with the other races in a way that I don’t think would have happened without this film. Those are the kinds of things that I’m excited are happening because that’s the power of film.”

As we made a list of recent films, what became noticeable is that the titles articulate the journey from slavery to the present. From 12 Years A Slave to The Hate U Give; from Harriet to Just Mercy, there are through lines that create a greater narrative that can be explored through these stories.

And the conversations invoked have been amazing. Listen to the words of Cynthia Erivo as she spoke with human rights activist Ericka Huggins about her work in Kasi Lemmons’s film Harriet. The profound insight that came from the stage that night was as much about life and the nature of truth as it was about the creative process of bringing Harriet Tubman’s story to the screen.

As it was with Amandla Stenberg, then 19, talking about The Hate U Give with a grace and wisdom way beyond her years. And with the team of Just Mercy: Jamie Foxx addressing the moral quagmire of contemporary life, and Karan Kendrick’s revelation: “everyone can do something.”

These stories offer a way to witness and understand where we’ve come from, how we got here, and who we are. And their creators offer the wisdom of their lives and their art in these onstage conversations. That’s the power of film, and the importance of the voices of artists. Join us in revisiting and listening to these voices.

Director: Kasi Lemmons (2019)

“I want each individual to come away feeling like they have a duty to uphold the work that’s already gone before them and I hope that people have conversation with each other. I hope that when mothers and daughters and friends and sisters and brothers and fathers and sons come and see this film, they stop for a second and want to ask questions and want to find out more about her and want to speak to each other and want to process and understand what had happened at that time, and what had happened around her and what she was going through. And then I want people to walk away thinking, ‘Maybe there’s times when I’m feeling slightly small, and I feel like I’m insignificant and that if someone like Harriet can do what she did, I might be able to take another step forward and do some good work, too’.”
–Cynthia Erivo, CFI Members Screening Q&A with Ericka Huggins

Full HARRIET Conversation with Cynthia Erivo and Ericka Huggins

Available to rent or purchase: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes
Washington Post Op-Ed piece by Kasi Lemmons: White Americans, your lack of imagination is killing us

Director: Destin Daniel Cretton (2019)

“No one can do everything, although Bryan Stevenson is close, but everyone can do something. What the film forced me to ask and answer for myself is “what is your something?” What is your something? I think you have to choose where you are, right from where you stand, in your circle of influence, what your something is. And it could be different for all of us, but I think that is where it begins”
– Karan Kendrick, MVFF42 Opening Night
JUST MERCY – MVFF Opening Night Q&A

Available to rent for free during the month of June: Amazon, GooglePlay, Vudu

Director: George Tillman, Jr. (2018)

“There’s this idea that to be an ally you have to disregard race or try to look at your peers who are non-white as just non-white as opposed to validating what their experience is or where they come from and understanding that that’s an integral part of their experience. And in order to see them and validate them and be allies to them, you just have to validate that they have an experience that’s different from yours… I think we, as people of color, have learned the work of cross-identification because we don’t really see ourselves represented, because we live in systems and structures that are white. We learn how to empathize with people who don’t look like us. And I think that’s something that is inherently taught to us but is not necessarily taught to white people. And so I think a huge part of being an ally is actively making the choice to cross-identify—stepping back, listening, not talking, and understanding that someone’s experience is different from yours, and in order to be open to it, you have to be observational, you have to place yourself in their shoes, you have to allow them the space to exist in the same way that you exist… You also need to understand that it’s your responsibility. We don’t necessarily have to teach it to you.”
– Amandla Stenberg, MVFF41 Spotlight Award

The Hate U Give – MVFF Spotlight on Amandla Stenberg (Spotlight Screening)
The Hate U Give – MVFF, CFI Education Q&A (CFI Education Screening)

Available with subscription: Cinemax, DirectTV
Available to rent: Fandango Now
Available to purchase: Amazon, YouTube, Google Play, iTunes


12 YEARS A SLAVE (Steve McQueen, 2013) Where To Watch
CLEMENCY (Chinonye Chukwu, 2019) Where To Watch
DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST (Julie Dash, 1991) Where To Watch
IF BEALE STREET COULD TALK (Barry Jenkins, 2018) Where To Watch
LIFE AND NOTHING MORE (Antonio Méndez Esparza, 2017) Where To Watch
LOVING (Jeff Nichols, 2016) Where To Watch
MOONLIGHT (Barry Jenkins, 2016) Where To Watch
MUDBOUND (Dee Rees, 2017) Where To Watch

We encourage all CAFILM Blog readers to look into ways to take action with SURJ: Showing Up for Racial Justice, and to consider donating to the Equal Justice Initiative, founded by Bryan Stevenson, whose story is told in JUST MERCY.