Jun 25, 2010

Christine Acham looks over images with Ivan Dixon's widow, Berlie, for a documentary on "The Spook Who Sat by the Door."
When director Ivan Dixon and writer Sam Greenlee were trying to get the politically charged African-American film "The Spook Who Sat by the Door" made in the early 1970s, they faced major challenges in securing funding.

Not much has changed since then, says Christine Acham, a University of California-Davis professor who is working on a documentary about the making of the film.

Acham said that though conditions have improved in the last 40 years, black filmmakers still struggle to get their films made.

"It is always challenging for African-American filmmakers to get funding," Acham said. "It's clearly helped by the Oprahs and Tyler Perrys of the world, who have their own studios and the ability to greenlight projects, but outside of that, if you are an independent or a black filmmaker, it is difficult to get black stories told."

Times are tough for Hollywood in general. With the country firmly entrenched in a recession, gone are the days when studio executives were eager to take a multimillion-dollar chance on projects that may or may not find an audience.

Even filmmakers such as Melvin Van Peebles, John Singleton and Spike Lee who have found success via independent vehicles don't have free financial reign.

Acham, who teaches courses on black film, television and pop culture, said that in such a tough marketplace, the road is even tougher for minority filmmakers.

The professor said that with studios scaling back on the number of films they make and focusing on less risky ventures such as sequels, those going the independent route have to be creative.

That includes working the film festival circuit, Acham said.

"Film festivals allow the filmmaker to get their work out there," she said. "Obviously, with the rise of Sundance, people are taking a closer look at festivals, and for the independents, many are looking beyond Sundance perhaps because it has gotten so large."

One such event is the American Black Film Festival, which launches its 14th annual edition Wednesday in Miami, Florida.


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