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[whitespace] Morris Turner
Photograph by Michael Amsler

A marketplace of ideas: Morris Turner of Rohnert Park has created the African Marketplace and Film Exposé.

Paint It Black

Film fest organizer hopes to raise cultural awareness

By Paula Harris

"SOMEONE once said it's a very small world, and it's true," muses Morris Turner, executive director of Missing Pages Productions, a local nonprofit organization focused on helping cultivate a richer understanding of other cultures. "And things are altering dramatically."

Indeed, the local demographic is a-changing. Peek into the maze of work cubicles at any high-tech company in Telecom Valley and the faces staring back at you will likely mirror the make-up of the globe.

"We're having to work with people who look different than we do and whose cultural background and mores are different than those of people in the United States," Turner continues. "And in order for the community and even for business to be successful there has to be an awareness of what the cultural values are of those people and an appreciation."

Turner, 51, an African-American resident of Rohnert Park, has lived in Sonoma County for 30 years--long enough to remember when Santa Rosa had a single stoplight. These days, he's on a mission: He wants to share the cultures of what he calls "underrepresented populations" with the rest of the community.

"It's always been a need that's gone lacking," he explains. "And for a long time the community has been able to survive without really addressing the issue." But Turner and his organization are ready to close the gap with the African Marketplace and Film Exposé, a two-day event co-sponsored by the Sonoma Museum of Visual Art (see "Into Africa," above).

"The museum has a history of creating multicultural programming," explains SMOVA director Gay Shelton. "This grew out of some of that activity, and I feel delighted to offer this and to give underrepresented but vital ethnic communities more exposure."

Turner hopes the event will be a valuable learning tool. "People will have the opportunity to really be immersed in the African experience as it has occurred around the world and is occurring here in the United States," he says.

The event features films by domestic and foreign filmmakers that highlight the lives of African people throughout the diaspora. For example, Black Survivors of the German Holocaust tells the little-known story of what African Germans experienced and endured before, during, and after the reign of Hitler.

Also featured is Djembefola, a high-energy film about African music that highlights the importance of family and culture within the context of a global community. It features Mamady Keita, former master drummer for Les Percussions de Guinea, who recently performed in Sonoma County.

And The Bronze Buckaroo (filmed in 1938), while relying on stereotypes consistent with the times, has historical interest since it depicts an all-black cast in a B-movie western. "For some people it's never crossed their minds that there were black cowboys," says Turner, who is author of America's Black Towns and Settlements, a historical reference guide to pioneer black communities.

In addition, the event's marketplace will include more then 20 Bay Area vendors offering a variety of wares such as art, jewelry, and stone carvings directly from Africa. There will also a number of children's performances in the marketplace and five African-based children's films.

Turner says youth advocacy played a major role in shaping the event, the first of its kind in the county. "It's our responsibility as adults to provide an environment where children can be nurtured, supported, educated, and raised in a safe situation, and part of that safety is to acknowledge who they are culturally," he says. "I really think that that's an issue the American public has pretty much swept under the rug. Our country is in denial around the issue of race and culture."

Turner hopes the African Marketplace and Film Exposé will become an annual happening, and he has other events in the same vein planned, such as the Cross Cultural Writers Forum, which takes place Sept. 15.

"We hope that, by offering this type of exposure to other cultures, people can begin to understand one another better and to appreciate the contribution of all people to our community as well as to the world," he says. "I want to collaborate with people who are like-minded, and I don't want geography to be a barrier."

Into Africa

The African Marketplace and Film Exposé, a two-day event celebrating the cultural uniqueness of Africa and African Americans, will be held June 1-2 at the Luther Burbank Center for the Performing Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road. A two-day ticket is $5; a two-day family pass, $10; admission is free for kids under 16 years. For more information, call 707/794-0729.

Friday, June 1

6 p.m. Opening-night gathering.

7 p.m. Wild Women Don't Have the Blues. This film explores the lives and times of Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Ethel Waters, and other legendary blueswomen.

Saturday, June 2

11 a.m. to 6 p.m. African marketplace features African fabrics, jewelry, natural body treatments, art, and traditional foods. Also on offer: events and activities such as face painting, storytelling, children's films, and African music.

Noon Madam C. J. Walker: America's First Black Women Millionaire is a film that chronicles how Sara Breedlove rose from washer woman to successful entrepreneur.

1:30 p.m. The Bronze Buckeroo, filmed in 1938, was the first to feature an all-black cast in a western B-movie. It stars Spencer Williams Jr. (of Amos and Andy fame) and Herb Jefferies, former lead singer for the Duke Ellington Band.

3 p.m. The film African Americans in World War II: A Legacy of Patriotism and Valor reveals the untold story of African Americans in the "war to end all wars."

4:30 p.m. Djembefola, a high-energy movie that traces the journey of Mamady Keita, former master drummer of Les Percussions de Guinea, from Brussels, where he teaches traditional drumming, back home to his village and family.

7 p.m. The West Coast premiere of Black Survivors of the German Holocaust documents in graphic detail the personal untold stories of African Germans before, during, and after the reign of Hitler. Recommended for mature audiences only.

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From the May 31-June 6, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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