Mention the popular Delaware beach town of Rehoboth, and images of the beach, boardwalk, and old-fashioned rides come to mind. But this coastal community is also the year-round home of artists and art galleries, a theater company, and the Rehoboth Beach Film Society. Founded in 1997, it grew from a gathering of five people to a membership of more than 14,00, proving that “a small Delaware resort town could promote a film festival.” This year, from February 17-19 the Film Society will partner with the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice (SDARJ) to present the 2023 African American Film Festival.
The films are chosen to debunk stereotypes and instead present a balanced view of African American life. The selected documentaries and short films focus on joy, accomplishment, and perseverance with topics ranging from the history of black jockeys in the Kentucky Derby, the first all-Black high school rowing team, and girl-group melodies sung under a streetlight.
Closer to home, short films depict Black captains of the Chesapeake and introduce viewers to the Rev. Charles Tindley of Berlin, Maryland, a man considered to be the “Prince of Preachers” and father of gospel music. (Think of “We Shall Overcome” and the gospel-turned-secular “Stand By Me.”) Selected films will be followed by panel discussions and conversations with filmmakers and subjects.
Charlotte King, a founder and Chair of SDARJ, says the film festival is another outlet for the group’s goal to “inform, educate and advocate for racial justice.” She says, “We’ve done it through town halls, seminars, and book clubs. This time we’re doing it through film.”
A committee composed of members from each organization chose the roster of films. According to Helen Chamberlin, Film Society Executive Director, this committee was the “secret sauce” that pulled the event together.
The film festival hopes to reach as diverse a group as possible. “We have a connection east of Coastal Highway – Bethany, Fenwick, and Rehoboth – but there are also communities to its west. We want to reach those audiences as well,” said Chamberlin. A donation and a connection with the YMCA in Rehoboth have enabled the Film Society to provide free admission to students. For Charlotte King and the Southern Delaware Alliance for Racial Justice, Black history is American history.
If you’d like to take in some of the Rehoboth Beach African American Film Festival (and take advantage of the beach town’s lower-rate off-season stays), here’s the schedule:
Friday, February 17
7 p.m. – Streetlight Harmonies
A post-film discussion will be held with Lois Powell of the pop music group Chantels.
Saturday, February 18
2:30 p.m. – A Most Beautiful Thing
7 p.m. – Who We Are: A Chronicle of Racism in America
Sunday, February 19, 2 p.m.
- A Vanishing Legacy: Black Captains of the Chesapeake Bay
- Black Swimmers Overcome Racism and Fear, Reclaiming a Tradition
- Black Jockeys and the Kentucky Derby: A History of Race and Racism
All films will be shown at Cinema Art Theater in Lewes, Delaware. Tickets are $10 or $5 for students with ID. For more information about the African American Film Festival click here.