Newark Black Film Festival Celebrates 50 Years

The oldest Black film festival in the country commemorates its golden anniversary with screenings, panel discussions and more.

Debbi Morgan and Samuel L. Jackson in "Eve's Bayou"
Debbi Morgan and Samuel L. Jackson in Eve's Bayou (1997). The film's director, Kasi Lemmons, will attend a Q&A session at this year's Newark Black Film Festival. Photo: Courtesy of the Newark Museum of Art

The Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF) at the Newark Museum of Art is celebrating 50 years of offering a platform for the work of Black filmmakers, with a five-day festival (Wednesday, July 10 through Sunday, July 14), panel discussions, a gala and more.

NBFF grew from a 1974 grassroots collaboration inspired by a similar traveling festival that launched at a time when Black films were under the mainstream radar. To date, the festival has screened more than 850 films viewed by more than 200,000 attendees.

The festival showcases original films released within the last three years that are directed by Black filmmakers or that depict the Black experience. The oldest Black film festival in the country, NBFF is proud to have featured early-career films of Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Barry Jenkins and many others. Luminaries like James Earl Jones and Danny Glover have also been featured over the years.

Still from the 2023 film "Sing Sing"

This year’s festival includes a screening of the 2023 film Sing Sing. Photo: Courtesy of the Newark Museum of Art

This year’s festival opens with a reception featuring music from DJ Skeme Richards, followed by a screening of the 2023 film Sing Sing. It’s an inspirational film that tells the story of an innocent incarcerated man who survives in prison by joining a theater group and discovering a side of himself he never knew.

Films are chosen by a panel of industry professionals from entries that include long or short narratives, documentaries, web series and experimental films. The panel sometimes includes fan-favorite throwbacks, such as this year’s screening of the classic 1997 film Eve’s Bayou, starring Samuel L. Jackson, Lynn Whitfield and Debbi Morgan, as well as Meagan Good and Jurnee Smollett. The film’s director, Kasi Lemmons, will be in attendance for a Q&A session.

NBFF’s 2024 roster includes 10-plus films, along with special events to commemorate its golden anniversary. Panel discussions include “In Order of Weapons: 50 Years of Black Film,” a historic look at Black films, and “Where Creativity Meets Commerce,” an instructive talk about the industry.

The Newark Museum of Art is also offering an exhibit that highlights milestones of past festivals.

A closing gala takes place on Sunday, July 14.

For the full schedule and ticket information, visit the festival’s website.

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