‘Thuh Film Festival’ to Debut in August

RJ Singh
JACOB GRAY found his love for cinema in high school. He learned that above all, creative outlets like cinema helped him focus in school, which also debunked the “one size fits all” approach of grade school education.

The Fourth St. arts community in Long Beach is linking with filmmaker Jacob Gray to host the inauguration of Thuh Film Festival. Gray and partners will attempt to attract an audience to a slate of films that they never knew they needed.

There was a vacuum that Jacob Gray, 26, felt in the room when he heard that the Los Angeles Film Festival was closing its doors in 2018.

While working at Film Independent, a partner of the LA Film Festival, Gray was exposed to the cinema of international filmmakers with stories unseen by American audiences.

“The idea kept growing from there, knowing that there was a lot of cool stuff that was not being seen by people out here,” Gray said. “I was like, ‘We’re really deprived of really good movies.’”

He nurtured this idea until it became Thuh Film Festival, a Long Beach film festival that Gray’s premiering on Aug. 21. Film submissions have brought new, authentic community and international voices.

Gray says certain film festivals have developed a brand, a near expectation of what kinds of films will be shown. At any cost, he wants to avoid this pigeonhole.

The holistic experience of working the venue space or music around the screening is something that Gray wants to be a staple of his festival. “It was mainly what we did at Play Nice that really sparked the idea of building this and growing this and curating a vibe,” Gray said.

Gray’s film curation at creative hub Play Nice included John Singleton’s “Poetic Justice” or Spike Lee’s “He Got Game.” Those screenings had an informal approach, an atmosphere that a kickback may have.

Aside from Play Nice, Open Gallery LB and Adaept Design will act as venues for Thuh Film Festival, which all sit on Fourth St. Within brick-and-mortar, Adaept Design operates as a cooperative organization that specializes in creative agency, retail and maker’s space.

“We’re really trying to fill the void that was left when Lyon, the arts supply store, shut down,” said Adaept Design director of product management Jacob Flores, 29. “One of the things that we’re trying to do is get art supplies back into the hands of creatives in east Long Beach and the downtown area.”

Flores also works the live event annals of AXS, something he calls a corporate nine-to-five. But as an admirer of the form, Flores and Adaept Design plan to throw themselves into the cinematic landscape with workshops that educate aspiring filmmakers on lighting, production, casting and more, sometime after the team opens shop on Sept. 1.

Gray wants to apply this near institutional experience of a film festival that goes beyond cinema with components like production, education and a platform in the future.

Before the festival became a reality, Gray took people under Thuh Film Club to see films like “Babylon,” a 1980 picture about a reggae DJ’s experience in Brixton, London in the ‘70s.

Starting a film club was a response to MoviePass shutting down, Gray says.

“I think a lot of people were going to the movies more often and seeing stuff they wouldn’t have seen if it weren’t for MoviePass,” Gray said. “From my perspective, the culture of movie-going was way more vibrant and way more exciting when that was around and when it went away, we were figuring out ways to make it exciting.”

Stephanye Watts, 35, is also to thank for Thuh Film Club’s formation, Gray says. In 2015, Watts went to the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) every week for the “Film Africa” and “New Black Voices in Cinema” series. Yet being the only young and Black audience member there prompted her to start her own film club, the Be Reel Black Cinema Club, and bring a Black audience to the cinema.

”I don’t really have any loftier goals than that,” Watts said. “Even getting people to come see a movie that they’ve never heard of with actors they’ve never heard of is a feat within itself.”

Like Gray, Watts grew up looking up to Black filmmakers like Spike Lee. She credits her adolescent dream of moving to Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn to Lee’s ability to capture the Black and stylish community.

Watts and Gray look to use Thuh Film Festival to amplify the voices of all filmmakers, but especially young and Black filmmakers. “We got the OGs, but who are the next Hughes Brothers?” Watts said.

Gray thinks about the future often, maybe too often, he says. But in that future, Thuh Film Festival will reach state-wide recognition.

“The goal is to make it as accessible as possible and spread it out,” Gray said. “The beauty of it is, no matter how big it gets, you’ll trace it back and say it was a Long Beach festival.”

For more information on Thuh Film Festival, visit instagram.com/thuhfilmclub.


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