Award-winning actress and activist S. Epatha Merkerson, “King of the Bs” Roger Corman, and “Queen of the Indies” Parker Posey will be headlining two popular area film festivals this week: Merkerson at the Roxbury International Film Festival and Corman and Posey at the Provincetown International Film Festival.
Best known as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on TV’s “Law & Order” and a 2008 Tony nominee for “Come Back, Little Sheba,” Merkerson can now add film director to her list of credits. She will present her documentary, “The Contradictions of Fair Hope,” next Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Museum of Fine Arts as the closing film in the 14th annual RIFF, which starts Thursday.
Narrated by Whoopi Goldberg and featuring the music of jazz musician Christian McBride, “The Contradictions of Fair Hope” chronicles the little-known story of the Fair Hope Benevolent Society in Alabama, one of the nation’s last surviving benevolent societies. They were groups formed after emancipation by newly freed slaves throughout the South to help care for the sick, feed the hungry, and bury the dead.
Merkerson co-produced and co-directed the film with Rockell Metcalf, who came to the story through a conversation with his 99-year-old grandmother, the oldest surviving member of the Fair Hope Benevolent Society. “They still meet monthly. This organization was created by six uneducated men 124 years ago,” said Merkerson in a telephone interview. “The film gives a full picture of how Fair Hope evolved and the complexities involved in its continued existence.”
Merkerson will participate in an audience discussion after the screening. She’s looking forward to returning to Boston, she said, recalling the Boston engagement of one of her earliest stage roles, in the national tour of “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf,” in 1979. She also lent her support last year to the Boston chapter of LIFT, a nonprofit that works to “combat poverty and expand opportunity for all people in the United States.”
“The Contradictions of Fair Hope” has screened at more than 40 film festivals this year, said Merkerson, and won numerous awards, including best documentary at the International Pan-African Film Festival, in Cannes, France, and the Paul Robeson Award for best documentary at the Newark Black Film Festival.
These are film festivals for people of color. “White folks just don’t care about black history,” Merkerson said. “But the film has been embraced by the black community. We’re starting to lose some of our history, so people are starved for information about where we came from and how we did things.”
That’s one of the missions of the RIFF, New England’s largest film festival celebrating people of color. It kicks off Wednesday, with an opening-night reception at the National Center of Afro-American Artists, in Roxbury. For the next four days, the RIFF will present more than 50 features, shorts, documentaries, and youth-produced works at several venues.
Director Matthew A. Cherry will be on hand Thursday for the opening-night feature, “The Last Fall,” about a budding National Football League star (Lance Gross) who suddenly finds himself out of work, penniless, and with no idea what to do next. He returns home to reconnect with his family and tries to rekindle a relationship with his high school sweetheart (Nicole Beharie).
Boston artist Paul Goodnight, a foster child who later fought in Vietnam, battled drug abuse and a speech impediment, and found himself as one of today’s most sought-after African-American artists, joins director Dennis Salumu on Saturday for the world premiere of the documentary “Paul Goodnight: A Prime Time Image Maker.’’
Other highlights include “Can We Talk? Learning From Boston’s Desegregation,” a documentary about the era of court-ordered desegregation in Boston, told through the experiences of those who have never publicly shared their stories; and “Welcome to Harlem,” a feature-length musical comedy written, directed, produced, drawn, designed, and choreographed entirely by artists living in that New York neighborhood. Both films screen Saturday. Go to www.roxburyinternationalfilmfestival.org.
The Provincetown International Film Festival’s signature blend of high art and down-to-earth fun is on full display for its 13th year. It runs Wednesday through next Sunday. Corman, honored with this year’s Filmmaker on the Edge award, will discuss his 52-year career turning out exploitation movies and making stars out of Jack Nicholson, Bruce Dern, Dennis Hopper, and Diane Ladd, among others, on the Town Hall stage with John Waters, the first recipient of the PIFF award, in 1999.
“I don’t mind the term exploitation,” said Corman, 86, over the telephone from the Los Angeles offices of New Horizons Pictures, the production company he runs with his wife. “All movies are exploitation. ‘The Avengers’ is exploitation.”
He said he is particularly looking forward to “A Night at the Drive-In” (June 14, 8:45 p.m.) when he will introduce “The Trip” (1967), his counterculture classic starring Peter Fonda. On Friday, the festival screens “The Pit and the Pendulum’’ (1961), one of several Corman adaptations of stories by Edgar Allan Poe, most of them starring Vincent Price.
The popular awards event takes place Saturday at Provincetown Town Hall. It also features Excellence in Acting honoree Posey, who will engage in a question-and-answer session with friend and fellow indie actor Craig Chester. They met at a party in Los Angeles and later costarred in “Adam and Steve,” which Chester also wrote and directed. The festival will be screening two Posey-starring films: “Price Check,” on Friday and next Sunday, and “Party Girl” on Friday.
Director Mary Harron (“I Shot Andy Warhol”) will interview documentary filmmaker Kirby Dick, this year’s recipient of the Faith Hubley Career Achievement Award. Dick’s incisive documentary about the Motion Picture Association of America ratings board, “This Film Is Not Yet Rated,” screens Thursday.
Dick’s latest film, “The Invisible War,” an expose about the rape of women in the US military, won the Audience Award at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival. It screens Friday and Sunday. Go to www.ptownfilmfest.org.
Loren King can be reached at loren