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Highlights from a hybrid Roxbury International Film Festival

Sly Stone performing at the Harlem Cultural Festival in 1969. From "Summer of Soul."Searchlight Pictures via AP

This year’s 23rd annual Roxbury International Film Festival starts June 17 and runs through June 26. The largest film festival in New England devoted to films made by and about people of color, this year it comprises more than 80 titles: documentary and narrative fiction features and shorts, as well as experimental and student films. In addition, offerings include panel discussions, filmmaking Q&As, and workshops.

This year’s festival is additionally notable for something that has nothing to do with what’s on the screen. With COVID-19 protocols loosening, the festival will be a hybrid: Most screenings will be virtual, but some will be in-person.


Two will be in-person only. Those are free outdoor screenings at the Museum of Fine Arts. On June 19 — Juneteenth — there’s the season’s most eagerly anticipated documentary, “Summer of Soul (… Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised).” The screening is at 8 p.m. Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson makes a filmmaking debut deeply informed by his music-making in this documentary about the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival. A stunning line-up of legendary musicians are seen in the film: Sly & the Family Stone, Stevie Wonder, Mavis Staples, Mahalia Jackson.

The other free screening, also at 8 p.m., is David E. Talbert’s family fantasy “Jingle Jangle” starring Forest Whitaker as toymaker Jeronicus Jangle, with Anika Noni Rose as his daughter. The screening takes place June 24. Seating for both events is limited, so moviegoers are urged to arrive early.

Abbey Lincoln and Nina Simone are two of the performers seen in “Summer of Soul.” They’re among the six Black female stars featured in the festival’s opening event, Yoruba Richen’s “How It Feels to Be Free.” The others are Lena Horne, Diahann Carroll, Pam Grier, and the late Cicely Tyson. Each woman’s career demonstrates how powerful the interaction of personality, artistry, and politics can be. The documentary starts streaming on June 17 and will be available through end of the day June 18. (Most virtual screenings are available the day the film goes online and then through the end of the next day, but check the festival website, www.roxfilmfest.com, for details.) It also screens at the MFA at 5 p.m. on June 17. An online Q&A with Richen takes place June 17 at 7 p.m.


Following “How It Feels” at the MFA, screening at 8 p.m., will be another film also available remotely, Thato Mwosa’s drama “Memoirs of a Black Girl.” A standout Boston high school student finds her life upended when she suddenly has to make a difficult moral choice. Mwosa, a previous winner of the RIFF’s Emerging Filmmaker Award, teaches at Brookline High School. “Memoirs” will screen on a program with Jennifer Shaw’s short “Afro.”

Nicky Whelan and Neil Brown Jr. in "Last Night in Rozzie."Gravitas Ventures

The festival takes “international” in its name seriously. For example, the Zimbabwean filmmaker Beautie Masvorait’s drama “Haina” starts streaming June 19. “Memoirs” is a reminder that it’s also committed to local films. Sean Gannet’s drama “Last Night in Rozzie” stars Neil Brown Jr. and Nicky Whelan. A New York lawyer returns to Roslindale, where he grew up, and finds how much the past still shapes his present. It starts streaming June 21 and is paired with Canaan Severin’s short “Lean In.”

Sara Horatius’s documentary short “Kuumba: From Black to Gold” looks at Harvard’s Kuumba Singers and the effect of the pandemic on their planned 50th-anniversary concert. It starts streaming June 22 and shares a program with Daniel Andera’s documentary feature “Real Soul: A Gospel Music Story,” about the flourishing gospel scene in Milwaukee.


James Rutenbeck originally took for the subject of his documentary “A Reckoning in Boston” Dorchester’s Clemente Course in the Humanities, an adult education program. The film became something different: about the program, yes, but also this city, its many shortcomings and injustices, and two students, Kafi Dixon and Carl Chandler. They become Rutenbeck’s collaborators as well as subjects. Writing in the Globe last April, Ty Burr called “Reckoning” “a Boston film of a kind that’s never really been made or seen here before. In other words, an absolute must-see.”

“Fresh Guide to Florence With Fab 5 Freddy” isn’t being shown at the MFA. It’s only being streamed. But it has an MFA affinity. In David Shulman’s film, the visual artist and hip-hop trailblazer takes viewers on a tour of Renaissance art (that’s “Florence” as in Italy). “Fresh Guide” starts streaming June 18, with a remote Q&A at 8:30 p.m.

The festival’s closing event is an in-person only screening of Jamila Wignot’s documentary “Ailey,” about the legendary dancer, choreographer, and founder of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. It takes place at the MFA at 6:30 p.m. on June 26.

Go to www.roxfilmfest.com/2021festival.

Mark Feeney can be reached at mark.feeney@globe.com.