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The poster for “Crimes of Police,” a documentary which focuses on police brutality cases in Northern California told from the perspective of family members of the victims. Photo:

Oakland International Film Festival kicks off at Grand Lake Theater

on April 5, 2013

This weekend the 11th edition of the Oakland International Film Festival (OIFF) will take place in screening venues throughout the city. Over 55 films from both local and international filmmakers will be screened through Sunday by the Oakland Film Society, the non-profit that organizes the festival.

The selection includes films from all over the world, but most are made in Latin America, Africa and Asia as many people from Oakland are immigrants from those parts of the world. ‘’Next to this international selection, we want to encourage local filmmakers from Oakland and the East Bay to make films about what’s going on in the community,’’ said Myron Potier, a volunteer staffer with OIFF.

Films like “Licks,” “Funkquaria Rising,” “Against the Grain,” “Up & Out,” “Oakville,” “Church” and “Oaktown” are examples of films made by young filmmakers in the East Bay, addressing not only social issues like crime and inequality, but also the cultural diversity in Oakland.  “The local angle of this years’ edition is there to enhance the image of Oakland, within Oakland. We hope to build a stronger community sense by screening stories of filmmakers from this area,’’ said Potier.

The first Oakland International Film Festival was held in October, 2002, at the Grand Lake Theater. “We realize the important role the OIFF has played in the city of Oakland,” said David Roach, one of the founders of the festival. “We feel we have the responsibility to give a platform to independent filmmakers and the stories they tell. Since 2002, thousands continue to attend the Oakland International Film Festival each year.”

This year’s festival opened Thursday night at the Grand Lake Theater with a premiere of the documentary “Crimes of Police,” which focuses on police brutality cases in Northern California told from the perspective of family members of the victims.  It’s the first documentary by director Ansar El Muhammad and executive producer Derrick Bowman.

The two friends both grew up in East Oakland. They came up with the idea for the documentary nine months ago, after El Muhammad had attended the funerals of two Stockton men; James Cooke, who died while he was in police custody after being beaten and restrained, and Luther Brown, who was shot by police. El Muhammad started researching more police brutality cases and discovered similarities in the way cases were handled by the police, media and court system. “All victims are usually represented as ‘just another guy’ who died,” said Bowman. “The impact of the crime is never represented. We wanted to give a voice to the families of victims, show their pain and create awareness of the injustice they have to deal with.”

The film, which shows graphic images and videos of some of the incidents as they occurred, also includes interviews with attorney Adante Pointer from the law office of John Burris, the Oakland attorney who has frequently sued the Oakland Police Department over police brutality issues, and an interview with former Black Panther Party chairperson Elaine Brown.

As The crowd slowly left the big screening room in the Grand Lake Theater on Thursday night, El Muhammad was complimented by some of the family members of victims who participated in the documentary. “I admire their strength to be here with us tonight. It means a lot for us that those people are here, because they are the reason why we have put this film together,’’ said Bowman.

’The fact that some family members were actually in the same room with the rest of the audience had the most impact on me. I think for that moment they really shared their struggles, just by being there,’’ said Gerald Jackson, a rapper from East Oakland who goes by the name G7, who had come to see the film.

Bowman, who has lived most of his life in East Oakland, said he is the only man in his family and circle of childhood friends who never got arrested. ‘’I could somehow escape the crime because I always went to different schools than the boys in my neighborhood. We would play together in the streets, but as soon as I had to go to school, I had to make different friends there,” he said. “It made sense for me to create this movie, because crime is such a part of people around me. And once we got involved in the tragedy of the victim’s family, it’s hard to do nothing about it.’’

“Crimes of Police” will be screened a second time on April 6, 5 pm at the Black Repertory Theater in Berkeley.

On Friday night, the festival will showcase films from Asia. “Rice Field Of Dreams,” for example, follows the journey of Cambodia’s first national baseball team as they prepare for and participate in the 24th Sea Games, an Olympics-like sports competition between South East Asian nations held in Bangkok. The film screens in the Oakland Asian Cultural Center.

Movies made by independent filmmakers from Oakland will be screened on Saturday and Sunday. For example, “Licks” follows the story of a young man as he returns to his Oakland neighborhood after serving two years in prison for a robbery gone wrong. He navigates the harsh realities that plague his community and his judgment is tested by the influences around him, forcing him to decide which path to chose in his life. This film screens in the New Parkway Theater on Sunday morning.

“We hope audience members will get to experience movies at the festival that they otherwise wouldn’t have noticed, and we hope our diverse selection addresses all audience members, no matter what cultural background they have,’’ says Potier.

More information and a complete film schedule are available on

Image: The poster for “Crimes of Police,” a documentary which focuses on police brutality cases in Northern California told from the perspective of family members of the victims. Photo:




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