24th annual Hayti Heritage Film Festival features NCCU filmmakers

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One of Durham’s most notable Black historic landmarks, the Hayti Heritage Center, will host the Hayti Heritage Film Festival for the 24th time from Thursday, Feb. 15 to Saturday, Feb. 17. A stellar line-up of  classic Black cinema, cutting-edge documentary and fictional shorts and features make up this year’s showings for one of the nation’s longest-running Black film festivals.

One of the 38 films selected this year is “Nothing but Love in God’s Water” by the Bull City Doc Squad, a team of N.C. Central University students supervised by mass communication professor Dr. Bruce dePyssler.

Principal member of the Squad and junior Daniel Hargrove says that the title refers to a hymn performed by members of the congregation at White Rock Baptist Church, whose rich, Hayti-based history and community is the documentary’s focus.

White Rock, a pillar of Durham’s Black community since its founding in 1866, was founded by Margaret Faucette after the woman organized prayer meetings in a rented room on the corner of Pettigrew and Husband Streets. The church got its name from the large white flint stone found in the front yard of its first major building space on Pettigrew and Coleman Alley.

“It became one of the cornerstones of the Hayti district of Durham,’’ Hargrove explains. “All of these Black businesses were able to help create a strong-knit community within the Black community of Durham.”

Hargrove says that another NCCU professor and White Rock patron, Minnie Forte-Brown, brought the idea of doing a documentary on the church’s past, present and future to the Doc Squad over two years ago. This project, which is the first of his work to be selected for a film festival, is one that the aspiring director hopes the audience will get something out of watching.

“A lot of churches and a lot of groups will come out and say that they’re about love and peace and all these different things,” Hargrove says. “But when we spent that six to eight months filming with this congregation, it was some really powerful stuff.”

The documentary is in good company at the festival — Charles Burnett’s 1978 “Killer of Sheep,” which profiles the Los Angeles Watts ghetto during the 1970s, was declared to be a “national treasure” by the Library of Congress and selected by the National Society of Film Critics as one of the “100 Essential Films” of all time. Both films are slated to screen on Friday, with the Doc Squad’s piece at 3 p.m. and “Killer of Sheep” two hours later.

Festival curator Lana Garland and volunteer coordinator Gail Jennings are excited to bring this event, which Garland says “brings Black commerce together with Black art,” to the public.

“This event is about community-building,” Garland says. “It is being done on your behalf, even if you don’t work in or watch film.”

Jennings referred to the Hayti Heritage Center as a monumental landmark and called the cultural arts and education facility “the cultural touchstone of the African-American community here in Durham.” She has sold her 35mm film earrings for two years at the festival before stepping up to coordinate volunteers alongside her vendor status.

“Not only do I gather information on the volunteers and schedule them as needed, I make jewelry in every spare moment I can get,” Jennings says.

This year, Jennings will have a lot of volunteer help from NCCU, as the community service portal has had applications “flooding in” from students wanting to give back to the community.

“In a few days, we had Eagles flying all over the project,” Jennings joked.

Other groups contributing to or sponsoring this year’s Hayti Heritage Film Festival include The Southern Documentary Fund, BaDarts Consulting, BeConnected and Flourishing Films.

Tickets can be purchased at the Hayti Heritage Center, which is located at 804 Fayetteville St. For more information, call the center at (919) 683-1709.

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