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Black and White in Color

New movie festival puts civil rights on screen.

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“We want to explore the distinctiveness of the South,” Emilie Raymond, a history professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, says of the new Southern Film Festival. “But we don't want it to be a celebration of the Lost Cause.”

Raymond is part of a faculty committee responsible for the new festival, which debuts this weekend. The theme for the free event is Screening Civil Rights, with six movies, each with an introduction beforehand and a discussion afterward.

 “Black History: Lost, Stolen or Strayed?” a 1968 made-for-television documentary narrated by Bill Cosby, will kick things off Friday. Groundbreaking when it first aired, the documentary shows how African-American contributions to society were downplayed, and how blacks had been portrayed in film up to that point. Cosby breaks up his commentary with dry humor. “He's not preaching,” Raymond says. “He has a kind of sarcastic style that really works.”

Other films include “Black Like Me,” a 1964 film based on the nonfiction book by John Howard Griffin of the same name, and “In the Heat of the Night,” an Oscar-winning 1967 movie about a murder investigation in a small town in Mississippi. Raymond says the film is significant because it was the first time that African-American movie star Sidney Poitier portrayed a character who fought back against racial hardship.

VCU's Southern Film Festival opens Feb. 26 at the Grace Street Theater, 930 W. Grace St., and continues all day on Feb. 27. Free.

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