“They always kill off the black guy,” Tre McGriff says laughing. Even in guerilla cinema.
He’s talking about his first time acting on film, in the early 2000s as part of Motion Concepts. The multicultural film collective was a run-and-gun operation that made movies on Charlotte streets with borrowed cameras, dreams and not a single permit. They were shooting a horror/comedy and one of the actors didn’t show, so Tre had to fill in, playing a handyman who got shot by a vixen and returned as a ghost.
Not exactly Oscar material, but Tre began getting more roles from other filmmakers in the collective, including as a local mechanic who was also killed while helping a victim of blackmail.
Now Tre is leveraging nearly two decades of acting, directing, programming, publicizing, and hosting film events into the CineOdyssey Film Festival, which runs July 27-29 in Charlotte. Over 30 films will be screened from African-American, Native American, Caribbean, Asian and Afro-British filmmakers.
“It’s a one-stop film experience for people of color,” Tre says.
The lineup looks juicy. Urban comedy “She’s Got a Plan” opens the festival Thursday night. Centering on a struggling writer/director who gives herself 30 days or bust to make it in the industry, the screening is coupled with a talk-back from directors Fatima Washington and Corey Johnson (of hip-hop group Living Legends fame). A listening party at the Carole Hoefener Center follows, with soundtracks from classics like Claudine, New Jack City and Superfly playing while clips are projected on the walls. Another exciting contribution comes from UK actress Ethosheia Hylton, star of 2015 sensation “Oya, Rise of the Orishas.” “Brixton Rock,” which screens Saturday, is set against the backdrop of the infamous riots in the London borough and follows a reclusive young man seeking out the mother who abandoned him as a child.
“This is its U.S. premiere. That’s huge for a first-time festival,” Tre says. “CineOdyssey is getting love from across the seas. We have two films from Black UK filmmakers, in fact.”
A bonanza of shorts, animated and feature films from a rainbow diaspora rounds out the offerings, with award-winning “Gook,” about an LA riots-era friendship between Korean brothers and an African-American girl, closing the festival down. Other programming includes a producers’ discussion with Chris Everett of “Wilmington on Fire,” the Spotlight Regional Filmmaker competition, and a women’s empowerment panel.
Tre hopes the festival exposes to a wider audience worthy films by and about people of color. He also hopes to foster a deeper sense of community among Charlotte’s black filmmakers. He remembers fondly the days of Dennis Darrell and the Reel Soul film festival.
“He started a movement of films by and for people of color in Charlotte,” Tre says. “When he passed it was a great loss. I didn’t think that I could do what he did ever.”
Still, Tre stayed on the scene, programming for the Charlotte Black Film Festival, screening independent documentaries and feature films that fit his aesthetic, and quietly nurturing a community of black and brown filmmakers and people who love their work. His view from the inside: there’s room for improvement.
“I’d like to see more local filmmakers get better,” Tre admits. “Digital cameras have made filmmaking more democratic, but there’s still a need to develop craft. Better writing, better editing, acting and, Lord, better sound. Bad sound will ruin a totally beautiful film. It’s hard to make out the dialogue, or if the sound isn’t synced up, it looks like the old kung fu movies.”
Tre would like to see more local collaborations and forums for independent filmmakers to learn, screen their work and get feedback.
“Filmmaking is still an expensive endeavor. A coalition could help out with equipment, cameras, mics,” Tre said.
After the festival, he is planning a quarterly film series for local filmmakers to show their work to audiences beyond their friends and families. Shoring up a network of support is his main goal.
“We need to trumpet each other,” he says.