The hero’s journey, in traditional literature, is a story in three acts: the setup and a call to action, the struggle (allies and enemies), and the wrap-up, or resurrection. 

“We’re definitely in the call-to-action phase,” says Lana Garland, festival director of the Hayti Heritage Film Festival, which was founded in 1994 with the goal of creating and celebrating a “Black film ecosystem in the South.” Since 2018, it has been steered by Garland. 

The theme for this year’s festival, its 27th, is “The Hero’s Journey: A Call to Action,” which runs Monday, March 1 through Saturday, March 6. The archetype, Garland says during a phone interview, can be found in classics like Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neal Hurston’s 1937 Harlem Renaissance novel which chronicles the odyssey of Janie Crawford. But it can also be found in our own moment. 

“That’s where we feel we are, in the sense that there are so many challenges right now, especially for the African American community, given the fact that we’re dying at a faster rate than other folks,” Garland says. “Food insecurity, housing insecurity—all of that stuff is happening in the midst of a pandemic.” 

Due to COVID-19, the festival—which usually takes place at the historic St. Joseph’s AME Church—will be primarily virtual, with a blend of online panels and screenings. The thematic threads running throughout the feature and short films, Garland says, include dance and the Black Southern male experience.

Highlight’s include a screening of Sam Pollard’s MLK/FBI, which takes a close lens to newly declassified files to show the extent of the FBI’s surveillance of Dr. Martin Luther King, Kr. (which continues today with Black activists). There will also be a panel discussion, “Lovecraft Country meets Black Girls Guide to Surviving Menopause,” between Omisade Burney-Scott and Lovecraft writer Shannon Houston, and a tribute to the pioneering actor Cicely Tyson, who passed away last week at the age of 96. The festival couldn’t go down, Garland says, without “some type of honoring of Mama Cicely.”

“Most of my career has been in New York, and the church that I went to, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, she was a member of,” Garland says. “I used to see her all the time. I felt a responsibility to really honor her, not only as an African American who grew up watching her body of work but also as a church member and someone who had the opportunity to experience how normal and regular and warm and kind she was.” 

Most films will be streamed online, although there will also be several drive-in movie showings (the films for these showings have yet to be announced), an activity which Garland describes as “healing.”

“Over the summer, we had a couple of drive-in experiences, and they were literally healing,” Garland says. “We showed a Soul Train documentary and then afterward we had a socially-distance Soul Train line. Our goal is to do two things: We want to entertain, but we also want to heal the people who look to the arts during trying times.” 

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