Hayti Heritage Film Festival to showcase 'Importance of Black southern film'

Joel Brown Image
Friday, March 1, 2024
Film Festival to showcase 'Importance of Black southern film'
Hayti Heritage Film Festival begins Thursday, March 7.

PRINCEVILLE, N.C. (WTVD) -- Thirty-two films are on the screening list for next week's Hayti Heritage Film Festival. This year's theme: Homecoming; which is fitting for filmmaker Resita Cox whose documentary "Freedom Hill" will be on the big screen in the hallowed Hayti space.

"I've gone around the country talking to people about 'Freedom Hill' and showing this piece. But I'm always most excited about coming home," Cox told ABC11.

Her film tells the story of Princeville, North Carolina, the nation's first town incorporated by Black citizens freed from enslavement. But it was built on flood-prone land along the Tar River that had been deemed uninhabitable by white people.

Freedom Hill documents the devastation of Princeville by Hurricane Matthew in 2016; and the impact on the Black residents who lost everything in the storm. They are stories Resita Cox told as a first-year TV news reporter in Greenville.

"At the time I felt very deeply that as a reporter there was tension. I couldn't hold this story in a one-minute news piece," Cox said. "It was nuanced."

The Kinston native walked away from her TV news job -- diving head-first into film making; determined to tell Princeville's full story to the world; including the environmental racism and injustice baked into it.

"I just didn't know how hard it was to fund a film and I also didn't know how hard it would be to fund one that was political in nature," Cox said. "People were not throwing money at me."

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But funding for the film did come -- including thousands of dollars from Hulu. The grants didn't just pay to finish the film, but they funded Cox's first youth media camp, a documentary production program to connect high school students to Princeville's Black history.

"I'm interested in using storytelling to transform communities," Cox explains. "It means we have to equip the generations coming up with the tools and the knowledge and resources of the people."

Hayti Heritage Film Festival director Tyra Dixon was happy to host Cox's film for one final screening before it hits broadcast TV.

"Freedom Hill, the first time I saw it, I was amazed," Dixon said. "(Cox) being from eastern North Carolina, she's able to tap into that community and understand how those stories need to be told."

Cox added, "It's really full circle because we started at the Full Frame Film Festival and we're ending at Hayti. So, it feels amazing."

Hayti Heritage Film Festival begins Thursday, March 7. It runs through March 9 at the Hayti Heritage Center.

Events include screenings of over 30 films, film industry workshops, and acting master classes. Or, as Dixon puts it, the festival is a "showcase of the importance of Black southern film."