‘Civilization is a progression’: March on Washington Film Festival returns to DC

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the March on Washington Film Fest (Part 1)

In 1963, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.

The ninth annual March on Washington Film Festival returns Thursday through Monday.

“It was founded on the 50th anniversary,” Artistic Director Isisara Bey told WTOP. “We’ve grown from that to something that goes over many days that has of course films, but we also include scholarship from academics, first-person accounts from people who were the icons and foot soldiers from the movement, along with the performing and visual arts.”

The festival kicks off Thursday with the Opening Night Gala at Union Market Dock 5.

“It is honoring Rep. [James] Clyburn with the John Lewis Award,” Bey said. “We’re also giving March On Awards to the filmmaker Sam Pollard and Donors of Color Network.”

It continues Friday at Union Market Dock 5 with the Vivian Malone Courage Award, named after the African-American woman who integrated the University of Alabama in 1963.

“That award is going to be given to Nikole Hannah-Jones,” Bey said. “There is also a virtual panel of representatives from the Clinton, Obama and Biden administrations on environmental justice. … We’ll also see a conversation with youth activists: 14-year-old Mari Copeny, also called Little Miss Flint, and 14-year-old Naomi Wadler, the youngest speaker at the March for Our Lives.”

Saturday returns to Union Market Dock 5 for a Tribute to Fred Gray, a 90-year-old attorney for both Vivian Malone and Rosa Parks, as well as a state senator from Alabama.

“There will be several people who know him … including Claudette Colvin, who at 15 years old was snatched off a bus in Montgomery and Fred Gray was her attorney,” Bey said. “We also have two roundtables with the finalists from our Student and Emerging Filmmaker Competition. … We’ll also participate in a workshop with youth activist Jerome Foster on how to be a citizen journalist.”

Sunday brings another exciting Young Activists Roundtable.

“The moderator is Koralie Barrau, who is herself a young person in her mid-20s, now a producer for BBC World News America,” Bey said. “She will be talking to Jerome [Foster] about his life as an activist, and with Isra Hirsi, who is also a young activist. She is 18 years old and ran the youth climate strikes across the country and is now a college student.”

Monday brings a virtual keynote by Naima and Leah Penniman of Soul Fire Farm.

“They’re going to be talking about the history of African-American land ownership, from enslaved Africans being brought over to the present day, going from 14% of rural land being owned by African Americans to less than 1% non-white ownership of land in the country today,” Bey said. “It’s a very graphic keynote, there’s audio-visuals … really engaging for young audiences.”

It all culminates Monday with a tribute to Pauli Murray at the Eaton Hotel.

“Pauli Murray was a pioneer, the first African-American woman Episcopalian priest,” Bey said. “She was a legal strategist whose writings served as inspiration for Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was a human rights and LGBTQ activist — and a poet.”

In the end, the goal is to promote equality for all.

“Like most things, life and civilization is a progression,” Bey said. “We have some errors that as a nation we continue to struggle to right in pursuit of liberty. We need reminders. That’s the reason we have people rise up, from younger people to older people, to write those wrongs and lead in activism. … Things have progressed, but we continue to have work to do as we evolve.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews the March on Washington Film Fest (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation.

Jason Fraley

Hailed by The Washington Post for “his savantlike ability to name every Best Picture winner in history," Jason Fraley began at WTOP as Morning Drive Writer in 2008, film critic in 2011 and Entertainment Editor in 2014, providing daily arts coverage on-air and online.

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