New Black Film Festival aims to appeal to wide audience

Michelle Thompson vividly recalls attending a festival in Las Vegas and watching 42 straight short films without seeing a single black face on the screen.

Not even a black man being chased by a dog, she jokes.

That won’t be a problem during the first Las Vegas Black Film Festival, scheduled for Thursday through April 20 at the Suncoast, 9090 Alta Drive.

That incident wasn’t her sole reason for founding the festival says Thompson, known professionally as Ms. Michelle, but “it was definitely one of the igniters.”

“My inspiration comes from me loving to do films, being a black filmmaker and wanting to highlight the works of my culture,” the Las Vegas native says.

Thompson stresses her festival isn’t intended just for black audiences — “We want everybody to come,” she insists — and notes that there are movies from black filmmakers that star white and Latino actors.

While the festival is new, the idea isn’t. The Las Vegas Black Film Festival joins the Las Vegas Jewish Film Festival and the Las Vegas Latino Film Festival, both in their second decades, on the local festival calendar.

“If we continue to work together, not just with black people because we need everybody’s support to make these things happen, then I think this will be a great thing,” Thompson says, bubbling over with excitement.

Thursday night is devoted to her first short film, “Good Ground,” complete with a meet-and-greet, orange carpet event (orange being “the color of praise,” she notes), screening and question-and-answer session.

On Friday, aspiring actors, writers, producers and directors can participate in classes and workshops, including an actors’ showdown competition that will take place in a boxing ring.

The films themselves will take center stage on Saturday, with screenings from noon to 9 p.m. Among those she’s most excited about are writer-director Markiss McFadden’s surprising “Love Triangle” and the interracial romance of “Southern Hospitality” from writer Atoki Ileka and director Dennis Hodges.

Sunday features a brunch and awards ceremony, during which Las Vegan Antonio Fargas will be honored.

(For more information, including a full schedule and ticket information, visit www.lasvegasblackfilmfestival.com.)

“I’ve got big dreams for this festival,” says Thompson, who’s working on next year’s event, for which she’s already receiving submissions.

“I want this festival to continue even after I’m dead and gone.”

■ Guy’s homecoming: UNLV grad Guy Fieri returns to town for “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives: Vegas Greats” (8 p.m. Monday, Food Network). In the hourlong special, Fieri visits Bachi Burger, John Mull’s Meats and Road Kill Grill, Four Kegs Sports Pub and Forte European Tapas Bar and Bistro.

Contact Christopher Lawrence at clawrence@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4567.