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Preview: The New Orleans Loving Festival

Will Coviello on the third annual arts festival about multracial identity and issues

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The third annual Loving Festival includes films about multiracial identity, art and social events, as well as a new look at the couple behind the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case Loving v. Virginia, which declared race-based marriage bans unconstitutional.

  The festival begins Thursday, June 6, with a reception at Stella Jones Gallery for the opening of Grey Villet: Loving Family Portraits. Villet was a Life magazine photographer who took a series of portraits of Mildred and Richard Loving in 1966.

  Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter married in Washington, D.C. in 1958 because interracial marriages were illegal in Virginia, where they lived. The Lovings were arrested and sentenced to jail terms after someone in their town notified police of their marriage. Eventually, the American Civil Liberties Union took up their case, appealing it all the way to the Supreme Court, which nullified the Virginia law and banned all similar state miscegenation laws.

  The Lovings were not activists fighting for a political cause — for them it was a personal matter — but their name is forever attached to the civil rights case. Villet's portraits show them with their three children and relatives in rural Virginia. The show debuted at the International Center of Photography in New York City last year, and it included never-before-published or -displayed images. This show includes additional photos not previously available to the public.

  The festival is named for the Lovings, but it was created by Jerald White, who runs the Charitable Film Network, in response to more recent local events, including a Tangipahoa Parish justice of the peace's refusal to issue a marriage license to an interracial couple in 2009.

  "It rattled me," White says. "What makes this community great is the diversity of the community. There are problems, but overall it's a supportive community. ... I started the festival to bring people together in a public event."

  Past festivals included films and art, and this year's event also includes a comedy night, an ice cream social, poetry readings and a mass dedicated to the Lovings. The slate of films includes three documentaries about multiracial identity around the globe. Hafus is about the development of a mixed-race identity in Japan. Indochina, Traces of a Mother is about children born to Vietnamese women and African soldiers during the Vietnamese revolution against French colonialism. Eliachi Kimaro's A Lot Like You profiles the director's exploration of her identity.

  Kimaro's parents were international students who met in graduate school in New York. Her father was a gifted student from Tanzania, who grew up in a rural area near Mt. Kilimanjaro. Her mother's family emigrated from Korea to the U.S. During Kimaro's childhood, the family spent summer vacations in Tanzania, and Kimaro realized she was perceived as an American and not as someone with shared roots in the Chagga tribe. As an adult, she started her film project with the notion that she'd try to explore her roots, but it became a very different project.

  A Lot Like You doesn't seem like the best title for such a rare set of global connections, but it becomes clear that it refers to Kimaro's father and her attempt to better relate to him — not that he isn't extremely forthcoming about his life experiences. She realizes significant cultural differences weigh heavily on her connections to the Chagga ancestry she's trying to find in herself, but her efforts to relate to her aunts, who candidly talk about subjects like the ordeal of clitoral circumcision, become rewarding for her and revealing for the film. Kimaro shares her complex personal story in a way that's both intimate in its approach and sophisticated about racial and cultural issues. It screens at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Ashe Cultural Arts Center (1712 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., 504-569-9070; www.ashecac.org) and Kimaro will attend the screening and discuss her latest project.

  Idrissou Mora-Kpai's Indochina explores links between Africa and Vietnam. As Viet Minh revolutionaries battled French occupiers (1946-1954), France conscripted soldiers from its African colonies to fight alongside French soldiers. The film focuses on the African soldiers and biracial children born in Vietnam. There are interviews with men who were coerced into fighting for the French, Vietnamese women who married soldiers and went home to Africa with them and Vietnamese army officers who recognized kinship with Africans who resented French colonialism. But the most moving interviews are with men like Christophe Duc, who travels to Vietnam to try to find his mother. Besides their own children, many soldiers adopted Afro-Vietnamese children they feared would not be cared for in Vietnam. The subjects' experiences are varied and often moving, and the film sheds light on a fascinating subject. The movie is mostly in French and Vietnamese with English subtitles. Mora-Kpai will attend a reception at 6 p.m. and the film screens at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Ashe.

  The Japanese term "hafu" is a transliteration of the word half, and it refers to people who have only one Japanese parent. For most of its long history, Japan has maintained an isolated and homogeneous population. In the wake of its economic ascendancy and globalization, the increase in interracial couples and mixed-race children has given rise to a new and conspicuous group. Hafus explores the subject in a culture just beginning to recognize and grapple with the complexity of diversity. It screens at 7 p.m. Friday at Antenna Gallery (3718 St. Claude Ave.).

Visit www.charitablefilmnetwork.weebly.com for schedule and details.

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