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A peek into ‘Brown Paper Bag’ and the San Diego Black Film Festival

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Rasheed Stephens as Archie Glass in “Brown Paper Bag.”
Courtesy of Detdrich McClure

Although Detdrich McClure has dreams, he’s more concerned with helping other people realize their aspirations.

His 10th and most recent movie, “Brown Paper Bag,” will be the pre-opening feature of the San Diego Black Film Festival, which starts Wednesday and concludes Feb. 3. The free Wednesday event will include a community reception and a panel featuring McClure and several cast members from his movie.

“I really like being the initiator, helping to fulfill a lot of people’s dreams,” said McClure, who wrote and directed “Brown Paper Bag.”

“I like being the guy making dreams come true. Looking back, if there’s a theme in my films, it is people going for the brass ring. Whether they achieved it or not is secondary. It’s going for it that’s important.”

Set in 1940s Los Angeles, “Brown Paper Bag” centers on iconic Central Avenue, a flourishing hub of African American culture. A film noir, the 91-minute feature is influenced by such films as “Chinatown” and the “Easy Rawlins” series of novels by Walter Mosley.

The pre-opening festivities — which are free but require online registration — will be held at the newly opened Chocolate Lounge at Theatre Box in the Gaslamp Quarter. “Brown Paper Bag” will also be shown at 6 p.m. Friday at ArcLight Cinemas La Jolla, the festival’s film hub.

Even while McClure was making other movies, he created three graphic novels available on Amazon Kindle. Called the “Archie Glass Mysteries,” they use photographs rather than illustrations. The first was also titled “Brown Paper Bag.” Both the book and the movie are about an actor whose dream of becoming a star in Hollywood is thwarted at every turn by both subtle and blatant discrimination.

“There’s a whole generation of black people who came to L.A. for the same reasons everyone does,” McClure said, adding that 30 people were in the cast. “Countless people, forever unnamed and unknown, went out and tried and failed. I want to tell some of those stories.

“African Americans still have fewer opportunities in Hollywood. I’m happy to give people those kinds of opportunities. Corny, but true.”

The lead actors in “Brown Paper Bag” will participate in Wednesday’s panel with McClure. They include Tiara Parker, Caesar James and Rasheed Stephens, who plays the frustrated but determined Archie Glass.

“I wanted to look at the ’40s as the ’40s (in their own right), rather than in a nostalgic way. Nostalgia is interesting for black people. The cars and the hats are cool. On first thought, it’d be cool to live back then. But do I, as a black man, really want to? I’ll wear a hat or drive one of those cars, but I don’t want to go back there.”

Other San Diego Black Film Festival attractions

After McClure’s film noir, the festival changes mood the next day, Jan. 31, for its opening movie, “5th of July.” The comedy stars Jaleel White, who is probably best known for playing Steve Urkel in “Family Matters” for nine years. Since then, White has continued acting in many TV series, both as a regular and as a guest.

The reception for “5th of July” will begin at 6 p.m. Jan. 31, followed by a screening at 7:30 p.m. at ArcLight Cinemas La Jolla. The festival offers a wide range of cinematic selections, both shorts and features. Some of note include: “Pieces of David,” a dark comedy featuring four women who accidentally kill their shared paramour; “Cimarronaje en Panama,” a subtitled, historical film documenting the experience of Africans forcibly taken to Panama by Spanish colonialists; and “The Color of Art,” a documentary about the black art community in Chicago. In addition, the schedule includes several parties and panels to be held at various locations. The San Diego Black Film Festival will present its festive awards dinner and gala on Feb. 2 at the Embassy Suites La Jolla.

San Diego Black Film Festival 2019

When: Various times, Wednesday through Feb. 3

Where: ArcLight Cinemas, 4425 La Jolla Village Drive, La Jolla, and other locations.

Tickets: $10-$15 individual films; $60 all films; $350 pass to all films, plus social events. Prices vary for individual festival social events.

Online: sdbff.com

Pre-opening community reception and panel discussion featuring “Brown Paper Bag”

When: 6.p.m. Wednesday

Where: Chocolate Lounge at Theatre Box, and Sugar Factory, 701 Fifth Ave., Gaslamp Quarter

Tickets: Free, but online registration required

“Brown Paper Bag” will also screen Feb. 1 at 6 p.m. at ArcLight Cinemas La Jolla

Wood is a freelance writer.