Teaneck Film Festival grapples with current social issues

97-year-old Recy Taylor was a black wife and mother who was kidnapped and brutally gang raped by six white boys in 1944, while walking home from church in Abbeville, Alabama. Her story headlined the 13th annual Teaneck Film Festival.

“I was begging them to leave me alone. Don’t shoot me. I got to go home to see about my baby. They wouldn’t let me go,” Taylor said. “Saw the car pull up behind me, some white boys. I mean they didn’t say nothing about what they were going to do to me.”

It’s a forgotten story that went viral after Oprah Winfrey mentioned Taylor in her 2018 Golden Globe speech. Taylor isn’t being remembered as a victim, but as a hero after she did what few black woman in the Jim Crow South did after falling victim to a crime — she spoke up.

“I can’t help but tell the truth, what they done to me,” Taylor said.

The theme of the film festival is “Activism: Making Change.” The rape may have happened more than 70 years ago, but it resonates with those part of the #MeToo movement today.

“The Me Too movement is only one part of this. Some people call this a historical documentary. I don’t think of it as history. I think of it as something as ongoing. History suggests that something is over, and it’s not over. This is continuing,” said director, producer and writer Nancy Buirski.

More than 100 people filled the Cedar Lane Cinemas to watch Taylor’s story on the launch of the 4-day festival. The event, co-sponsored by NJTV, is expected to draw thousands of people from across the world.

“This year in particular the festival is focusing on films that are more toward groups that have been marginalized in recent years. So much of what we’re covering, there’s so much in the headlines. These stories dealing with immigration, and gun reform, and race, and the #MeToo movement are certainly all topics that people are here to discuss and on they’re on conversation tables in everyone’s home,” said Jeremy Lentz, the festival’s executive director.

Teaneck is no stranger to activism. In the 1960s, the town was the first in United States history to vote to racially integrate its public schools.

“That tradition of activism is so important here,” said Judy Distler, the festival co-founder.

“The idea here is that hopefully this will spark conversation and motivate people to make sure that they show up and that there’s a ripple effect from our festival to the polls,” Lentz said.

Kids under 13 get into the festival for free. Films will be shown at various locations throughout Teaneck through Nov. 4. Seats are first come, first served.