What is a father?
While the word itself may seem simple and straightforward, the concept of fatherhood is complex and open to vastly different interpretations.
The Fatherhood Image Film Festival (FIFF) seeks to explore – and celebrate – those complexities by bringing seven unique documentaries and films to New York City this weekend, all concerned with the same themes: fatherhood and how to be a positive male role model to young people.
“If we are impacted so greatly by media, how come we don't heal with it?” asked Bob McCullough Jr., a founder and director of the FIFF and the son of “Each One, Teach One” founder Bob McCullough Sr. “Father absent households are nationally at 24 million. What are some ways you think we can change that?”
Each of the seven films will be featured at various locations (parks, cinemas) across the five boroughs, including the Maysles Institute and Cinema, Bronx Documentary Center, MIST Harlem and RAW Space, in addition to a free public screening of the film “Courageous” at Rucker Park on Saturday at 8:15 p.m.
The inaugural, four-day event is an initiative of several nonprofit organizations, including the National Association of Each One Teach One Inc., STRIVE New York, the Black and Latino Filmmakers Association and Harlem Professionals Incorporated.
The festival kicked off on Thursday with an opening dialogue about the current state of fatherhood, followed by a screening of “Life, Love, Soul” at MIST Harlem. The FIFF will offer discounted prices to children ages 12 and under throughout the weekend, as well as hold various workshops for media literacy and “fathers film training” for aspiring filmmakers of all ages.
“We’re using the documentaries to reach the youth,” McCullough said. “We believe every young boy has the potential to be a father, especially those children facing challenges with the law.”
Friday, the FIFF will center its activities on the theme of “positive male figures” with film screenings of “WaterWalk” and “Sins of My Father,” which tells the story of the notorious Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar from the perspective of his son, now living in Argentina under the name Sebastián Marroquín.
The Bronx Documentary Center will also host an outdoor screening of “Man-Up: Exploration of a Fatherless Nation,” a documentary that highlights the “crippling disease” that is fatherhood and how it plays a role in the everyday fabric of society.
“This is a media-based assault on fatherhood issues, and the best practices and resources we can use to help our young men and with women with those issues,” McCullough said.
The underlying issues of fatherhood in the U.S. are also exacerbated by something as simple as watching television, McCullough said, because “in the average 4.5 hours Americans watch TV alone, there are very few positive fatherhood images.”
The FIFF, which is endorsed by the NAACP and New York Rep. Charles Rangel, is also asking all local filmmakers to submit their personal documentaries for the “What is a Father?” competition, which gives contestants the chance to win various scholarships and grants at the FIFF Awards Ceremonies on Sunday.
The efforts to change men are being developed on the ground, yet there is so much negativity centered on becoming a father, not on "making babies,” added McCullough.
“There’s tons of incentive to do that [making babies] on television and digital content, rather than being a father. We need a mood change. Media is the art form.”