james_drayton_web.jpgWEST PALM BEACH — The seventh annual African-American Film Festival at The Raymond F. Kravis Center for the Performing Arts in West Palm Beach begins at 7 p.m. March 22 and continues March 29 and April 5. James Drayton, founder and producer, has used the event to celebrate the arts by highlighting contemporary and classic films he believes effectively examine black history.

“Film plays a tremendous role in outlining the history of a people, the tenor and tone of a people at a certain point in time,” Drayton said.

Drayton’s selections for 2012 are a reflection of the theme, Winning Against All Odds. The following films chosen for the 2012 series illustrate the ingenuity and determination of African-American men and women in the face of racism at various points in history:

March 22: Race to Freedom: The Underground Rail Road (1994), follows four runaway slaves who flee a North Carolina plantation and discover the “Underground Railroad,” a secret network of safe houses where runaway slaves could stay on their journey north to freedom in the years leading up to the Civil War.

March 29: Tuskegee Airmen (1995), based on true stories, tells of six African-American men whose lives are intertwined as they seek to overcome racism and become pilots in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II.

April 5: Something the Lord Made (1995), an HBO original film, tells the true story of two men — Alfred Blalock, an ambitious white surgeon, and Vivien Thomas, a gifted black carpenter turned lab technician — who pioneered modern bypass heart surgery by defying the racial structures of the Jim Crow South.

A native of West Palm Beach, Drayton, 60, is the former owner of the African American Heritage Bookstore in his hometown. He took over the store upon returning to the area in the early ’90s after working in the banking industry in New York City for many years. Owning the bookstore allowed him to network with individuals involved in West Palm Beach’s arts scene, eventually leading to his collaboration with the Kravis Center. He and AnEta Sewell coordinate the festival.

As host, Sewell sets up each film and its content for the audience before viewing, and then moderates a Q&A session afterward.  Sewell, lead outreach representative for the South Florida Water Management District, previously had a 20-year-career in television, primarily at WPEC TV.  An Emmy Award winner, Sewell was the first African-American to anchor and report the news in the West Palm Beach/Treasure Coast market.  She can currently be seen in the weekly public affairs program Around Our Town on the CW/My TV Network.

This year, members of the local chapter of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity are also assisting with the festival, Drayton said. In continuing to foster community participation, he also plans to bring back a student film contest.

“I would love to get the youth involved again,” Drayton said. “For a couple of years I ran a student film contest (the) last night of the film festival. I plan to resurrect that.”

Because for Drayton, important films have entertainment value, yet also provide an educational experience.

The African American Film Festival is a part of the Kravis Center’s ArtSmart series offering educational presentations, which provide new perspectives on the world of the performing arts. For more information call 561-832-7469

WHAT: The 7th African-American Film Festival

WHERE: 7 p.m., March 22, 29 and April 5

WHEN: Persson Rehearsal Hall, The Kravis Center, 701 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach

$10 per night or $25 for the entire festival

Call: 561-832-7469

Photo: James Drayton