[Interview] Pop Up Premieres Founder Njaimeh Njie Sees Black And Gold

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Njaimeh Njie (center) with founding members of Pop Up Premieres

Pittsburgh-based multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie has worked as a high school teacher, a travel expert, and, more recently, an advocate for diversity in film. This year, she created Pop Up Premieres as a way to celebrate the African-American community by showcasing an array of work by black filmmakers and content creators. The independent cinema venture has hosted screenings at Assemble and 720 Music, Clothing and Cafe, and collaborated with the Penn Avenue art gallery BOOM Concepts to present the three-part Black Gold Film Series last August.

On Dec. 11th, Pop Up Premieres returns to BOOM Concepts to host another edition of the Black Gold Film Series, one that highlights shorts from around the globe. Njie, a Pittsburgh native who earned her BA in film and media studies at Washington University in St Louis, spoke with Steel Cinema about the upcoming event, her taste in film, and the future of Pop Up Premieres.

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How did you come up with Pop Up Premieres?

I am slightly involved in film on a national level. I volunteer with an organization called AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. And I realized that all these interesting, cool films were being made, but to my knowledge none of them were screening in Pittsburgh. I wanted to bring more independent black films into the city, and also wanting to provide a platform for people to have conversations and engage.

I look for films that are being made by, at this point, black people around the country. It’s not limited to African-Americans based here in Pittsburgh. But I’m working to cultivate a new type of community here in the city.

Do you screen exclusively at BOOM Concepts?

Originally, the plan was to do monthly screenings in rotating venues. I wanted the venue to play off of the theme or setting in the film to make it like an integrated viewing experience. But Darrell Kinsel approached me about bringing the series to BOOM in August and doing a kind of multi-week, multi-part series. And they were so cool and welcoming, and the venue felt warm, and it just felt right. So we ended up keeping it at BOOM.

How do you choose the work that you show? Do you seek it out, or do people come to you?

At first, I set it up like a board decision. A couple of friends and I would talk about some of the films that we saw and what we thought would be interesting to see in public. At the end of the August series, I started scouring the internet and thinking about some of the films I had seen that had moved me or made me think or made me laugh, and I started pulling from those films.

I think so often the term “black film” is associated with these comedies or big historical ensemble period pieces or action movies, and I just wanted to expand the idea that black films don’t have to fit into these few key genres. Personally, not even concerning the series, I like very intimate, slow-moving character dramas, quirky comedies, kind of mumblecore with a twist – films that really delve into the internal lives of characters, and not just surface stereotypes.

Is there a theme for the upcoming event?

The theme is short films. None of the pieces are over 20 minutes. We’re going to branch out a little bit and show a piece from England, and also one from Senegal in West Africa. Really the point is to highlight this moment that we’re in, with all of these police brutality cases and this shift that is happening right now. I do want to use film to address some of those issues. But the shorts also highlight a real diversity and richness in the black diaspora. So it’s not all police brutality, it’s not all one any type of thing. I just want to show some different perspectives that aren’t typically seen in films.

What do you think the African-American filmmaking community is like in Pittsburgh?

The arts community in general is really rich, but there are a lot of really phenomenal African-American artists in the region. I’m excited because they’ve come out to support Pop Up Premieres. But I’m also really excited because – and this is going off your question a little bit – it’s been something that has attracted many different types of people. We’ve had artists, we’ve had young professionals, we’ve had people from academia. So it’s really been a good mix, I think, of what the Pittsburgh community has to offer in general.

I’m not even necessarily looking to just have members of the black community come out. Anybody who’s interested in watching good content and engaging in some thought-provoking conversation, maybe seeing images that they haven’t seen before, is more than welcome. Come engage, maybe learn something new, gain a different perspective. And have a good time. These are fun events, they’re not totally high brow.

What has the response been like for Pop Up Premieres so far? Do you think it’s gaining a larger audience?

I was a little bit surprised, because it started out with what we considered strong numbers. We probably average between 20 and 30 people per screening, which, for something without an established reputation, I’m pretty happy with. I think the word has spread. I’ve been really pleased with the response so far.

Where would you like to see Pop Up Premieres go? What are your future plans for the series?

My big pipe dream is to eventually see it evolve into a small-scale film festival. Maybe two or three films over one weekend. One very concentrated period of time in which a variety of black films are being screened in the city.

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The Black and Gold Series: Short Film Edition begins at 7 p.m., with screenings starting at 7:30 p.m. Guests can enjoy refreshments provided by Wine & Words Pittsburgh. Admission is $3 suggested donation.

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