Activist Grace Lee Boggs and Filmmaker Grace Lee

Director Grace Lee (The Grace Lee Project) and CAAMFest 2014 Spotlight Honoree has made her cinematic career celebrating the lives of strong women. She continued to honor that tradition with this year’s Centerpiece Presentation—American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs, which screened to a rapt audience on Sunday at the Castro Theatre in San Francisco. In attendance was the film’s main subject, the iconic and celebrated activist, philosopher, and writer Grace Lee Boggs.

Born in Providence Rhode Island to a Chinese immigrant family, Boggs has spent the past eight decades working to change the inequities she has seen in American society and becoming a champion of the African American and Civil Rights movements.

The documentary, twelve years in the making, delves into the life and work of Boggs, now 98 years of age, from her involvement in labor and civil rights to her support of the black power, Asian American, and environmental justice movements. Shot in Bogg’s home city of Detroit, the film also casts a sobering yet optimistic eye on the city’s history and future. Using archival footage, interviews between Boggs and notable figures such as Angela Davis, Danny Glover and Ossie Davis, and intimate shots of her in her home, “American Revolutionary” paints a personal portrait of Boggs and her fluidity to adapt to the changing world around her.

“I think Grace (Lee) has managed to put together a picture of a person whose life somehow helps other people to see who they are,” Boggs told the audience at the post-screening Q&A. “To be put in this position is, I assure you, very humbling but it’s also very gratifying and rewarding.”

For Lee and her crew, working with Boggs gave them the chance to evolve. “We were able to experience evolution. The film took (12) years to make and during that time I got older, had a kid. I experienced the frustrations of motherhood,” Lee said jokingly, referring to a moment in the film where Boggs expresses that maybe if she had experienced “the frustrations of motherhood” she would be more relatable to Lee.

“This film is a film about hope,” Boggs said. “This film is a film about how one can reflect on the past and create a new future.”

 – Ashlyn Perri

Photo: Grace Lee Boggs, as seen in the documentary American Revolutionary: The Evolution of Grace Lee Boggs.