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I’m stunned. At age 47, Dennis Darrell is gone.

Darrell was a leader in Charlotte’s film community. He sponsored events showcasing black filmmakers. I used to attend his events at Tonic (now demolished), and later Spirit Square when he drew larger audiences.

Darrell died Monday of an undisclosed illness. According to the Charlotte Observer, he suffered a stroke last summer.

Darrell was a true pioneer and gave black independent filmmakers a voice here. He’s most recently known for his Shorts In the Spirit Showcase. He recently he brought the film “Don’t Blame the Lettuce,” by S.C. native David Jones, who lives in Charlotte, and Spirit Square.

I remember Darrell’s earlier more intimate events.

Before Facebook. Before Twitter. Before YouTube, Darrell used emails and text message to goad us out of our comfort zones. He pushed us to support independent – often local – filmmakers the same way we supported Spike Lee.

Darrell exposed us to films about the black experience. Some were great, others were good and a few were awful (he knew it, too), but the events were always fun.

When Darrell started bringing films here nearly a decade ago, Charlotte’s black artsy community (the people we know call ‘deep’) was small. Everyone knew each other and supported each other’s events. Darrell’s events often featured talk-backs which typically drew heated discussions.

Years ago, Darrell and a couple of other promoters spearheaded OcFest at Spirit Square. The free event showcased Charlotte’s black creative class. It was one of the first to feature artists, such as painters and sculptors, creating works on-site. Today, artists such as John Hairston can regularly be found painting during club and cultural events.

Beyond his contributions to the film community, Darrell was a great guy. He always had a smile on his face, and a passion for helping independent filmmakers show their works. He knew their was a place for the bumping and grinding of nightlife, and he supported those promoters. But he also worked to give us something to nurture our creative spirits.

Read more about Darrell in Creative Loafing and the Charlotte Observer.