Sunday, August 30, 2015
The 4th Annual BlackStar Film Festival was held in
West Philadelphia July 30 - August 2, 2015.Artistic director, Maori Karmael Holmes' mission for the festival is a celebration of cinema focused on work by and about people of African descent in a global context. BlackStar highlights films that are often overlooked from emerging, established, and mid-career directors, writers and producers. In light of the #BlackLivesMatter grassroots campaign, this year BlackStar's focus was social injustice.
For the second year in a row, the last weekend in July has turned out to be a busy one for me. This year, I was already committed to attend an Affiliate Marketing Summit (click for T&T Summit Photos) in New York, so I was only able to attend the Thursday opening of BlackStar. Tinsel & Tine contributor, Terri Heard was able to cover Saturday, so here's a quick round up of some highlights:
Panel: Black Women & Indie FilmThis panel featured Indie Filmmakers/Producers/Media Consultants who are all women of color. These females represent storytellers and bridge-builders in the industry. They spoke on how their identity has impacted their work; why they think it’s important to claim space in film, and what fears they still hold as they continue to make strides in a still primarily white industry.
Panelists included: director/producer Loira Limbal (Estilo Hip Hop), director/producer Denise Greene (I’ll Make Me A World, Malcolm X: Make it Plain), filmmaker Frances Bodomo (Boneshaker, Afronauts), and producer/executive Nikki Webber Allen. The panel was moderated by curator/producer Elissa Blount-Moorhead (Dreams Are Colder Than Death).
The below video is just a short excerpt of the discussion, yet enough to give you a taste of the thoughtful responses and insights these women brought to the table:
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Mini Reviews of BlackStar films by Terri Heard
BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez, 2015, 90 min., feature documentary. dir. Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater, Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
It took three women to direct this highly anticipated documentary on the living legend and poet laureate Sonia Sanchez and it’s easy to see why. The filmmakers had to wrestle Sanchez’ impact as one of the seminal writers of the 1960s Black Arts Movement, her influence on jazz and later hip hop, and her legacy as a Civil Rights activist. That they succeeded is apparent in this richly drawn portrait that shows how Sanchez’ activism both reflected and shaped America’s struggle toward racial justice. The documentary deftly combines spoken word poetry events featuring actress Ruby Dee and Sanchez herself as well as interviews with academics and artists such as historian James Brody Jr. and Roots drummer Questlove to show both the breadth and immediacy of Sanchez’ influence. Most affecting, are Sanchez’ own insights on “How I became this woman with razor blades between her teeth” and her passionate devotion to her art. As she says in the film, asking a poet if they have a poem is like “asking an alcoholic if they have a hidden stash of alcohol.”
The filmmakers interviewed Sanchez extensively and followed her on her travels to performances, a visit to Max Roach’s grave, a peace rally, and around her neighborhood. The result is a satisfyingly cohesive look at Sanchez’ multifaceted life. If there is one weakness in this documentary it is the shorter shrift given to the poet’s personal life. Documenting a living subject can be tricky. Viewers crave a deep dive into the subject’s private life. But how does one offer all the relevant details without invading the subject’s privacy?
The documentary covers the territory admirably with Sanchez’ comments on the pain of losing her mother at an early age, shuffling from one relative’s house to the next, her sister’s molestation, her father’s discouragement of her writing career and the loss of custody of her daughter, while discreetly steering away from a more detailed look at subjects that still brings tears to Sanchez’ eyes and elicit a quietude that stands in contrast to her fiery public persona. Nevertheless, the documentary leaves viewers with a grounded understanding of why Sanchez matters.
Although the Sanchez documentary was clearly the marquee event, there was an impressive array of shorts. Highlights included:
Mulignans (2014, 6 min, short narrative comedy, U.S., Philadelphia premiere) turns the racial hierarchy on its head, by depicting Blacks as stereotypical – emphasis on stereotype – Italians bemoaning the influx of whites (“those people”) into their previously all Italian neighborhood. The result is a mind-bender that mixes the social commentary of Do the Right Thing with the gleeful absurdity of the "Whassup" commercials from the 90s as well as a subtly unsettling look at the deep unease that lies between different racial groups.
Adventures of Jamel: the Time Traveling B-Boy (2015, 20 min, short narrative comedy, U.S.) This web series created by Jayson Musson follows the exploits of breakdancing, track-suited, kangol-wearing Jamel, an office janitor at Illuminati headquarters who accidentally steals a time machine and sends himself back to the slave era. In the 2 episodes screened (out of a planned 6-episode series), Jamel bumbles his way through the antebellum South, encountering a runaway slave and his pursuing overseer, Abraham Lincoln and his raunchy wife Mary Todd, as well as a comically conflicted John Wilkes Booth. Each episode finds Jamal breakdancing his way out of one jam and into the next in happily dippy sketches that could have come from Mad TV. Like that erstwhile show or the still-going Saturday Night Live, the jokes can go on long past their sell-by date. The plots are thin and stretch believability to the breaking (no pun intended!) point. Still Jamal is endearing in his B-Boy madness, backed up by a truly nutty Booth. Between those elements and the supporting cast that unashamedly goes for broke, it’s not totally inconceivable that Jamel might actually dance his way off the web and into a regular series slot network or cable TV.
Blackcard (dir Pete Chatmon, 2015, 14 min, short narrative, comedy, U.S.) This satire was a standout among this line up. The film serves up a paranoid alternate reality where everyone has a Black Card certifying the authenticity of their Blackness and The Commission polices infractions with a vengeance. Prefer skiing to basketball? Lose points on your Black Card. Dating inter-racially? Lose even more points. Rack up enough points, you lose your card. So what do you do when you come home from work and your spouse tells you “I lost my Black Card”? Both suspenseful and funny and offering a bang up ending worthy of the film noir staples, Blackcard is definitely a feature film waiting to happen.
Please follow writer Terri Heard on Twitter
There's still two highlights I'd like to include in this BlackStar Film Fest Round Up, mainly the opening night film - Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee. I have footage of the Q&A featuring the filmmaker who is the grandson of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis. So hopefully before the 5th Annual, I'll get that up. Also, Terri attended a panel she'd like to include as well. So check back!
2015 BlackStar Award Recipients
BEST EXPERIMENTAL SHORT "Vow of Silence" by Be Steadwell
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR FAVORITE EXPERIMENTAL SHORT "Vocabulary of the Mysteries" by Jacob Shanks Kindlon
BEST DOCUMENTARY SHORT "Of Slaves and Saints" by Marcio de Abreu
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR FAVORITE DOCUMENTARY SHORT "El Naza: The Black Christ of Portobelo" by Iyabo Kwayana
BEST DOCUMENTARY FEATURE "Treasure: From Tragedy To Trans Justice; Mapping A Detroit Story" by dream hampton
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR FAVORITE DOCUMENTARY FEATURE "BaddDDD Sonia Sanchez" by Barbara Attie, Janet Goldwater and Sabrina Schmidt Gordon
BEST YOUTH FILM "Kadi (Lantern)" by Lawrence Agbetsise
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR FAVORITE YOUTH FILM "Lost And Found" by Big Picture Alliance
BEST NARRATIVE FEATURE "In The Morning" by Nefertite Nguvu
AUDIENCE AWARD FOR FAVORITE NARRATIVE FEATURE "Christmas Wedding Baby" by Kiara C. Jones
While You're Here
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