I had a great time at my first BlackStar Film Festival. I’m adding an update to include the link to the winners at this year’s festival and the review of the last film I streamed from #BSFF22. I was glad I made the time to see “Mars One” post-festival. Not only was it a heartwarming film, it was awarded Best Feature Narrative. Check out all the Award Winners HERE.
This 11th year of the festival ran from Aug 3-7th in Philadelphia. BlackStar showcases films by and about Black, Brown and Indigenous artists of the world. There was a nice piece in the Philadelphia Inquirer last Friday about a few social action documentaries at the festival. The programs features documentaries, a few narratives, and short films. There were screenings and panels at University of Pennsylvania in the Penn Live Arts/Annenburg Center for the Performing Arts. There was also free yoga outside at Drexel Square, an Opening and Closing Night party and First Friday! celebration at the Barnes Foundation.
It would’ve been helpful if I’d had a better understanding of the festival before the Opening Day. As a newbie, I wanted to attend a few in-person events and check out different aspects of the festival. There was a nice write-up in the NYTimes that I read post-festival.
My plan: go to the Daily Jawn, attend a panel discussion, one event and see one feature and one short film program. Not easy to do working a FT job and not living in Philadelphia. Films began at 10am, and screenings were at awkward evening times (5pm and 8:30Pm) and though I tried to make it to one of the parties, they began at 9:30pm and that’s late on a weeknight and a Sunday. Plus, parking in Philadelphia is stupid difficult. I’ve been ticketed, towed, and paid exhorbidant fees to park.
Heading off to the Prince Theater for my first event, the Daily Jawn Show, I trusted Google Maps and navigated to the Prince Theater (currently the Philadelphia Film Center). After finally finding street parking (not an easy task in Center City), I double-checked the online program again. That’s when I discovered that it’s the Prince Theater inside Penn Arts!
I didn’t find any maps or parking suggestions in the online program. There was a tab under the film name that did have the physical address. I reversed direction and off I went to UPenn. I was lucky to find street parking again. I raced inside the Performing Arts Center and masked up. Providing my Vaccination Card and my ID, I was wristbanded and whisked to the theater. My QR Code didn’t work to be scanned in but fortunately, there was a DJ and the show hadn’t started.
The Daily Jawn show was fun. There was some silliness with an audience “fluffer”, Desmond Thorne, asking the audience questions and teaching us how to applaud and laugh so the cameras would pick up the audio for the online version of the show. Our Host, Maori Karmael Holmes, founded BlackStar in 2012 and is the CEO & Artistic Director. She’s also a great MC. Holmes introduced the crew and guests and it was clear she had a long-standing relationship with most of them. She put everyone at ease and had astute questions.
I enjoyed the filmmaker interviews and hearing the performances from Nigerian singer, Kingsley. Like a televised live talk show, there were silly games and some audience participation. Sparsely-attended on the first night, most of the audience seemed like fans of the show, the filmmakers and/or the band. I’m glad I was there in person.
As I grabbed a program in the lobby, I asked if there was a my badge for me. I was only notified of my Press Pass two days prior to the Festival start, so I wasn’t surprised that it hadn’t been printed. I did receive a swag bag w/program and mini-poster in a great reusable BlackStar bag. I love the bright branding. There were shirts, sweatshirts and cute bucket hats for sale. As I settled into my seat at the beautiful Zellerbach Theater for the evening’s screening of “Storming Caesar’s Palace“, my phone dinged to show that my meter was expired. Drat! I stayed for the intro and was impressed that once again, there was an ASL interpreter. Then I hustled out of the theater and made my long journey home…too tired for a social justice documentary but sad to miss the Opening Night Party.
Thank goodness for the online programming. It was robust. I did have a few technical glitches but not with the Eventive platform. My first feature, “Lingui, The Sacred Bond” was streaming on MUBI. There was no link to take you directly there, and the address provided did not take me to anything that indicated BlackStar Film Festival. I input my credit card info for the “Free Five Days” and the next day, discovered a charge for $10.99. Oh well, it was a remarkable film.
The second issue I had was the Mira Nair interview. “Many Lumens: Mira Nair and Maori Karmael Holmes” was listed as a special episode of BlackStar’s signature podcast. I expected a podcast. Neither link on the website worked for me but I finally went to the YouTube Channel for BlackStar and found the video. Oddly, the first seven minutes were silent and black screen on my laptop, but the interveiw was lovely. Holmes was well-prepared with great questions for the famed writer/director/producer and I was thrilled to learn of all the new work she’s got in the pipeline. Nair is overseeing the musical version of “Monsoon Wedding”, another interracial romance akin to “Mississippi Masala” featuring a musician and a Bollywood star with music by Pharrel, plus another film project in the works!
I’d hoped to see at least four films and two short film programs. I almost managed that in the five days. I still have a film to finish this evening, Monday, post-festival as an online streaming option. My favorite BlackStar event was First Friday! at the Barnes Foundation. The Barnes is one of my favorite Philly museums and I was excited to revisit the Issac Julien installation: “Once Again…Statues Never Die”. There was a cash bar with tasty sangria and some other drink options, plus appetizers. Omar’s Hat was the Philly band playing jazz and blues.
There were lots of folks who dressed for the occasion and it was great people watching. We enjoyed strolling through the galleries and checking out the new exhibit, Faces of Resilience. The pieces were created with the Mural Arts Guild of Philly and SGI: Phoenix (a maximum security prison for men in SE Philly). It was interesting to spend time in the Julien exhibit with it’s multiple screens and narration while the space was full of Festival guests and sounds of the band. Beautiful black people looking at beautiful black people on screens surrounded by African American art — and with the work’s theme of who should own the curation of African beauty?! It was all very meta.
The screening for the evening was in the small Comcast NBC/Universal Auditorium and seating was limited. “Blackalachia” is an artsy performance conceived by Ghanaian-American singer/songwriter, Moses Sumney. A conceptual piece set on a Blue Ridge Mountain stage in the North Carolina Applalacains, this music video/art piece was not well-served by the limited soundsystem and small screen. Moses Sumney performed in some fabulous costumes and there were some sublime moments. Often though, it seemed amateurish and Sumney appeared to be trying to channel Prince. The best production was the final piece without the band or sets. Just Sumney, his guitar, and a great song.
Drinks With Films Reviews
“Lingui, The Sacred Bonds”, Director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun (stream on Amazon or MUBI): 4 cups of African tea shared between mother & daughter in bonding (out of 5). A timely film about a mother defying her religion and the law. She struggles with the difficult task of securing an abortion for her 15 yr old daughter in the outskirts of Chad in Western Africa. It’s the moments of stillness that writer/director Mahamat-Saleh Haroun captures and the beauty of those images that elevate this gripping film. BlackStar Film Festival Audience Award for Best Feature Narrative
“Blackalachia”, Moses Sumney (view the full concert on YouTube): 1 glass of expensive wine in an incredible ornate chalice that distracts from the taste of the wine (out of 5), an hour of musical performances that range from beautiful to outright silly, Moses Sumney may be incredibly talented. It’s difficult to tell without a proper screening conditions.
“Wisdom Gone Wild“, Director Rea Tarjiri (after festival run, screening on iTVS): 2 cups of Japanese tea served in a Memory Care facility (out of 5). A loving depiction of the filmmaker caring for her aging mother with dementia. Director Tarjiri uses photographs and videos to piece together a tribute to a mother who’s crafted a new version of her life. BlackStar Film Festival Feature Documentary Honorable Mention, Audience Award for Best Feature Documentary
“Aftershock“, Directors Paula Eiselt & Tonya Lewis Lee (stream on HULU): 3 bottles of water to soothe a sore throat from shouting slogans to deaf ears (out of 5). Documenting the horrific disparity in the US maternal health care, directors Eiselt & Lee want to galvanize activists with solutions to the crisis. Philadelphia has some shocking statistics. Our maternal mortality rate exceeds the national average. Black women had 43% of births in Philly but represented 73% of pregnancy-associated deaths between 2016-2018.
“Maternity care is abortion care is health care — it’s the same thing,” Co-director Paula Eiselt said. “In a country that has the hightest maternal mortality rate in the develped world and the least support for the moms, parents, and families. and then you force people to be pregnant (after the overturning of Roe v. Wade)…the outcomes are going to be far worse.” Philadelphia Inquirer, “Shedding Light on health access, equity” Massarah Mikati, Friday, Aug 5, 2022
“Storming Caesars Palace”, Director Hazel Gurland-Pooler (also available on iTVS): 3 tall iced teas as you organize fellow Moms to stage some social justice action (out of 5). Las Vegas activist, feminist Ruby Duncan organized an anti-poverty movement that has ramifications today.
“Mars One” (“Marte Um”), Gabriel Martins: 3 tall caipirinhas (even though you aren’t supposed to be drinking). A Brazilian family discovers surprising things about each other when a series of potentially tragic events unfolds. This film surprised me as the description lead me to believe that there was some political underpinings. Much more apt to say that football plays a big part in the story. The film had it’s world debut as part of the 2022 Sundance World Cinema Competition.
I also watched two Shorts Programs: Pulsate and Locomote. Both had some wonderful short films, and quite the range. From funny “Clones” to heartbreaking “Selahy: My Weapon” plus a few experimental works and queer affirmations. There were so many more films I would’ve loved to see. Maybe next year, I’ll have time off to spend at the BlackStar Film Festival.