Fifth annual BlackStar film festival, part one

Black, white, and in between

Last weekend, the annual BlackStar film festival returned to Philly for its fifth year. Held at University City's International House, the festival celebrates black filmmakers and stories of black culture around the world. The 2016 lineup included 64 films.

Quester Hannah's 'King of Guangzhou.' (Photo courtesy of BlackStar)

This year, the festival kicked off with "Diasporic Encounters," a series of short films that fell under the overarching theme of mixed cultures: stories exploring blacks who’ve migrated to unfamiliar territories, interracial relationships, racism within minority cultures, and the inner crisis with which individuals struggle when they are members of multiple ethnicities but can’t identify with any of them.

Philip Asbury’s See Me On The Beat, and Vashti Harrison’s Field Notes give lighthearted glimpses into two completely different environments. See Me On The Beat, filmed on location in Philly, uses vibrant color and cityscapes to reveal the art in dance and graffiti. Field Notes tells ghost stories over shots of the Trinidad islands, and with tasteful humor, we get a sense of the morals this culture holds dear.

Many worlds in one

Diasporadical Trilogia, directed by S. “Blitz” Bazawule, taunts us with the mysterious riddle of a woman who claims to have lived on three different continents simultaneously. Told in three chapters, the story follows her first as a young lady exploring first love in Ghana; as a little girl being separated from her father in Brooklyn; and then as a mother in Brazil. The short narrative was filmed on location on all three continents, features a lively color scheme, and even livelier cultural musical accompaniments. These elements overlay multiple dance scenes that set an imaginative tone, which complements the “fable,” and gives us a hint of the otherworldly migration experience.

Quester Hannah’s King of Guangzhou follows Adede and Meiling, a mixed Nigerian/Chinese couple living in Guangzhou, China. When the two discover that Meiling is pregnant, they make arrangements for the newcomer’s arrival. Then, Adede’s visa application is rejected. This emotional narrative brings to light the difficulties that come with interracial relationships, and successfully depicts the feeling of rejection in unfamiliar territory.

What made this year’s festival particularly exciting is that its films explored not only the black experience — or, more narrowly, the African-American experience, as many events labelled “black” so often do — but also the experiences of black people around the world, not just English speakers (black Cubans, Trinidadians, Brazilians, and Mexicans, among others). As a result, other cultures are introduced to the festival audience, prompting us to change the way we think and feel about the word “black” and the identity normally associated with that word, or, more specifically, that color.

Sign Up For Our Newsletter

Want previews of our latest stories about arts and culture in Philadelphia? Sign up for our newsletter.