BlackStar Film Festival ushers audiences into the resistance

A full house at a 2016 BlackStar screening. (Photo courtesy of BlackStar Film Festival.)

A celebration of independent black cinema, the sixth annual BlackStar Film Festival is urging festivalgoers to contemplate the power of resistance. Through 62 films, this year’s festival will explore notions of opposition through direct action, aesthetics, social change within families and relationships, and revisit fights for justice in the United States and beyond, says BlackStar founder and artistic director Maori Karmael Holmes.

Established in 2011, BlackStar spotlights black films and filmmakers, showcasing provocative stories that offer fresh perspectives on the black experience. Opening Thursday, August 3, the festival will provide screenings of short films and feature-length documentaries and fiction films, as well as a variety of youth workshops and panel discussions with filmmakers and industry leaders.

“Courage and fortitude in culture”

The festival runs through Sunday, August 6, primarily at Lightbox Film Center (3701 Chestnut Street), which will stage a conversation with acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay (Selma and 13th) August 5. DuVernay will be honored with the Richard Nichols Luminary Award at the festival’s annual awards ceremony that evening at World Café Live (3025 Walnut Street). And, for the first time, Holmes will curate a special accompanying exhibition at Drexel’s Pearstein Gallery. Lossless will inspect how labor, illusion, loss, lineage, and personhood are imagined and reconstructed by exploring the black body as a site of compression.

“BlackStar is working to highlight the work of independent artists of color whose work often gets overlooked by mainstream outlets,” Holmes says. “I hope that attendees this year will forge new connections, find inspiration, and be uplifted in the beauty and range of this year’s program. I also hope that, in this moment, we find a source of courage and fortitude in culture when we need it most.”

Festival firsts

Many films and filmmakers will make their debut at this year’s festival. Ironwood, directed by Shahin Izadi, follows two friends who are aspiring academics seeking university teaching jobs. In their pursuit, they learn startling truths about themselves, academia, race, and their friendship.

In director Guetty Felin’s Haitian magical neorealist tale, Ayiti Mon Amour, she combines the story of a grieving young boy, an old fisherman, and a struggling muse into a poetic portrait of the island nation of Haiti. Actor and author Gabourey Sibide makes her directorial debut in the short The Tale of Four, inspired by Nina Simone’s song Four Women, getting its Philly premiere in an August 5 lineup of short films.

Acclaimed Ethiopian filmmaker Haile Gerima captures the heart of resistance by exploring the tenacity and resilience that emerges during civil disobedience in his documentary Wilmington 10 – USA 10,000. The documentary examines the lives of 10 civil rights activists who were falsely convicted and incarcerated for nearly a decade following a 1971 riot in Wilmington, North Carolina. The film, which has circulated underground since the late 1970s, will be shown on a 16mm screen, a first for the festival and an experience Holmes said she’s excited to present to audiences.

The continuum of resistance

Wilmington 10 is the story of political prisoners, but it also tells stories of resistance through a global lens by discussing human rights, the criminal justice system, and racial oppression in regions like Latin America and South Africa.

“Through the film I wanted to make sure everyone knows that every generation comes to fight on the shoulders of other black folks who fought before them,” Gerima says. “For me, resistance is not created by generations, it’s a continuum. And I wanted to tell a story of the continuum of African people fighting for freedom and those around the world who were fighting with them.

“Storytelling is how human beings transform… stories are the battleground. Stories liberate people. What is wrong with Africans here, and Africans everywhere, is that our stories were robbed from the beginning. Film is not just some kind of entertainment, it is the documentation of a people’s history — a footprint and it has the power to repair a disturbed mind. We are the ones who will benefit the most.”

The Blackstar Film Festival takes place Thursday, August 3, through Sunday, August 6. Visit online for tickets and the full lineup.

At right: Two friends fight for a future in academia in Shahin Izadi's Ironwood. (Image courtesy of BlackStar Film Festival.)