The eighth annual BlackStar Film Festival was a celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and global communities of color. This year’s festival, which ran August 1 through 4, 2019, showcased feature films, shorts, documentaries, and live conversations with filmmakers by Black, brown, and Indigenous people from around the world.
The Shorts Program 3 on August 2 included five films exploring family dynamics and the life circumstances that complicate them. The varied films took place in the United States, Australia, Brazil, and India.
CAP, directed by Marshall Tyler, is a 17-minute short about a 15-year-old named Manny and his rapid initiation into the world of gun violence. The film starts out with Manny putting on a new $300 Los Angeles cap before heading to school. On the way home from school, a man on the street bullies him and steals his hat. His father accompanies him to confront the thief and forcefully takes back the cap. The thief then shoots and kills Manny’s father, leading Manny to pick up the tossed gun and shoot his father’s murderer. The short ends with Manny in jail, leaving his mother and little sister to grieve two grave losses at once.
CAP was shot in black-and-white, which brought the emotions of the story forward without any other distractions. The film had a great script with natural dialogue, using humor to alleviate the tragic occurrences and create a rapid shift in the energy of the film. This short forces its audiences to confront the all-too-common consequences of gun violence, hyper-masculinity, and retaliatory misconduct. In a short film, Tyler manages to relay how quickly violence escalates, with Black and brown bodies often caught in the crossfires.
The Field, directed by Sandhya Suri, is a 19-minute short about a poor agricultural labourer, wife, and mother who leads a double life in a small Indian village’s last remaining cornfield. The protagonist escapes her husband and children during the night to have a lustful affair behind the shield of cornfields. She becomes dejected, knowing that the affair must end as the harvest is approaching and privacy will be lost in the bare village.
British-Indian director Suri shot the film exquisitely with vivid imagery highlighting the colors, scenery, and minimalism that make up a small Indian village. She zooms in on small moments, like rain falling on the woman’s face and a mother oiling her son’s scalp. These small moments culminate in a shocking act of bravery, in a seemingly monotonous life.
There’s a difference between how Indians and non-Indians shoot a film in India. As an Indian American myself, I am sometimes disappointed in how non-Indians portray India, as something is lost. It takes an extremely talented filmmaker to capture the essence of a foreign city or country. Suri’s every decision was intentional in her film, skillfully managing to make me yearn for the India I love.
On the Clock
On the Clock, directed by Tayo Amos, is a 15-minute short about a young teen named Sofia, who lives with her older brother Lucas, and gets her first period during school. Lucas is struggling to pay the bills and almost loses his job by spending time on the clock to secure the menstrual products his sister needs, confronting many harsh realities along the way.
An immersive and rapid directing style makes the film a kinetic and intimate portrayal of two siblings coming of age in East LA. The fast pace mirrors the urgency of the film’s plot, highlighting the domestic and international dilemma of lack of access to menstrual products. Sofia skipped school because she didn’t have pads or tampons, reinforcing how a lack of basic supplies underpin many countries’ failure to prioritize education for girls and women. On the Clock covers puberty, family, and womanhood, while focusing on the struggle and sacrifices made for love.
Familial relationships are thick and complex, more so in times of distress. This screening program exposed me to five films I probably would have never come across without BlackStar. Make sure to watch for BlackStar next year, to support filmmakers turning their love for communities of color into art.
What, When, Where
BlackStar Film Festival Shorts Program 3 presented films by Tayo Amos, Florian Moses Bayer, Kalu Oji, Jessica Queiroz, Sandhya Suri, and Marshall Tyler at 1901 South 9th Street, Room 209, Philadelphia. (267) 603-2755 or BlackStarfest.org.