The BlackStar Film Festival is an annual celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and of global communities of color, showcasing films by black, brown, and indigenous people from around the world. Celebrating its eighth year, the festival is bringing more than just movies: panels, discussions, POC-centered yoga, and more make for a full experience for the culture.
Founder and director Maori Karmael Holmes, who also founded the Black Lily Film and Music Festival in 2007, has set an imperative foundation for voices of color in film. Submissions come from all over, including from Arab nations, South Asia, and Africa, in addition to from right here in Philadelphia.
For this year’s festival, I’ve assembled a collection of picks that I hope you put on your radar. Check out the full schedule, and be sure to show some support as the festival runs from Thursday, August 1 to Sunday, August 4.
Jezebel, directed by Numa Perrier
In the last days of her mother’s life, 19-year-old Tiffany crashes with five family members in a Las Vegas studio apartment. In order to make ends meet, her older sister, a phone sex operator, introduces her to the world of internet fetish cam girls. The semi-autobiographical drama was selected as a “Best of SXSW” film by The Hollywood Reporter earlier this year.
Chèche Lavi (Looking for Life), directed by Sam Ellison
A lyrical portrait of two Haitian migrants who find themselves stuck at the US-Mexico border, with no way forward and no one to depend on but each other. Check out the trailer.
The Apollo, directed by Roger Ross Williams
The Apollo chronicles the unique history and contemporary legacy of New York City’s landmark Apollo Theater. While uncovering the rich history of the internationally renowned theater that has influenced American music and culture for 85 years, it also examines the current state of race in America.
Freedom Fields, directed by Naziha Arebi
Filmed over five years, the film follows three women and their football team (that’s soccer in American) in post-revolution Libya, as the country descends into civil war and the utopian hopes of the Arab Spring begin to fade. Freedom Fields is perfect if you’re like me and you still have Women’s World Cup hangover.
Selah and the Spades, directed by Tayarisha Poe
After premiering at Sundance Film Festival and getting picked up by Amazon Studios for distribution, Selah and the Spades returns to Philadelphia for another screening. Poe, who’s got roots in Philly, brings us a film that looks at five factions who run the underground life of the prestigious Haldwell boarding school. Selah Summers, head of the most powerful faction, chooses whom to keep close and whom to cut loose, walking the fine line between being feared and loved.
Test Pattern, directed by Shatara Michelle Ford
Set against the backdrop of an inequitable health system, #metoo, and race relations in America, Test Pattern follows an interracial couple in Austin, Texas whose relationship is put to the test as they go from hospital to hospital in search of a rape kit. It’s part psychological horror, part realist drama—which is probably not what you expected from the synopsis.
Closing night includes a trio of shorts. As Told to G/d Thyself, is the story of the sacred youth and the stakes of a cosmic journey, where the embodiment and the pain, pleasure, and sublimation there-in are non-negotiable. Black to Techno is a documentary exploring the anthropological, socio-economical, and geopolitical roots of techno from Detroit. Finally, there’s When I Get Home, Solange Knowles interdisciplinary performance art film.