Picks for the tenth annual BlackStar Film Festival

The Weekly Roundup, July 28-August 4

4 minute read
A still from 'Beans.' Two young Mohawk girls are in a wooded area, appearing to be yelling out of fear, concern
'Beans' is inspired by the 1990 Oka Crisis and is a feature narrative in this year's BlackStar Film Fest. (Image courtesy of BlackStar Film Festival.)

The BlackStar Film Festival is back, celebrating its tenth year. Taking place mostly virtually from August 4-8, the festival will include narrative shorts and features, documentaries, and experimental films. This year’s edition holds a roster of 80 films from Black, brown, and Indigenous filmmakers—representing 27 countries.

For this week’s roundup, I wanted to pick five films that I’m looking forward to checking out. I also want to shout about BlackStar’s other initiatives that have kicked off recently that I think some of you might be interested in.

I’ve gotten hit by the print magazine bug in the past year, and BlackStar’s Seen is a print journal of film and visual culture focused on Black, brown, and Indigenous communities that’s published twice each calendar year. Issue 002 is available now. I’m waiting for mine to arrive in the mail.

If you’re looking for a new podcast in your rotation, tune into Many Lumens. BlackStar founder Maori Karmael Holmes speaks with artists, cultural workers, filmmakers, and more in this new show. There are only five episodes, so you won’t be adding such an immense backlog to your queue. Guests have included Blitz Bazawule, Arthur Jafa, Jason Reynolds, Janicza Bravo, and dream hampton.

These are great supplements to the film festival’s generous offerings. Tickets are available now online.

Without further ado, here are my picks for this year’s fest!

Strength (Ska’yaa)
Feature documentary, 84 minutes
Streaming Wednesday, August 4-5

From director Jorge Díaz Sánchez, this world premiere from México documents Sergio after arriving in the Oaxaca highlands and creating a project for Indigenous kids to discover their capacity to dream through basketball. Through studying, effort, and willpower, they struggle to break the cycle of poverty around them and defeat their most powerful rival: hunger.

The trailer opens with a title card that reads “In 2013, the world was moved by a basketball team of barefoot boys” that grew up in the Oaxaca mountains. These boys, these kids, are doing just that—just being kids. When asked what motivates them to keep on going, one of the teens replies that it’s their parents. This doc looks inspiring and heartwarming but definitely will have plenty to say about this community’s struggles.

Feature narrative, 92 minutes
Streaming Wednesday, August 4
Screening in-person Wednesday, August 4 at 8pm at Eakins Oval

Beans, a 12-year-old, is torn between innocent childhood and delinquent adolescence, forced to grow up fast to become the tough Mohawk warrior she needs to be during the Indigenous uprising known as the Oka Crisis. The Oka Crisis was a 78-day stand-off between Mohawk protesters, Quebec police, and the Canadian army in the summer of 1990.

The film looks gripping and harrowing and isn’t a movie to be taken lightly, of course. However, I’m looking forward to seeing Kiawenti:io Tarbell’s performance as Beans. Just from the trailer, this kid is clearly an incredibly talented young actress. And this film is an important contribution to Native cinema.

Faya Dayi
Feature documentary, 158 minutes
Streaming Thursday, August 5

According to Ethiopian legend, Khat is a stimulant green leaf found by Sufi imams in search of, well, eternity. It’s this myth that has inspired the epic documentary Faya Dayi, directed by Jessica Beshir, that journeys through Harar and weaving intimate stories, many told by the youth hunted by a repressive regime.

I don’t have anything to say about this other than it looks beautiful and might be one of those films where you turn off all your devices, make sure you have several hours free, and simply get lost in it.

Feature narrative, 77 minutes
Streaming Saturday, August 7
Screening in-person Sunday, August 8 at 11am at the Mann Center

This pick from Hawaii follows a hula dancer who, while fighting for her own survival, accidentally crashes her car into a mysterious homeless man. Waikiki serves as a “visceral allegory for the contemporary issues which plague Hawaii’s people,” from mental illness to the loss of Hawaiian identity.

The film’s writer and director, Christopher Kahunahana, is a Sundance Institute Native Lab fellow. I’m curious to see more of his films that capture the Hawaiian experience.

Team Meryland
Short documentary
Streaming Saturday, August 7-8
Screening in-person Sunday, August 8 at 4pm at the Mann Center

Born and raised in the Watts projects of Los Angeles, 12-year-old boxer Meryland Gonzalez fights in and out of the ring for the dream to be crowned the 2019 Junior Olympics champion.

Not a surprise that I’m picking yet another film with a coming-of-age story. I don’t know, the kids don’t get enough respect, especially in cinema. So I’m thrilled to see cultural stories coming from this kind of point-of-view.

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