Diversity on display

The Brazilian documentary "Capoeira: Fly Away Beetle" screens Friday.
The Brazilian documentary "Capoeira: Fly Away Beetle" screens Friday.

At the three-day BlackStar Film Festival, black films and filmmakers from all over the world reach a wider audience. Don't bring expectations; "there's no one way to make a film."

Posted: August 03, 2012

'I didn't know it would be a festival."

That's Maori Karmael Holmes, artistic director of the first annual BlackStar Film Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at the African American Museum, Art Sanctuary, and International House.

It wasn't supposed to get this big, but now BlackStar is four days of black films and filmmakers from all over the globe - "40 films, 4 continents, 4 days."

Holmes has been "curating films in and around Philadelphia for years. I wanted to do a showcase of some films at International House," in West Philadelphia, she says, "and I secured the dates months and months ago."

But as she started talking to people, she heard of filmmakers and films crying out for larger audiences. "I came to realize how many films had never been shown in this town that I thought should be," Holmes says. "Most were films I'd heard of; other titles came by word of mouth."

More than a dozen films will get their local premieres. Among them are FunkJazz Kafé: Diary of a Decade(The Story of a Movement)  (8 p.m. Saturday), directed by Jason Orr, about the alt-soul music scene in 1990s Atlanta; and Soul Food Junkies (7:30 p.m. Sunday), a U.S. film directed by Byron Hurt, about soul food and black identity.

Two films, both about a return to roots, are getting their U.S. debuts: Adopted ID (4:15 p.m. Thursday), a U.K./Canadian/Haitian documentary directed by Sonia Godding Togobo, about a woman's return to quake-torn Haiti; and United States of Hoodoo (4:10 p.m. Saturday), a German documentary directed by Oliver Hardt, about expatriate Berlin-based writer Darius James and his return to the United States.

There are also two showings of short films, a festival of music videos, a roundtable of independent filmmakers, audience discussions, a bazaar of vendors, and dances at different venues every night. A complete schedule is available at blackstarfest.org.

If there's a theme, it's the lack of a single theme, the diversity on display. "That's maybe the point I'm trying to make," says Holmes. "A lot of these films get overlooked because they don't fit what people think they're looking for. I want filmmakers to feel they can do whatever they want and get shown to a larger audience - that there's no one way to make a film."

Among her "big surprises" at this first BlackStar: Najma Nurridin's A Lover's Call (12:30 p.m., Saturday), about a Muslim man attracted to a Yoruba woman; and Nigerian director Abba Makama's Party of Ministers (8 p.m. Friday), "a funny, sophisticated, art-house-level movie that far transcends Nollywood" (Nigerian Hollywood).

Mike Dennis is a Philadelphia filmmaker and founder of the production company Reelblack (slogan: "Good Movies 'bout Black Folks."). The Reelblack documentary Leaked: Last Night at the Five Spot (2:30 p.m. Friday) combines film of a Black Lily reunion show at the legendary Old City club the Five Spot with clips from performances there over the years.

"There was a movement there," says Dennis, "late 1990s through the 2000s, acts like Floetry, the Roots, Jazzyfatnastees, Kindred the Family Soul, Lady. It was the center of a new black vibe, the space where a lot of breakthroughs happened. We more or less had carte blanche to film there, and you could see it all unfold from three feet away. We tried to capture that feeling." He's aiming to raise interest and money to complete a full-length doc, Last Night at the Five Spot.

Ethel Cee made her video One-Fifty (4:45 p.m. Friday) in the hip-hop way: spur of the moment, ad-hoc, pulling in a range of other artists.

Cee ran into beat-maker Haj of Dumhi, and "within two days we recorded the track 'One-Fifty,' put it out online, and got a great response. We decided to put it on the EP Seven Thirty - it wasn't on it originally - and to make a video."

That pulled in hip-hop-artist-turned-videographer Sick Six (Joe Painter) and New York producer Adam Wiesen, "who really made the video come to life."

Cee also will be selling her homemade candles at the festival. "A lot of us do a lot of things," she says. "That's how it is. That's what it means to be doing hip-hop or movies today."

Philly guy Brandon Pankey had been carrying around the idea of a "smart, funny, insightful show about romance in the city from a black point of view" for a long time. "It had to be in Philly, too," he says. "I was born here, and this is my city, the concrete jungle, the birthplace of America."

But he had no writer. So a friend connected him with Brooklyn writer Davian Peat, "and he did a fantastic job."

Their script for an episode of Would You Be Mine?, a comedy series, will get a free public reading at the festival (11 a.m. Sunday). Pankey, who has never had a staged reading like this, says he's "excited but nervous."

He also says that "all of us" at BlackStar "are multiplatform. All of us do a lot of different things."

"This is the time we live in," says Holmes. "It's wonderful that you don't need to do one thing; if you want, you can do 10. And these build on one another: theater builds on film on TV."

"That's what's cool about BlackStar," says Pankey. "Everyone's following their passion, and you can have a lot of passions."

Diversity in Black Film

The BlackStar Film Festival continues through Sunday at the African American Museum (701 Arch St.), International House (3701 Chestnut St.), Art Sanctuary (628 S. 16th St.), and other venues.

Tickets: Most films are $5 in advance, $8 at the door. Screenplay readings, roundtable, and music video screenings free.


Contact John Timpane at 215-854-4406 or jt@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @jtimpane.

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