Blackstar Film Festival Celebrates Filmmakers of Color

Friday Night Film Series hosted Maori Holmes, the curator of BlackStar: Best of the Fest 2019, a mammoth project jam-packed with emotive and beautiful displays of heart and soul, wildly creative juices and deep purpose. The celebration occured on Friday, November 15 in Golden Auditorium. 

Assistant Professor of Film and Media Studies Ani Maitra began the event by presenting itinerary for the evening. It began with the screening of selected films from the festival, was followed by a post-screening Q&A session featuring the director and three filmmakers, and then ended with a continued conversation over Royal Indian Grill at the ALANA Cultural Center. 

“As some of you may know, the BlackStar Film Festival, based in Philadelphia, is an annual celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and of global indigenous communities, showcasing films by artists of color from around the world. The festival was founded in 2012 and has just had its eighth edition this past August. This is the second time we’ve brought BlackStar to Colgate,” Maitra said.

BlackStar has also been acclaimed as the “Black Sundance” by IndieWire in 2019 and Ebony Magazine in 2012. Through the festival itself and rescreenings of the material at galleries and institutions like Colgate, independent filmmakers have a chance to show their aesthetic masterpieces to new audiences in a groundbreaking and highly visible way.

This particular program at Colgate was a handpicked selection of seven out of the 113 screened at the 2019 festival. Altogether, the seven shorts exhibited a beautiful miscellany of form and technique, all with an incalculable sum of spirit and power. 

While some filmmakers opted for black and white for concentrated, cohesive or symbolic purposes, many artists also experimented with explosions of rich color. 

The first short film, Bereka was a montage of family moments featuring a voice-over by a matriarch and her granddaughter. The short was immediately followed by one completely without voices, which reenacted true stories in kaleidoscopic videos—relying on the visual of streaming sentences rather than voices.

The nature of these artworks is diverse and abstract. There is not one overarching narrative attached to the pieces. During the panel, filmmakers delved into this phenomenon and the subsequent purpose of their work. Filmmaker of Sega, Idil Ibrahim saw her work as a way of examining human experience, exploring social issues and building bridges to people. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh of Oklahoma is Black uses her visual art to celebrate small moments in life that pass us by and express the raw reality of life.

Although different perspectives are often welcome in viewing abstract art, misreadings can lead to unexpected criticism. Iyabo Kwayana shared that her short film “Practice,” filmed in China about a huge group of adolescent Kung Fu students coming together to perform tedious choreography is often seen for the opposite of what Kwayana intended—a depiction of the erasure of individualism in a group or identity. 

“There was a part of me that really connected with what those children were going through. That is the part about the human experience that is overlooked when we focus on the politics and the identity and all that. All that stuff is really important so I don’t want to overlook it, but there was something deeper that I was connecting with them on and I wanted to see all of their faces. I think as a woman of color who has been invisible in many spaces, it was really important for me to include shots—close ups—where you could see all these boys look different from one another. They are not like one homogenous group,” Kwayana said to refute these criticisms.

BlackStar shorts like the seven shown are extremely significant as they aim to show just how important it is to have directors, producers and filmmakers from diverse backgrounds behind the camera. 

“Learning about women of color in the film industry was an eye opening experience. It was interesting to see how each of their backgrounds affected their pieces and what they focused on because of it,” sophomore Sophie Johnson said.

Undoubtedly, one narrative is never enough to paint the intricacies of human experience. Film and the arts are beautiful and effective ways of representing people from varied backgrounds and communities. By bringing these films to campus it allowed the Colgate community to hear voices and experiences that don’t always get heard.