Tuesday, August 8, 2017

6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival: The Takeaway

The look of my pleasant weekend-- film, conversation, fashion, and art inspiration.

For four splendid days, Blackstar Film Festival was the beloved carnival bringing riveting fireworks excitement to Philadelphia. The rickety bandwagon came from beyond Los Angeles, talented filmmakers traveling from other pockets of the globe, delivering sensational entertainment and delicate prose, leaving behind wild applause and a heightened state of purpose.

As a volunteer, I greeted film buffs, producers, and creators, scanned tickets, sold merchandise, and collected ballots. At the same time, I made connections with artists-- some local and others from other parts of the country. At lightbox, where most films were screened, I viewed our stories alongside them, reacting with them-- laughing, crying, shaking heads, and all. It was wonderful.

On Thursday night at the opening of "Lossless" at Pearlstein Gallery, I met one of my favorite actresses of this world-- Adepero Oduye, a phenomenal actress who was simply exceptional in "Pariah" and "Steel Magnolias." She was also in Ava DuVernay's beautiful short "The Door" and part of Alex Prager's "Touch of Evil" (might be too violent for some viewers, please use discretion) series.
In between utter joy, I lived vicariously through countless experiences (I worked at my job these four days too). I often came around late evening, silently meandering through thick crowds, overwhelmed by sight of headwraps, dashikis, long billowy skirts, locs, box braids, shaved heads, piercings, tattoos, happy grins, and more. I mourned missing Gabourey Sidibe's directed debut, a piece based on my favorite Nina Simone song, “Four Women." Coincidentally, Adepero Oduye showed her short film, "To Be Free," in which she starred as Nina. I had been telling people for a long time that I thought she would be perfect Nina, no comparison. So yes, I’m still absolutely devastated to haven’t been present. I will see them both someday. I am happy, however, to have met Adepero and read her words in Blackstar's first ever film festival catalogue. It contains essays by Louis Massiah (creator of Philly's Scribe Video Center, he writes about Ava) and Desha Dauchan (a filmmaker whose "Covered" stars "Bold and the Beautiful's " Karla Mosley). In an essay entitled "Journey to Be Free," Adepero shares plight and wisdom over becoming an actress and director,
"The one thing I was and have always been clear about was that pursuing an acting career had to be done authentically as I am or not at all. It was the encouragement of others who believed in me when I at times didn't and the love of the craft that drove me, pushed me, and kept me going."
As an artist/writer, this propels me to move forward and not ever step away from the path. 

Catalogued stills from Adepero's "To Be Free." 

Writer/director/producer Ava DuVernay is a contemporary she-ro always making sure we see ourselves-- past and present. "Middle of Nowhere" is my favorite film. "Selma" is brilliant. "13th," which debuted on my birthday, is gritty and honest. "Queen Sugar" is a breathtaking television show. And at home, I still look at my autographed "Selma" poster, amazed to have won this treasure. She wrote, "Onward!" with her name scrawled underneath.

Another heartbreak, I also didn’t see Ava DuVernay’s sold out conversation, one of the huge main events. I sat in wait, near the closed doors, listening to hollers and applause, like enthusiastic thunder. Once the ushering came out, a maddening stampede of blissful, contagious euphoria, the loud echoes of excitement propelled me to steal every clipped detail. Apparently, Ava had passed her big fans, extended East Coast family, the gift of sweet knowledge and tasting this fruit secondhand sustained my sadness just enough.

I did, however, see incredible films ( I'll be reviewing a few on femfilmrogue). I enjoyed A-lan Holt's "Inamorata" and told her on Sunday night (still wow-ing over that). Dennis Dortch (who wasn't in attendance), Numa Perrier, and Tina Cerin's "Hello Cupid" delivered giggles among its candid insightfulness. Guetty Felin's "Ayiti Mon Amour," the first Haitian feature directed by a Haitian woman, took giant leaps and bounds discussing the aftermath of the Haiti earthquake of January 2010. Thus, these brilliant pieces, though fictional stories, were aesthetically pleasing, but then showcased global depth, humanized blackness, and raised awareness.

Shantrelle P. Lewis situated in a lovely curated stage, ready to discuss the ins and outs of her book, "Dandy Lion: The Black Dandy and Street Style."

Imani Perry moderated the panel discussion between Shantrelle and Darnell Brown (his memoirs come out in March).
On the final day, in correlation with Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) in Philadelphia's Gather Series, The Blackstar Film Festival held a celebration of Shantrelle's book while simultaneously bringing festival to a DJ pumped close. Amidst old school jams, which included Erykah Badu, dancing, fashion, and food. It was bewildering to be complimented by fellow stylish company. I felt my shyness butterflies fluttering out of my belly and into the world, flying in a suspenseful abyss. Of course, they're bound to return. They always do.

A clip from Terrance Nance.

Numa Perrier's "The Bowtie."

I especially loved this short.

Green carpet snaps.
The 6th Annual Blackstar Film Festival provided so much fun, so much diaspora to the weekend. Hues of sun kissed radiant golden melanin coming out to support other creative individuals was a thing of poetry, a thing that must bear repeating. I thank those who allowed me to volunteer. Plus, a special thanks to Mr. Eugene, who was an energetic, funny, absolute delight.

My current mood right this moment-- anticipation of the 7th.

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