The best and brightest directors, writers and creators in the film industry will converge at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater for a one-day summit on May 10.
The Black Star Film Festival-Pittsburgh edition illuminates the global Black experience through films by and about people of African descent from across the world. The day-long event is curated by Maori Holmes, founder and artistic director of the original Black Star Film Festival that has been held in Philadelphia since 2012.
Philly’s festival is an outlet for often overlooked cinema by directors, writers and producers working in narrative, documentary, experimental and music video filmmaking.
“We wanted to create a one-day festival to give Pittsburgh a taste of what the four-day festival in Philadelphia has to offer,” Holmes said.
Pittsburgh is the first city where the Black Star Festival will be held outside of Philadelphia.
“Pittsburgh makes perfect sense as the first city to show the festival,” Holmes said. “We are in the same state, but we don’t always share things. It was just a natural progression to bring it there.”
The festival will run from 1 p.m. to 11 p.m. and will include a “Black Film Now” panel discussion, which will explore the state of Black independent film, looking at industry and representation. Executive director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, Janera Solomon, will moderate the discussion. Other events planned for the day include an all-day Ujamaa Collective Marketplace in the lobby of the theater, where people can purchase everything from food to clothing. Various future films from 2012 and 2013 that have been previously shown during the festival in Philadelphia will be shown and African short films.
“The Black Star Film Festival is known as the Black Sundance festival and for it to come here is great,” said Joseph Hall, producing director of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. “It can connect a lot of the fans to films and hopefully it helps the career of filmmakers. As a theater we present all different types of art and we connect different genres together and bring to life the vibrancy of film and the people creating the films. People go to what’s being sold to them and if we look a little deeper we’ll be able to see what’s being done for us and by us.”
Hall said attendees of the festival will get the unique opportunity to participate in a question and answer session with several filmmakers that will be in town. Those filmmakers include Numa Perrier, one of the stars of “The Couple” a comedy that explores the issues that couples face at some point in their relationships. Created by Jeannie Daniels and Dennis Dortch, and directed by Dortch, the web series stars Perrier and Desmond Faison. Due to the popularity and success of this show, Spike Lee has come on board as executive producer for a new venture deal with HBO.
African short films highlighting the international flair of the festival, these shorts are directed by female filmmakers from throughout the Diaspora living in different parts of the United States.
The films include 2013’s “Merkato,” which takes audiences on a personal journey through one of the largest and oldest open-air markets in Africa (Addis Ababa, Ethiopia). From the prospective of five personal stories a reflection emerges of a fascinating place that is a true microcosm of the human condition, the culture and way of life for many of Merkato’s merchants is under threat by modern development.
“Boneshaker,” which was written and directed by Frances Bodomo, tells the riveting story of an African family lost in America who travels to a Louisiana church to find a cure for its problem child. “Sweet, Sweet Country,” which was directed and written by Dehanza Rogers, tells the story of 20-year-old refugee Ndizeye who lives in a small Southern town, struggling to support not only herself, but the family she left behind in a Kenyan refugee camp. Her struggle becomes so much more when her family literally shows up on her doorstep.
“Our goal is to have the films find an audience. People don’t always know where to find the films unless they hear about them through a friend,” Holmes said. “There are a lot of independent films and filmmakers out there and the tools and the distribution for those works have increased for everyone. It’s a great thing for people to get their voices out there.”
In addition to the African short films, full-length feature films written, directed and starring African-Americans will be shown on Saturday night. Those films include Charles Murray’s “Things Never Said,” which tells the story of aspiring poetess Kalinda Stepney (Shanola Hampton) who is lost as an artist. She is haunted by dreams deferred and a dangerous marriage. This Los Angelean wants to perform on New York’s most acclaimed spoken word stage.
Spanning from the late 1980s through the early 2000s, “Diary of a Decade” delves deep into the fabric of soul music, its definitions, pioneers, offspring, movements and the challenges with the mainstream industry as well as the evolution of the FunkJazz Kafe Arts & Music Festival. The film includes special appearances by Jamie Foxx, Erykah Badu, Janelle Monae and Andre 3000.
“This festival shows the wide arrange of what filmmakers are doing and we want audiences to be inspired by the people making the films and those making the connections in the industry,” Hall said. “This is grassroots for us. Slowly we are bringing folks into the fold. We at the Kelly Strayhorn are glad that this is happening here.”
Attendees can purchase an all-access festival pass to experience all events for $15 or can see each film separately for $5 each. Those interested in participating in the the “Black Film Now” panel discussion must RSVP at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater.
(For more information on the Blackstar Film Festival-Pittsburgh Edition contact the Kelly Strayhorn Theater at kelly-strayhorn.org.)
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