Black Star Rocks The Festival Circuit with Great Films & Fellowship
by Clairesa Clay
Some people take a vacation to an island, beach, or some other type of resort, and me, I go to a film festival, in particular, this summer—Black Star Film Festival: By Indie Means Necessary. How do Black people make films? By any means— a head nod to the politics of Malcolm X and the Black Star Film Festival’s commitment to the Black community of filmmakers.
I have traveled to the 2016 Black Star Film Festival for nearly “6.0 years” A term coined by Eugene Haynes, the gracious host and film program manager, reminded the audience of the festival’s impact on Black filmmakers’ careers in a short span of time. It is a small pilgrimage to Philadelphia that many of us make each year to get a glimpse of the next rising filmmaker. It is affordable, and the word is out, get your all access pass quickly. They sold out this year early. Black Star Film Festival founders are the good guys who you want to see succeed, which is why I always attend.
In 2016, Julie Dash received the Richard Nichols Luminary award for her outstanding directorial contributions. You know a festival is doing something right when it consistently honors and exhibits the talented tenth L.A. Rebellion directors, which includes cultural icons Charles Burnett, Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, Billy Woodbury, Barbara McCullough, Zeinabu Irene Davis, Larry Clark, and Alile Sharon Larkin.
This year’s honoree Ava Duvernay, the four time Emmy winner for the documentary “13th,” graced the stage to talk about directing.
“I watched so many directors’ commentaries…I’m telling you it’s the cheapest film school you can do, ” she said.
The selection of films on activism, documentaries, narratives, shorts, and feature length films was just great stuff. This year included workshops, an art video installation of several noted artists, an extended youth program—which meant you weren’t over 40 years old to get into that section (No diss. Just respect to the extraordinary talent pool emerging to give a sense of hope for a cinematic future).
Black Star Film Festival Highlights
Tell Them We are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities
Directed by Stanley Nelson 83 minutes
Tell Them We Are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities is so much richer than what I had in mind when I first heard about the documentary. The idea that Black colleges are places where Black people can be affirmed is the reverting mantra that sets the stage for the film that traces 150 years of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU).
Stanley Nelson, an award-winning director, elevates the topic by showing historical facts missing from U.S. history books about Black people’s struggles in this country.
Forced upon laws, which forbid slaves from reading and writing. We found a way. Living through the inequities of separate and unequal, Brown vs. Board of Education Topeka, Kansas 1954 decision. We still found a way. The decision should have erased separation and inequalities in the U.S.
“Savage Inequalities: Children In America’s Schools” —a book by Jonathan Kozol about the continued unequal education system in America—documents nearly 60 years of systematic educational problems including the current Alt-right undemocratic system. Our HCBUs are our beacons.
From Stanley Nelson’s director’s statement, “For generations, there was no other places our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents could go to school. Yet, higher education has been a prerequisite for entering and competing in mainstream American society.”
Nelson takes us through a journey of cultural pride with each step of resistance in Black education highlighting the sheroes and heroes that stood up against racism with intellect, artistry, and activism. The film uses poignant archival video footage, photos, first-hand accounts by former HBCUs’ graduates and historians.
As American civil rights advocate and scholar Kimberle Williams Crenshaws ponders, “What is education’s purpose? Who controls it? And what is the relationship of education to the broader aspirations of our people?”
What are the answers to these questions?
We have countrywide miseducation of the Negro and the miseducation of the Lauryn Hills’ of the world.
J Cole’s refrain, “All we wanna do is take the chains off” rings of 1619 intertwine with present day school-to prison pipeline maltreatment of Black people’s body and intelligence.
Towards the end the film, the question that needs revisiting by the Black community: What is happening to our HBCUs?
Some are thriving and some are dying.
Nelson includes the uncertainty of HBCUs future. Currently, with depilated buildings of closed, financial bankrupt HBCUs’ crumbling juxtapose with thriving HBCUs like Howard University, Spellman College, Hampton University, Morehouse College.
Further, Nelson dives into the revealing connections of white money and Black education as it centers on Booker T. Washington decision to have a curriculum of servitude at Tuskegee Institute in the 1880’s.
Tell Them We Are Rising is a film worth watching over and over again for the many lessons to learn from the past that shapes our educational future.
Horace Tapscott, Musical Griot
Directed by Barbara McCullough
Director Barbara McCullough, a L.A. Rebellion renowned filmmaker, released her newest documentary of the late musical genius and activist Horace Tapscott. In a soft imbued voice, Horace Tapscott opens the film talking to a sitting audience in a crisp white suit. The point of view of Tapscott invites film watchers to take a journey as he retells of his adult memories enraptured in music, racism, and philosophies.
Tapscott speaks about the 16th street Baptist Church bombing of the four little girls as a point of contention in the Black community, writing to respond to the tragedy. Additionally, his musical activism frightened authorities to the point he was blacklisted in the 60’s and 70’s. During the Watts Rebellion of 1965, the LAPD shut down Tapscott’s performances, claiming his music incited people to riot.
McCullough’s directorial lessons in the multipurpose usage of archival film weaves with interviews of Tapscott in his natural setting at the piano. With a haunting music cacophony underscoring the film, it reminds the audience of Tapscott musical genius. Musical Griot covers Horace Tapscott’s joys and pains throughout his life. It retells stories of his childhood and even the maternal line of music gifts, a homage to his mother.
As the credits roll, McCullough has graced this film with cultural media-making warriors such as Al Santana, JT Takagi, Ronald Gray, Charles Barnett, Julie Dash, Charles Barnett, and others notable talents.
McCullough’s documentary visually paints Tapscott as an even man: humble, gifted, talented, activist and a musical genius. Scenes of Tapscott playing jazz with his Arkestra band performing at political rallies punctuates the film highlights the griot guiding the oral and musical tradition of transmitting knowledge to uninitiated.
Directed by Chanelle Aponte Pearson 47 minutes
The framing of the beauty shines through showing the directorial ability of Pearson, a Bronx-bred, Brooklyn-based visual artist and filmmaker. “195 Lewis,” a dramedy series, is a humanistic approach to exploring the complexities of a group of Black queer women’s lives, love, and community in poly relationships in the heart of Bed Stuy, Brooklyn. The story unfolds like an explosive river filled with too much water spewing all over the land.
Did I get your attention on the “poly” part?
The film opens in the loving couple’s, Yuri and Chamille, apartment, who are giving a pay to enter party—a throwback to the days of rent parties. Yuri is the gathering spirit; she takes care of the needy by offering a safe space to work through one’s problems. Her personality trait of caretaking draws the viewer in.
Her friend from college, Kris just decides she will crash Yuri’s apartment. Yuri talks to her girlfriend, Chamille, and all is good. Kris can stay; their friend Anne, a quirky little sister personality, is staying in the apartment, too. The problem: Yuri and Chamille love each other, but the couple has decided to see other people, too.
“This wasn’t my idea. Chamille wanted to see other people,” Yuri explains to Kris.
Problem. Problem. Or human? Can you fall deeply in love with more than one person? And, Yuri, has fallen in love with a Harlem, girl.
A roller coaster ride is about to unfold. Will Yuri leave Chamille? What is going to happen next? Only thing I can say is “Ah, I think I am hooked.”
Miasia: The Nature Of Experience
Directed by Yvonne Michelle Shirley 30 minutes
“I remember seeing Anglea Davis going to prison. She was standing up for
herself and what was right.” — Miasia Clark
In her daily life, Miasia Clark, a walking-talking-swinging-a-sledgehammer of knowledge with sprinkles of Black Girl Magic Brooklyn teenage activist, is standing up for her womanhood, community, and human rights take us through the first Black Girl Movement Conference held April 2016 in Harlem.
Handed the microphone during the Q & A portion at the Black Star Film Festival, Miasia professes how she found her voice at the Girls for Gender Equity (GCE).
“I was pushed out of school by the zero tolerance policy as well as harsh discipline. I had certain clothes I could and could not wear. I was supposed to speak a certain way. Act a certain way…I was suspended. Expelled from school. Told I couldn’t return to school…I am pushed out for being a black girl and being in my own skin.”
A term used to describe the United States educational policy of “zero tolerance”, which resulted in schools pushing out children of color into the judicial system for school-based incidents dramatically linking the school-to-prison pipeline and increased dropout rate.
What about Black Girls, in particular?
A study by Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, author of “Black Girls Matter: Pushed Out, Overpoliced and Underprotected,” brings awareness of the severe consequences of disciplinary and push-out policies for Black Girls.
It was not just a film.
Black Star Film Festival fulfills its mission “…to expand the vision and understanding of the global Black experience and closely related communities of color.”
Another tender moment in the documentary happens in Miasia’s bedroom with her younger sister and brother sitting on her bed. It foretells Miasia will turn out to be the Angela Davis that she admires. Miasia gives her siblings a space to voice their feelings about her leaving for college. She tells them she loves them and they can visit her in college for about a day. The older sister is modeling community activism of inclusion of all voices as a practice her daily life. On wards and upwards.
Kojo: A Short Documentary
Directed by Michael Fequiere 14 minutes
Kojo Odu Roney speaks and shows his jazz genius of drumming at 12 years old.
He has been playing the drums for 11 years. His charismatic personality fits a young black male growing up in Harlem, just a little different from his peers. He loves to play Jazz. Not just play jazz. He studies it, practices it, and performs it. Also, he makes time to do some fun things like playing basketball in his neighborhood with friends. His sense of community oozes out as he walks around Harlem appreciating all people, sites, and sounds.
Kojo’s learns musical history and leadership from his father Antoine Roney, a jazz saxophonist, who is his mentor. Throughout the film, Kojo’s high energy and high standard for his jazz showmanship compete with his passionate work ethic. He analyzes jazz greats and continues to practices, living for the chance to perform jazz.
Add to it that, Kojo’s desire to change the world through music.
“People sitting on the street. Having no purpose to be there. I want to put some music in their mind and they have a purpose to live.”
Is he really only 12 years old?
The director, Michael Fequiere, captures a musical genius living for the love of jazz and his budding commitment to the black community.
As I said before, I will get my festival pass early in the year, so I can attend the Black Star Film Festival. I had a blast as a vacation. Films, popcorn, and a seat. A true delight.
- Whose Streets? Directed by Sabaah Folayan and Damon Davis
- Forged From the Love of Liberty Directed by Vashti Harrison
- Fresh Frozen Directed by Tony Nguyen
- Hot & Bothered Directed by Leah Byrd
- A Hotel Called Memory Directed by Akin Omotoso
- Resistance: The Battle of Philadelphia (prologue) Directed M. Asli Dukan
- Wilmington 10—USA 10,000 Directed by Haile Gerima
- Farewell Me Amour Directed by Ekwa Msangi
- Ori Inu: In Search of Self Directed by Chelsea Odufu
- Night Shift Directed by Marshall Tyler
Clairesa Clay is a lover of films and art. She hails from the planet Brooklyn and she is the founder of Blerd City Con, a conference dedicated to celebrating the nerdiness in the Black community.