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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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CineHawk Review: BlackStar Film Festival

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GRAPHIC: GABRIELLA GUZZARDO ‘23/THE HAWK

Founded in 2012 and named for the shipping line of the pan-Africanist activist Marcus Garvey, the BlackStar Film Festival is an annual global celebration of the cinematic endeavors of Black, brown and indigenous filmmakers. 2021 marked the 10th annual year of the festival, which ran from Aug. 4 to Aug. 8. While the festival is traditionally hosted in Philadelphia, the unfortunate restrictions of the pandemic have caused the festival to host virtual attendees in addition to in-person events this year. Being an African American writer myself with aspirations of entering the film industry, I was eager to use my platform to highlight the works of my community. So, upon obtaining a media pass, I attended BlackStar from Aug. 6 to Aug. 8.

The Daily Jawn

Each day begins with “The Daily Jawn,” advertised as “a morning talk show unlike any other.” The podcast is co-hosted by BlackStar’s founder Maori Karmael Holmes and filmmaker-artist Rashid Zakat. Completing this power trio is their resident DJ lil’dave, who opens every show with a smooth jam. The three are also joined by a rotating gallery of special guests, with their Aug. 6 show bringing on Philly rapper Ethel Cee as a special guest host. Their first guest that day was Naima Ramos-Chapman, a writer, director and actor who is regularly featured on “The Daily Jawn.” Ramos-Chapman and the hosts discussed the making of her latest short film “In Place of Monuments” as part of the festival. 

The next day, “The Daily Jawn” featured guest host Anne Ishii, an NYC-based writer and translator. They opened the show with a discussion about Ishii’s work with the Asian Art Collective and their viewing experiences with the Disney+ show “WandaVision.” Rintu Thomas and Sushmit Ghosh, the filmmaking duo behind the documentary “Writing with Fire,” (which went on to win the Best Documentary Award at the festival) served as the first guests of the day. Their other guest was Noel Tedla Mesfin, an agent who works in the literary and motion picture industry.

Mesfin, who was also a panelist on the hour-long “Agent’s and Manager’s Roundtable,” spoke about all the tricks and tips for aspiring writers and filmmakers to obtain proper representation with three others in his profession (Adesuwa McCalla, Talitha Watkins, and Rukayat Giwa). The other big panel of the day, “Caribbean Film and Relational Poetics,” featured panelists Wally Fall, Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, Shari Petti, and Nino Martinez Sosa. These Caribbean artists dove into how their works “embrace créolité and transcend colonially produced ‘nonhistory’ and isolation by creating the conditions for cultural memory, connection, and transformation.”

On the final day of BlackStar, I began my agenda with this year’s last episode of “The Daily Jawn.” The Ghanaian-American professor Yaba Blay, Ph.D. joined as the show’s daily guest host, and the episode featured the filmmaker behind “Madame Pipi,” Rachele Salnave, as the first interviewee. Salnave intended for her film to convey the lengths that Black mothers will go to provide for their families, with her short focusing on Haitian bathroom attendants working long hours in the Miami club scene. The final guests of the festival morning show were Eteng Ettah, the narrative director of the racial advocacy organization MediaJustice, and Jazmin Jones, a visual storyteller, and panelist on “Glitch and the Moving Image.” They appeared in a pre-recorded conversation discussing the current projects of MediaJustice and Jones’s experience as an online presence.

Following “The Daily Jawn” each day is a full schedule of film screenings and panel discussions. 

The Price of Cheap Rent

The first film I viewed was the mockumentary short, “The Price of Cheap Rent,” written by and starring Amina Sutton, who co-directs the film with Maya Tanaka. The short tells the story of an NYC resident whose search for affordable housing leads her to a haunted apartment. The film’s over-the-top premise is complimented by its naturalistic, believable presentation. Sutton’s performance is eminently relatable and comedic, a perfect fit for the short’s documentary-esque style. 

The Inheritance

“The Price of Cheap Rent” was followed by my first feature-length cinematic viewing, “The Inheritance.” This film is a hybrid of documentary and narrative, blending both approaches to tell the story of MOVE, a Philadelphia-based revolutionary and communal living organization founded by John Africa in 1972. According to MOVE’s website, the organization believes that “Life is the priority. Nothing is more important or as important as Life, the force that keeps us alive. All life comes from one source, from God, MOM NATURE, MOMA. Each individual life is dependent on every other life, and all life has a purpose.” Ephraim Asili wrote and directed “The Inheritance” and based the film’s narrative sections on his own time in MOVE during his youth. Interspersed with snippets of the protagonist’s journey through the formation of his collective, is not only real-life footage of interviews conducted with members of MOVE in the 1970s and 80s, but news reports of the tragic 1985 police bombing that claimed eleven lives. 

“The Inheritance” is quite an unorthodox film. Asili applies an auteur, yet minimalist, lense to his narrative, with the only set being the main character’s inherited apartment and choosing to shoot with a conservative amount of camera setups. Those looking for subtlety will find themselves in for a frustrating experience. When “The Inheritance” is not writing its messages on chalkboards, it cuts to long monologues delivered by the characters centered around Black liberation and anti-capitalism. At times, the film’s depiction of MOVE came across as some kind of cult, with its founder John Africa being compared to Jesus Christ by his followers. Whether or not this impression was intentional on Asili’s part, I cannot say for sure.

Homeroom

After “The Inheritance,” the next film on my agenda was the feature-length documentary “Homeroom,” directed and produced by Peter Nicks. The film follows the lives of the Oakland High School Class of 2020 as they not only pressure their school to abolish their police force but come to terms with the unprecedented impact of the pandemic. The concluding installment of Nicks’ Oakland Trilogy which includes his 2012 film “The Waiting Room” and his 2017 film “The Force,” “Homeroom” brings an intimate and heartbreaking perspective to the lives of these young activists. Nicks is adept at balancing the triumphant highs and soul-crushing lows of their journey. The student subjects face defeat after defeat in their activism, the broken systems they want to tear down feeling almost insurmountable. Though it deals with heavy political issues, the film never allows you to forget the humanity of the people affected by them.

Pink Carnations

The cinematic highlight of my second day at BlackStar was the experimental film “Pink Carnations,” directed by Nadia Hironaka and Matthew Suib. This ethereal short revolved around the history of the Japanese family during World War II. Narrated by a young child, the visuals primarily consist of spiraling, psychedelic film of garden vegetation. While certainly a more esoteric offering, the juxtaposition of the beautiful montage of nature with the tragic history of the narrator’s family is truly inspired and unforgettable.

Plowing the Stars

My last viewing for the festival was another experimental short, the 13 minutes long “Plowing the Stars,” directed by Wally Fall. A black and white reflection of the past, the story is told from the perspective of a woman walking to meet her father. Her gradual journey is blended with both narration and a montage of historical images, punctuating her ideas with real-world context. Fall asks his audience deep questions and makes them question their preconceptions for a rather compelling experience that will leave you in a different place than when you began. The performance of the narrator is the highlight of “Plowing the Stars,” infusing every word of her poetically enrapturing dialogue with power and purpose.

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