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BlackStar Film Festival Creates Community For Black Storytellers

BlackStar Film Festival Creates Community For Black Storytellers

Words: Satya Nelms
Visuals: Gralin Hughes

A celebration of black voices and visual storytelling hosted its annual event in West Philly.


The BlackStar Film Festival, the brainchild of founder and artistic director Maori Karmael Holmes, is only in its fourth year, but the atmosphere at the event is one of a long-standing tradition. There are people milling about who have attended the festival every year since the first one and wear that fact like a badge of honor. No matter how many festivals they’ve attended however, they all share the same sentiment: That BlackStar is dope, revolutionary, and necessary.

BlackStar Film Festival provides a space where black filmmakers, activists, and visionaries get to tell their own stories and share those stories in a community that cherishes and supports them. The filmmakers and audience members represent the full spectrum of the African diasporic experience, and the films show just as much range. There are shorts and features, documentaries and narratives, experimental works and traditional ones.

Some of the creators of these films have long-standing careers, like filmmaking collective TNEG’s Arthur Jafa, who produced Daughters of the Dust and worked with Spike Lee on such films as Malcolm X and Crooklyn as a cinematographer. After the screening of TNEG’s series of shorts that literally spanned decades of work, Jafa spoke alongside TNEG co-creator Elissa Blount-Moorhead about his love for black cinema, and the desire to do in film what black people had done in music: “Creating cinema in our own image.”

On the other end of the spectrum were relative newcomers to the film industry. BlackStar dedicates a portion of their festival every year to youth (ages 22 and under) submissions, deepening their commitment to providing a variety of voices and viewpoints. It’s inspiring to see the interaction between these artists: sharing in ideas, secure in the knowledge that they will be understood or, if not understood, completely respected for the craft they have taken up and the stories they are trying to tell.

BlackStar Film Festival takes place every year in the first week of August, a nod to several African countries that celebrate their independence in that month. While this year’s festival has now come and gone, this is definitely an event you should mark your calendar for in the upcoming year.


Satya Nelms is a writer, author, and mother of three living with her family outside of Philadelphia. Follow her on Twitter.


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