Another year, another Blackstar Film Festival – the Philly-based institution that recently ended its 3rd annual installment – an event that celebrates cinema by and about people of African descent, globally.
Earlier this week, the Jury, Audience and other special awards of the festival were handed out during the Closing Awards Ceremony, which was hosted by filmmaker Rashid Zakat, and radio personality Laiya St. Clair, and featured performances by Ursula Rucker, Radha “RadhaMUSprime” Blank, and Zakee Kuduro, Wayna, at World Café Live in Philadelphia, PA.
The list of winners follows below:
The Best Documentary Short was presented by filmmaker Sosena Solomon to:
“This Building Will Sing for All of Us” / Germany (Director: Oliver Hardt) — For Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye, the establishment of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture is not only a milestone in the recognition of black culture in America, winning an international competition to design this iconic building is one of the defining projects in his young career and the realization of a dream.
The Best Narrative Short was presented by Aspire TV executive Tina Thompson to:
“Afronauts” / USA (Director: Frances Bodomo) — Inspired by true events, Afronauts tells an alternative history of the 1960s Space Race. It’s the night of July 16th 1969 and, as America prepares to send Apollo 11 to the moon, a group of exiles in the Zambian desert are rushing to launch their rocket first. They train by rolling their astronaut, 17-year-old Matha Mwamba, down hills in barrels to simulate weightlessness. As the clock counts down to blast off, as the Bantu-7 Rocket looks more and more lopsided, Matha must decide if she’s willing to die to keep her family’s myths alive. Afronauts follows the scientific zeitgeist from the perspective of those who do not have access to it.
The Best Experimental Short was presented by curator Shantrelle Lewis to:
“Yellow Fever” / Kenya & UK (Director: Ng’endo Mukii) — In this award-winning short documentary, Kenyan filmmaker Ng’endo Mukii, inspired by her interest in the concept of skin and race and what they imply; and in “the ideas and theories sown into our flesh that change with the arc of time”, explores African women’s self-image. Through the use of memories, interviews; and mixed media, she describes their “almost schizophrenic pursuit of globalized beauty”.
The Best Documentary Feature was presented by filmmaker Louis Massiah and scholar Yaba Blay to: “Dreams Are Colder Than Death” / Germany & USA (Director: Arthur Jafa) — Fifty years have passed since the fabled March on Washington where Dr. Martin Luther King presented his dream. Now, that utopian dream has faded, leaving behind the shadow of diminished expectations and the looming threat of ancient, undying terror. What does it mean to be Black in America today? Director and legendary cinematographer Arthur Jafa tears at the epistemological roots of this question with hypnotic imagery, lyrical grace and an epic narration by a host of artistic visionaries, thought leaders and uncommon folks, including Kara Walker, Hortense Spillers, Fred Moten, Kathleen Cleaver, Charles Burnett, Wangechi Mutu, Saidiya Hartman and Melvin Gibbs.
The Best Narrative Feature was presented by producer Dyana Williams to: “Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions” / USA (Director: Praheme) — Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions follows Tristan, a naïve adolescent boy, as he attempts to cope with life in the inner city. In an effort to keep him off the streets, his mother enrolls him in the Boy Scouts. But when he witnesses a homicide and the local thugs demand his silence, Tristan has to decide if he’ll follow the code of the streets or follow the code of the Scouts. With the help of his new Scout friends, he learns that doing the right thing isn’t always easy.
The Documentary Short Audience Award was presented by filmmaker Sosena Solomon to: “This Building Will Sing for All of Us” / Germany (Director: Oliver Hardt) — See above.
The Narrative Short Audience Award was presented by Aspire TV executive Tina Thompson to: “Perfect Day” / USA (Director: Derrick Sanders) — Desmond, an intellectual loner in a volatile high school, has devised a plan to reveal his affections to Aasha, the class beauty. He secretly writes her love sonnets, depositing them in her locker between classes. Then, in the midst of the day’s chaos, he discovers he has his own secret admirer. All other concerns fade as he makes his way from clue to clue, hoping to find who is leaving him these cryptic notes. As the last school bell rings, Desmond questions if he will ever find love, or, as the tension at school escalates, even a safe way home.
The Experimental Short Audience Award was presented by curator Shantrelle Lewis to: “Ududeagu” (“Spider”) / Nigeria (Director: Akwaeke Emezi) — Shot in Lagos, Nigeria, Ududeagu is an experimental short film about impermanence and a spider. Narrated in Igbo with English subtitles, it is a brief and haunting piece of visual mythology.
The Documentary Feature Audience Award was presented by filmmaker Louis Massiah and scholar Yaba Blay to: “Evolution of a Criminal” / USA (Director: Darius Clark Monroe) — After seeing his mother and stepfather struggle to make ends meet while living outside of Houston, Texas, 16-year-old Darius Clark Monroe decides to help them by robbing a bank. In this autobiographical film, Monroe interviews his family members, close friends and mentors who recount his transformation from a happy kid to the moment he changed his outlook on society and his life as a whole. Returning to his neighborhood several years after the crime, Monroe presents an affecting examination of class struggles, a touching portrait of reflection and forgiveness, and an intimate story of the impact and aftermath of his crucial decision.
The Narrative Feature Audience Award was presented by producer Dyana Williams to: “Troop 491: The Adventures of the Muddy Lions” / USA (Director: Praheme) — See above.
Special Recognition in Direction, Documentary was presented by filmmaker Byron Hurt to: “Evolution of a Criminal” / USA (Director: Darius Clark Monroe) — See above.
Special Recognition in Direction, Narrative was presented by filmmaker Byron Hurt to: “The Summer of Gods” / Brazil (Director: Eliciana Nascimento) — A troubled young girl named Lilly reunites with her Afro-Brazilian religious ancestry during her family’s summer visit to their ancestral village in rural Northeast Brazil. Soon after her arrival, she encounters Orishas, African gods, who join with her grandmother to help her find peace with a gift that has previously vexed her.
The Short Screenplay Prize was presented by filmmaker Terence Nance and entrepreneur Rakia Reynolds to: “Stranded” / USA (Writer: Asia Nichols) — Ragene’s hair is longer, straighter and shinier than the other girls at school. That’s because her Nana is a hair presser. She presses Ragene’s hair dutifully, claiming that Ragene’s natural forest-hair will cause trouble in the land. Nana also warns Ragene never to let anyone touch the hair. But she cannot control the girls at school. Afraid of Nana popping her for being hardheaded, Ragene starts a business, charging the girls to play in her hair for a fee–that way she can repay Nana for her services. When Nana finds out about Ragene’s doings from her clients–parents of Ragene’s schoolmates–she banishes Ragene to a big tower. There, Ragene must grow her hair longer than ever if she wants to get out. In the lonely tower, Ragene deals with feelings of depression and is about to attempt suicide when a great wind blows from the East, carrying Indian strands of hair. She uses the dead hair to weave into her own, attempting to fool Nana. Will her plan work? Stranded is a tale about hair, captivity, and breaking free. It’s a black spin on the classic story of Rapunzel..
The Richard Nichols Luminary Award, recognizing artistic excellence in independent film was presented by BlackStar’s artistic director Maori Karmael Holmes to: director, writer, composer, and producer RZA, founder of Wu-Tang Clan.
This year, the Blackstar Film Festival presented 41 films, representing 9 countries and 9 first-time filmmakers, selected from approximately 400 submissions.