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A Black Film Festival Is Born In Philly; Founder Maori Karmael Holmes Talks To S&A About Year One

A Black Film Festival Is Born In Philly; Founder Maori Karmael Holmes Talks To S&A About Year One

A new black film festival has been born in Philly, for all our readers in that part of the USA (and I know there are many of you); and I must say that, despite this being its first year, looking over the list of films in its lineup, I’m impressed by the selection.

Several titles we’ve covered here on S&A (most I haven’t seen yet) like Soul Food JunkiesAudre Lorde – The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992United States of HoodooBrooklyn Boheme, a 20-minute preview of Middle Of Nowhere (ahead of its October opening), and more.

The 1st annual BlackStar Film Festival opened its doors for the very first time (and hopefully not the last) yesterday, August 2, and will run through Sunday, August 5, 2012, at the International House of Philadelphia in University City.

A weekend full of films, conversations, and more in The City of Brotherly Love. 

Feel free to check out the entire list of films HERE.

I had the opportunity to chat with the director of the festival, Maori Karmael Holmes; and below you’ll find a summary of that conversation:

Q: About this years line-up. Especially the feature length films; quite an impressive line up for a first year festival.

A: I’m definitely amazed and excited that we were able to get these films. I curated the festival myself.

Q: So essentially you went after the films you wanted; this wasn’t a “submit your film” kind of thing.

A: No I didn’t use submissions.  I will, moving forward; but this year started out as a curatorial endeavor and then it became a festival when I realized how much work was out there, that I knew hadn’t come to the city or been exposed widely.

Q: What can audiences expect from the films, and are there additional events like panels, etc.

A: A major highlight for us, when it come to the features, is Restless City; it came to Philly through AFFRM, but it wasn’t widely seen, so I don’t think a lot of people got to see it the way they would want to; so I feel like that’s a major highlight – to be able to screen that again, and for people to be able to see it. The United States of Hoodoo is going to be a US premiere, so that’s incredible exciting for us – to have that film and to have it premier at the festival. And the director will the be there. We are also doing this conversation with Ava DuVernay that I’m also really excited about, that its being underwritten by the Leeway Foundation where I work during the day, and that means we get to offer it for free; and Ava is going to be here, which will be exciting for folks. One of the things about that conversation is that she will share an exclusive preview of Middle of Nowhere – just 20 minutes, not the whole film. But it hasn’t been shown anywhere outside of its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, and Gala screening at the LA film festival. So we are really excited to be able to share 20 minutes of that. We will also be screening Soul Food Junkies, its Philadelphia premiere, and Byron Hurt will be there for that. That’s also very very exciting for us. And we will also show Audre Lorde – The Berlin Years. It’s not a Philadelphia premiere, but, for our audience, it will be the first time they see it, so I am really really excited to share that as well.

Q: Why the name Black Star?

A: I would think it’s obvious, but it may not be obvious to a lot of people, so I am glad you asked. For me, I was really thinking of this connection to black history in Philadelphia, and the legacy of the underground railroad movement, as well as the black historical events that happened here; and I thought about names, like the Black Star Line, and Marcus Garvey obviously; and what was also really beautiful is that August 6th is the 15th anniversary of Jamaica’s independence, and I think Trinidad and Tobago is also in august; so I was further thinking about Kwame Nkrumah with the black star in the middle of the Ghanaian flag. So you know, it just all gelled, everything started coming together, meshing and started making things more and more clearer and perfect.

Q: I was actually surprised that there wasn’t already a black film festival. Will you continue next year as a festival.

A: Absolutley it really is, and its exciting and overwhelming and all of that. But yeah we definitely plan to continue. Right now its like a 100% volunteer effort, and all of our graphic design has been in kind. I’ve been doing stuff and we are all just doing what we can. I know that’s not sustainable. My goal is to make sure every screening has a lot of people in attendance, so that I can take that to then help raise money for year two.  

Q: Do you get a sense that there is an excitement in the community for the festival, and are people aware of it?

A: Yeah I do. We’ve been getting a lot of traction on facebook and twitter just from the trailer alone. I think people are really excited, that it’s real. People have been signing up on our site and we’ve been getting some really impressive responses so far. I mean, something that’s happening in the city, and people didn’t know I was attached to it, and were just asking to be involved. It’s great. I think in doing the festival, I realized how much stuff hadn’t come here, and I thought, why not? I mean Philly is like 40% black; it should have a black film festival. Its like a super important place for black culture, and you know, it just started to feel like it belonged.

Q: This is an international or African Diaspora film festival, and not just African American cinema, correct?

A: Absolutely

Q: And finally, any closing words…?

A: One thing I want to say is that we are really focusing on black independent films. I would like, as much as possible, to keep that our focus. I think its really important to note that. Obviously we aren’t anti-Hollywood; we would love to have a major release film. I just want the focus on films that regular folks won’t get an opportunity to see, because they won’t be in the local multi-plex or even indie theatre, so that’s why they need to come see the films at this festival. That is what we are hoping to provide.

So ther you have it folks; if you’re in Philly and vicinity, you have 3 more days (today, Saturday and Sunday) to see some good films that you may not see anywhere else – at least, not any time soon – at your local AMC, or even on home video. So head over to the Black Star Film Festival website (HERE), check out its offerings and support the only event of its kind in Philadelphia – a celebration of cinema focused on work by and about people of African descent.

Here’s the festival’s trailer:

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