Music Feature

Blackstar Film Festival

by Tim Blackwell
Black independent filmmakers get their time to shine... by Zenique Gardner (photos by Tim Blackwell)
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If you are remotely connected to anything Philly, you have probably already witnessed the buzz about the Blackstar Film Festival.  You may even have a faded Sharpie-painted star peeking out of your t-shirt at this very moment.  At the very least, you have seen tweets, facebook posts, or updates about this year’s most unique film festival in the City of Brotherly Love.  Sure, you may have caught a couple brilliant features at PAFA or The National Constitution Center during last month’s Philadelphia Independent Film Festival, or perhaps you have already bookmarked and emailed your friends about what you plan to see in October when the Philadelphia Film Festival showcases films from Sundance, Cannes, and Berlin.  But even when backed by big names and budgets and potential Oscar-worthy performances, the films from the aforementioned festivals will likely give you more of the same movie drama, comedy, and suspense that you can catch on any small or big screen. 

Enter Blackstar Film Festival.

The brainchild of Kinowatt Films curator and Philly 360’s sole film creative ambassador and film insider, Maori Karmael Holmes, the Blackstar Film Festival will showcase forty films (including shorts and music videos) from four continents over the course of four days.  The festival aims to shine a light on some of the world’s most prolific works in film created by men and women from across the African Diaspora and provide a platform to independent cinematic works from varying levels of expertise in direction and production across all genres of filmmaking.  Initially only an event that would consist of four films from continental Africa, the festival has blossomed to include works from North America, South America, Europe, and Africa.  “I got the dates last year and I was thinking I would do an African festival, just continental African,” Holmes explains, “And then as I was researching films to screen, I just realized how much had not come to Philly-- films that I had heard about from people who lived in other cities.” Holmes and her team also emphasizes that while this festival is made up of films about black people, the festival welcomes all audiences to enjoy its offerings. 

The event-filled weekend is jam-packed with film screenings followed by Q&A’s with film directors, a panel discussion on the state of Black independent media, and a special conversation with Ava Duvernay whose film, Middle of Nowhere, won Best Director at the Sundance Film Festival, a first for a black woman.  And while The African American Museum and The International House will host most of the screenings over the four days, there will also be opportunities to mingle with members of the Blackstar production committee, the festival’s sponsors, guests and attendees at the Blackstar after-parties held around town at The Art Sanctuary, Fluid Nightclub, The Blockley and The Denim Factory. 

Last week, we joined Holmes and the motley crew of artists that make up the Blackstar production committee and inquired about which films piqued the most interest.  Here is a short list of descriptions of the group’s most anticipated films :

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Adopted ID:  Dir. Sonia Godding Togobo, UK/Canada/Haiti, 60 min 
Documentary  (recommended by Adrienne Kenton)


Adopted ID is a gripping, observational film that uncovers Judith’s extraordinary journey as she bravely returns to the impoverished nation of Haiti to find her birth parents. From the poverty-stricken families who’ve given up a child to the foreign families looking to adopt one, these disparate worlds collide amid her quest to solve the puzzle of her past. With the insights and sounds of pre-earthquake Haiti as a backdrop, these intersecting lives provide a rare and intimate insight into the conditions surrounding transracial adoption.  Followed by Q&A with Director, Sonia Godding Togobo. Showing Thursday at 4:15pm at The African-American Museum. $8/$5

Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years: Dir. Dagmar Schultz, Germany, 84 min 
Documentary  (recommended by Adrienne Kenton)

[This film] focuses on Audre Lorde’s relation to the German Black Diaspora, her literary as well as political influence, and is a unique visual document about the times the author spent in Germany. The film is also for coming generations a valuable historical document of German history, which tells about the development of an Afro-German movement and the origins of the anti-racist movement before and after the German reunification.  Showing Sunday at 3:50pm at The International House. $8/$5

FunkJazz Kafe:  Diary of a Decade: Dir. Jason Orr, USA, 134 minutes 
Documentary  (recommended by Phil Asbury)


Presented by Philly360°

This film is the story of a cultural legend as told by the innovators of an important, and in some cases overlooked, era in Black culture. Spanning the late 1980′s through to the early 2000′s, this story goes deep into the fabric of soul music, it’s definitions, it’s pioneers, it’s offspring, it’s movements, the challenges with the “mainstream” industry as well as the evolution of the FunkJazz Kafé Arts & Music Festival, a music and artistic renaissance movement born out of Atlanta’s diverse musical and cultural arts heritage. The film covers the decade when Atlanta’s underground music scene became established on the world stage and a new generation of soul singers and musicians emerged. FunkJazz Kafé:Diary Of A Decade (The Story Of A Movement) also explores the question of how we got to live soul bands being non-existing in the commercial music landscape of the 21st century when there once was a plethora of soul and R&B bands since the creation of recorded music.  Followed by Q&A with Jason Orr.  Showing Saturday at 8pm at The International House. $12/$10

Restless City: Andrew Dosonmu, USA, 80 min 
Narrative (Recommended by Jos Duncan)

Presented by AFFRM

The story of a young man surviving on the fringes of New York City where music is his passion, life is a hustle, and falling in love is his greatest risk. Djbirl survives on a series of odd jobs that skirt the edges of legality, including a gig for an African gangster whose underground empire hawks everything from bootleg CDs to prostitutes, one of whom, Trini (Sky Grey), Djbril falls in love with.  Showing Friday at 8pm at the International House. $8/$5

Soul Food Junkies:  Dir. Byron Hurt, USA, 54 minutes 
Documentary (Recommended by Chakka Reeves, Adrienne Kenton, & David McDowell)


Food traditions are hard to change, especially when they’re passed on from generation to generation. In this PBS documentary, award-winning filmmaker Byron Hurt shares his journey to learn more about the African American cuisine known as soul food. Through candid interviews with soul food cooks, historians, and scholars, as well as doctors, family members, and everyday people, Soul Food Junkies blends history, humor, and heartwarming stories to place this culinary tradition under the microscope.  Followed by Q&A with Director, Byron Hurt.  Showing Sunday at 7:30pm at The International House. $8/$5

United States of Hoodoo: Dir. Oliver Hardt, Germany, 100 min.

Documentary (Recommended by Jazmyn Burton & Philip Asbury)


A road trip to the spiritual sources of black American culture. The film’s main character is African-American writer Darius James who is known for his often bitingly satirical and self-ironic texts on music, film and literature. The film’s story begins when Darius´ world is turned inside out after his father´s death. Uprooted from his life in Berlin, he unwillingly returns to his childhood home. All that remains from his father is his mask collection and a cardboard box filled with ashes. His father had been a painter and sculptor, his work drawing deeply on manifestations of African-based spirituality. Yet while he lived he fiercely rejected any idea of being inspired by the old gods of Africa. Back in a house that is now his, but not quite, Darius finds himself confronted with many questions about his own life. In need of answers he sets off on a search, not for his roots but for traces of the spiritual energy that fueled and informed a whole culture. Darius´ journey begins in the urban intellectual milieu of New York City, then following the traces of popular Voodoo myths and legends to Mississippi and New Orleans. From there he moves on to Oakland, Seattle and Chicago. He immerses himself in the fabric of urban creativity where he encounters artists, musicians, writers, spiritual leaders and scholars. He finds out that the African gods have taken on new forms since their arrival on North America’s shores. Their spirit now manifests itself in turn-table wizardry, improvisational skills and mind-blowing collages, performances, and rituals. He also finds out that an age old figure from the voodoo pantheon, a divine trickster who comes with many names, plays a major role in all of this… Followed by Q&A with Director Oliver Hardt.  Showing Sunday at 4:10pm at The International House. $8/$5

For an extensive list of the Blackstar Film Festival’s offerings, please visit 

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