Two summers ago, Tayler Montague packed a bag and hopped on a Megabus from New York to Philadelphia to attend her first BlackStar Film Festival. This year, Montague is returning to BlackStar with the world premiere of her debut film, In Sudden Darkness.
But like BlackStar participants and viewers everywhere, she’ll be attending from home. The ninth annual edition of the Philly-based festival, what Ebony has called the “Black Sundance,” will be completely online in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Since its inception in 2012, “the magic of the festival has largely been about the connections that people make in person,” says Maori Holmes, BlackStar’s CEO and artistic director — and newly named curator-at-large for film at the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
“But we’re doing our best to adapt, as everybody is around the world,” Holmes says, “and leaning into the benefits of what an online festival means: People will be able to see it, everywhere.”
This year’s BlackStar festival runs a full week, from Aug. 20 to 26, and features more than 80 films, from major releases like Channing Godfrey Peoples’ Miss Juneteenth, about a beauty pageant, to Black Boy Joy, a short film about a Black family raising a young son with autism, to The Inquirer’s Legendary: 30 Years of Philly Ballroom, a documentary about Philadelphia’s LGBTQ+ ballroom culture.
The festival will begin every day with a morning show, BlackStar Live!, with hosts including Holmes, the actor and DJ Rich Medina, and the Roots’ Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter. On opening night, DJ Jazzy Jeff will host a live show, which will stream on BlackStar’s website and Twitch channel.
Single-day passes to the scheduled screenings are $5. Full-access passes are $100 and include a donation to BlackStar. Tickets are available on the BlackStar’s website. Instead of allowing on-demand access, each screening has its own specified time slot. “We’re really doing that for the filmmakers so that they can create events around their screening,” Holmes said.
These are four of the festival’s most-anticipated world premieres. The full schedule and other details can be found on the BlackStar website.
This film examines the importance of self-care and healing for Black women. Philly-based author and filmmaker Shantrelle P. Lewis, who directed and produced it in collaboration with the public health nonprofit organization GirlTrek, drew inspiration from a 2017 TedTalk by T. Morgan Dixon and Vanessa Garrison.
Part of the film’s mission, Lewis says, is to “help drive Black women towards not only reclaiming the stories of our mothers and their mothers but their self-care strategies and their healing techniques that have been passed on through the generations.” Daughters Of is Lewis’ directing debut.
Premieres Aug. 23 at 11:30 a.m.
This world premiere dives deep into the Movement for Black Lives in Chicago, chronicling personal and political battles and pivotal moments of activism, including the 2015 protest following the police murder of Laquan McDonald, the 2012 police murder of Rekia Boyd, and the election of Mayor Lori Lightfoot.
Director Ashley O’Shay says the film is “much bigger than one moment,” showing the organizing work that’s been happening in Chicago since 2015. It now premieres “at a time when another uprising is happening throughout the country,” O’Shay says. “A lot of the same conversations are resurfacing.”
The film’s organizers will be hosting a Twitter chat 30 minutes before the premiere, moderated by Philadelphia activist and writer Feminista Jones.
Premieres Aug. 20 at 7:30 p.m.
‘In Sudden Darkness’
Montague’s film follows a young Bronx girl and her working-class family as they navigate the Northeast blackout of 2003, trying to stay safe and maintain the values of their family. She developed the idea amid an existential crisis after graduating in 2019 from SUNY Purchase with a bachelor’s degree in communications.
“I was really reflecting on my childhood,” she says, which served as her inspiration. “What if there was a movie about the blackout, and what if it was told through the eyes of a young girl?” Montague thought to herself. One year later, In Sudden Darkness was complete.
Montague will host an Instagram live chat with Be Reel Black Cinema Club at 8 p.m. Aug. 19. Visit Be Reel Black Cinema (@bereelblackcinemaclub) on Instagram for more information.
Premieres Aug. 20 at 5:30 p.m.
‘You Hide Me’
In this short documentary from 1970, Ghanaian filmmaker Nii Kwate Owoo examines the colonization of African art in London’s British Museum, having gained unprecedented access to the museum’s secret underground vaults.
Owoo’s film provides historical analysis and context to the argument of why the African artworks should be returned to their place of origin. Because of its perceived controversy, the film was banned in many areas of the world, and BlackStar is presenting it as a world premiere.
Premieres Aug. 24 at 7:30 p.m.