In an age of indie film festivals, few celebrate diversity as much as this one. The BlackStar Film Festival, running Thursday, July 31 through Sunday, Aug. 3, presents over 40 selected short, documentary and feature-length films from independent black filmmakers; panels and discussions; book signings; and for the first time ever, an awards ceremony. All events will be held at various locations throughout University City.

Centered on the festival's theme "Music is the Weapon," some of its films and programming focus on music's influence in cinema.

Here's what you won't want to miss at the third annual BlackStar Film Festival.


The festival's first event is held at the Scribe Video Center and features a talk from filmmaker and cinematographer Arthur Jafa from noon until 1:30 p.m. on Thursday, July 31. Before the screening of his film Dreams Are Colder Than Death, hear him discuss the making of the movie and the aesthetic choices and methods he used: theories of optics, frame rates and motion capture.

Later in the day on Thursday, July 31, at 6:30 p.m., the film makes its Philadelphia debut at International House Philadelphia. The documentary examines what it means to be black in a world that exists half a century after Martin Luther King's march on Washington. Following the screening, Jafa will partake in an audience Q&A.

The film soiree has its opening reception at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, where attendees can view the gallery's latest exhibit, "Ruffneck Constructivists," in which 11 artists depict urban architecture and change. Mingle with festival-goers, enjoy light bites and cocktails, and take in the live entertainment from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Thursday, July 31.

On Friday, Aug. 1, get to know LA filmmaker and Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize winner Kahlil Joseph as three of his short works, heavily utilizing and inspired by music, are screened at International House Philadelphia at 5:30 p.m. Afterward, he and fellow artist Terence Nance will discuss their inspiration and modes of creativity until 8:30 p.m.

Continuing with the festival's musical premise, a documentary providing a retrospective on the 20-year history Souls of Mischief album, 93 Til Infinity will premiere on Friday, Aug. 1, at International House Philadelphia. The director of the film, Shomari Smith will be around after the screening, which starts at 8:30 p.m., for a Q&A session.

Young filmmakers get a chance to show their talents during a youth showcase at the University of Pennsylvania's Annenberg School for Communication on Saturday, Aug. 2 at 3 p.m. With works ranging from music videos to narratives, these directors (ages 14-22) hit on topics like LGBT challenges, dating and hip-hop. After the program, a few editors of the anthology Dismantle: An Anthology of Writing from the VONA/Voices Writing Workshop will sign copies of the book.

A series of short documentaries about social justice will premiere on Saturday, Aug. 2. With world premieres from Racing the Past, about the youth of an Apache Tribe in central Arizona, and Whites Only In Garden City, a tale of discriminatory struggle, these films will screen at 5:15 p.m. at the Annenberg School for Communication.

The Wire's Michael K. Williams will be in attendance of the screening of They Die By Dawn, a story of old-West African American cowboys, in which he stars alongside Giancarlo Esposito, Nate Parker, Jesse Williams, Rosario Dawson, Isaiah Washington, Erykah Badu, Bokeem Woodbine and Harry Lennix. The movie kicks off at 6:50 p.m. at International House Philadelphia on Saturday, Aug. 2.

Also at International House Philadelphia on Saturday, Aug. 2, a star-studded movie, following the lives of two sisters, played by Thandie Newton and Anika Noni Rose, premieres at 8:30 p.m. Half of a Yellow Sun also stars Chiwetel Ejiofor (12 Years a Slave) and John Boyega (Attack The Block) and takes place in 1960's Nigeria.

A South by Southwest premiered film from Darius Clark Monroe hits the screen at 12:45 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3 at International House and Monroe is excited to share his personal story.

The final day of the festival sees a panel discussing the importance of a film's soundtrack at 3 p.m. Producers, musicians and artists lead the panel on Sunday, Aug. 3, at International House Philadelphia.

For the first time in the event's history, an awards presentation will round out the BlackStar Film Festival. Held at World Café Live, the ceremony features guests who will present awards to the best work of the festival, starting at 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 3.

For more information on all screenings and events, check out the full schedule.