When Maori Karmael Holmes started the BlackStar Film Festival in 2012, she wanted to create a platform to spotlight diverse, independent films by creators of color.
Now in its eighth year, the Philadelphia-based festival attracts some of the most prominent names in film, music and activism from around the globe.
BlackStar returns to West Philadelphia from August 1 to 4, featuring more than 100 films, special guests like Spike Lee and a film by Solange Knowles.
- BlackStar Film Festival returns for its eighth year from August 1 to 4.
- More than 100 screenings take place at venues around University City.
- Tickets run $6-$12 per film, and festival passes are $225.
- Events include an opening night party and star-studded industry panels with Spike Lee and Tarana Burke.
BlackStar has been called the “Black Sundance,” and for good reason: Past festivals have premiered series by major networks like HBO’s Random Acts of Flyness and featured talkbacks with Academy Award-winning director Ava DuVernay.
This year, the four-day festival boasts more big names, Philadelphia premieres and exciting new works from young filmmakers of color.
Film screenings, panel discussions and other festival events take place at several venues in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of University City: the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, the Annenberg School for Communication, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Lightbox Film Center, the Leonard Pearlstein Gallery and World Cafe Live.
More than 100 shorts and feature films are screened from morning to night on all four days.
Black&Sexy TV cofounder Numa Perrier introduces Philadelphia to her first feature film; Jezabel debuts Thursday, August 1 on BlackStar’s opening night at Lightbox Film Center. Based on a true story, the film chronicles a 19-year old after the death of her mother.
Fear No Gumbo airs the morning of Friday, August 2 at Lightbox. It’s the Philadelphia premiere of a documentary feature from director Kimberly Rivers Roberts that revisits New Orleans’ Ninth Ward 13 years after Hurricane Katrina devastated the area.
Also on Friday, festival-goers can catch a sneak peek of a new project from Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter, Shawn Gee and Alex Gibney called Hip-Hop: The Songs That Shook America. The docuseries spotlights a culture-shifting hip-hop song and its impact.
On Saturday, August 3, Titixe explores rural Mexican culture, one of the 20 countries represented at BlackStar. Director Tania Hernández Velasco uses her own family as the subjects for this documentary feature. Saturday also brings The Apollo, a documentary detailing the venue’s 85-year history and its influence on music and race.
One of the most anticipated films of this year’s BlackStar event is When I Get Home, directed and edited by Solange Knowles. The film is a sort of visual album that explores origins and spiritual evolutions.
When I Get Home airs Sunday, August 4 as part of the Closing Night Film Presentation, alongside As Told To G/d Thyself and BLACK TO TECHNO.
As if the nonstop cinema wasn’t enough, BlackStar offers a series of events, parties and panels during its four-day run, giving attendees a chance to deepen conversations and have even more fun.
The Opening Night Party at World Cafe Live kicks things off on Thursday, August 1 with DJs Matthew Law, Tailwind Turner, Lil’ Dave and Aura, and host Ethel Gee. Admission is free with RSVP and registration closes July 31.
Each day of the festival begins with a free 9 a.m. yoga session at the Institute of Contemporary Art, and free daily panels and roundtable discussions that tackle topics like being a film critic of color (Thursday, August 1), monetizing immersive storytelling (Friday, August 2) and Afro-Latinx representation (Friday, August 2).
Director Spike Lee and #MeToo founder and creator Tarana Burke host a special conversation on Saturday, August 3 about social justice and radical storytelling, as this year marks the 30th anniversary of Lee’s pivotal film Do The Right Thing.
BlackStar closes on Sunday, August 4 with a special awards ceremony part of the Closing Night Film Presentation. This year, the festival honors Marcia Smith of Firelight Media with the Luminary Award for her work with her nonprofit production company dedicated to mentorship, social justice causes and illuminating young filmmakers of color telling underrepresented stories. Smith is also one of the featured panelists this year.
Tickets for individual screenings are on sale now: They are $12 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors with ID, and $6 for BlackStar members.
The $225 festival pass, on sale through July 31, comes with priority seating, admission to closing night festivities and other perks.
Panels and talks are free, but online registration is required.
Visit the BlackStar Film Festival website for more information and ticket sales.
Getting There And Staying Over
University City is easily accessible and the festival venues are in close proximity to one another. The SEPTA Market-Frankford Line is one of the easiest ways to get around; its 34th Street Station is located near all the venues.
With four days of happenings, BlackStar Film Festival offers a great chance to stay over. Book the Visit Philly Overnight Hotel Package to extend the celebrations and unlock up to $286 in free perks, including a $25 Garces gift card redeemable at select restaurants near the festival.
Don’t miss one of the most prominent film festivals for independent filmmakers of color in the nation!
Where:Various locations including the Institute of Contemporary Art, 118 S. 36th Street
Cost:$6-$12, individual tickets; $225, festival pass