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Columbus Black International Film Festival Transcendent in 5th Year

Hope Madden Hope Madden Columbus Black International Film Festival Transcendent in 5th YearA still from The Weekend, screening on August 27 during CBIFF
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Transcend is the theme for the fifth Columbus Black International Film Festival. Festival programmer Cristyn Allen-Steward sees that theme playing out in a number of ways.

Structurally, it applies to the way she is approaching the medium of film in terms of her programming.

“This year I focused a lot on trying to expand how we see other mediums of art and film and how they can align,” she says.

The fest will do this with a hybrid program — different pieces available for in-person screenings and other programs available to stream on CBIFF’s custom platform. Allen-Steward’s also developed opportunities to bring various forms of artistic expression —dance, music, even stand-up comedy — into the live events.

“Now that we’re at a kind of standstill at the studio level, how is that going to change how we exhibit movies?” she asks. “That changes film festivals.

“People are transitioning everything to smaller screens. How do we transform film to make it powerful for everyone? How do we make it interesting for everyone? And I was rethinking the festival model, also. What is useful? What do filmmakers want? What do people need? And how can we make that fun? Let’s mix up different mediums, because people like comedy, people like dance, people like different types of art. What is going to make exhibition exciting again?”

She sees this as a cinematic paradigm shift on the level of talkies, color film and 3D.

“Festivals have a lot of opportunity. There are so many opportunities in the way that we can make people excited about how we collaborate with other types of artforms and film,” Allen-Steward says. “You don’t need 100 people in the theater to enjoy it. To bring people out of their houses, we have to do something fun. I think we need to evolve with that and that is part of transcend.”

The theme has a second meaning for Allen-Steward, too.

“Transcend is also a part of realizing that Black filmmakers tell stories differently behind the lens,” she says.

She’s eager for Columbus and the world to see how this year’s program illustrates that point.

One of the exceptional films Steward looks forward to shining a light on is co-writer/star Roderick Lawrence’s social commentary, Silent Partner. The short film follows a young Black lawyer (Lawrence) coaxing his pregnant and not at all eager wife (an exceptional Kara Young) to the dinner where he will be made a partner in his law firm.

“The whole thing is about the audacity of whiteness,” the Cleveland-born filmmaker says.

“This is the first film I’ve co-written and the first I’ve co-produced,” says Lawrence, who, finding his booming theatrical career on hold during the pandemic, turned his attention to a medium that would allow him to continue to create.

“I was doing a show, the pandemic hit, that obviously was cancelled,” he says. “This story came out of my own personal discovery of my mental health and the lack of discussion around Black male mental health. Our community really shies away from — and perpetuates terrible stereotypes and negative connotations to — therapy. We’re made to believe that we’ve got to be tough. That’s kind of how I came on microaggressions that were affecting my life in ways that I was not seeing.”

“Every year the quality just gets better,” Allen-Steward says of the festival’s submissions. “People are becoming more creative about the types of stories we can tell. That is what will essentially save cinema exhibition.”

Festival Lineup

Friday, August 27

All events at the Wexner Center for the Arts, 1871 N. High St.

  • 4:30 p.m. – The Weekend
  • 5:45 p.m. – CBIFF Opening Night reception with cash bar
  • 7:00 p.m. – Zola ($9 general admission, $7 Wex members, $5 students)

Saturday, August 28

12 p.m. – Transcend: Mixtape Vol.1 – An eclectic mix of films, painting motifs of authentic Black life. 
– Art of Republic, 34 W. Fifth Ave.
– $10

5 p.m. – Filmmaker Connect – Columbus Black International Film Festival is partnering with Black Ohio Film Group to invite filmmakers all over Ohio to connect and build a lucrative film industry in the state
– BurgerIM, 121 S. High St.
– Free

8 p.m. – Blackness Under the Stars – CBIFF’s annual outdoor movie event, celebrating independent Black film
– Chocolate Fields, 1086 Hart Rd.
– Food trucks on site. Alcohol allowed. No glass.
– $20 general admission/$40 VIP

For more information, visit columbusbiff.com.

Follow Hope on Twitter @maddwolf and listen to her weekly movie review podcast, THE SCREENING ROOM.

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