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Inaugural Black International Film Festival Opens This Weekend

Hope Madden Hope Madden Inaugural Black International Film Festival Opens This WeekendFilmmaker Celia C. Peters.
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This weekend marks the opening of the first – and hopefully annual – Columbus Black International Film Festival, a program designed to address the “lack of representation of black independent film in the current Columbus film festivals and the need for inclusiveness in the film scene,” says festival director, founder and CEO Cristyn Steward.

A filmmaker herself, Steward was inspired to launch the festival because of her own experience in the art.

“I’ve only been making films for six or seven years, but as a filmmaker, I’m also a part of the community of film,” she says. One thing she noticed as she looked into festivals: “I’m not really seeing any black filmmakers being represented either on panel discussions or screenings.”

To correct that issue, Steward created the Columbus International Black Film Festival. Establishing a festival from the ground up took an enormous amount of research as well as business and artistic savvy.

“At the beginning, it was just me pounding the pavement, speaking to community leaders, organization leaders, and telling them my idea,” she says.

According to Steward, local interest in the festival was high. She met with Jeremy Henthorn, programmer for the Columbus International Film & Video festival, introducing a slate of films for that festival. She made connections with folks from Columbus College of Art and Design, the Wexner Center for the Arts and Drexel Theatre.

“Crystyn Steward approached us in the very early stages of her planning for the fest to ask if we would be interested in being one of the venues,” says Dave Filipi, Director of the Wex’s Film/Video program. “It sounded like a great addition to the film landscape in Columbus and we happily agreed to participate and to do our part in making the first fest a success.”

Wex director of marketing and communications Densil Porteous agrees.

“We are honored to have even a small part in this new initiative in Columbus,” says Porteous. “The diversity of our film community is vast and the Columbus Black International Film Festival highlights not only the expanding film landscape in Columbus; it also highlights the breadth and depth of film.”

“All these guys were really excited about what this festival could bring to Columbus,” Steward says. “They essentially just wanted to be a part of it.”

Steward has been surprised by the number and quality of film submissions, but enjoyed the challenge of handling every aspect of festival programming.

“I actually watched and read every single submission,” she says. “I dedicated my life and time to being truly embedded in that.”

“Festival programmers participate in every facet of the film festival, from planning to marketing to submissions to having relationships with jury members to having legitimate conversations about the films,” she says.

If there’s a particular aspect of programming the festival that Steward especially treasures, it’s bringing the under-seen material to Columbus.

“There are so many filmmakers and directors that I look up to,” she says. “This is more or less giving that showcase platform to independent filmmakers who might not get the support they would get because of the business of film festivals.”

She sees this as equally important to Columbus as it is to the filmmakers.

“You get to interact with these artists,” she says. “We’re forging the community. That’s the opportunity that film festivals give the community, not just the filmmakers. You can participate in the discussion, participate in the art of independent filmmaking.”

To help foster that community, CBIFF will also offer the workshop By Any Means Necessary: Make Your Film!, facilitated by filmmaker Celia C. Peters

“It’s for anyone who’s interested in learning the craft of making a film,” Steward says. “The preproduction side, production side, resources and access. No experience necessary. It’s really guerilla filmmaking at its finest, teaching that you really don’t need a huge budget to make a film, you just need a good plan from start to finish.”

Steward hopes one outcome of the festival will be an awareness of the large number of black filmmakers working in independent film – a community she’d like to see grow. She thinks programs and workshops like Peters’s will help aspiring filmmakers understand that they can follow their dreams.

“Film is not just for rich people and it’s not just for Hollywood,” Steward says. “Anyone can make a film with a great team and a great plan.”

Tickets for the first annual Columbus Black International Film Festival are available at columbusbiff.com.

Full festival lineup:

Friday, August 4
Wexner Center for the Arts

7 p.m.
Keynote Speaker Mark Cummings Sr.

7:30 p.m.

  • Heroes of Color: Harlem Hellfighters
  • Dr. Race: Practicing while Black

7:45 p.m.
Holy Hustle

Saturday, August 5
Columbus College of Art and Design

9 a.m.
Documentary Films

  • The 30th of May
  • Panomundo Part 1: The Evolution of the Steelpan
  • Gospel Man Radio
  • Blaxploitalian
  • Edge of Harmony
  • Kounterclockwise

12 p.m.
King no Crown

2 p.m.
By Any Means Necessary: Make Your Film!
Filmmaking Workshop by Celia C. Peters

2:30 p.m.
Drama Shorts

  • Silent Cries: The Prelude
  • Prisoner of the Mind
  • Blood Water and Blues (in 4 Chapters)
  • Rolling in the Deep
  • Aftermath

Drexel Theatre
3:00 p.m.
Music Films

  • Show off-C-10
  • Dance with Your Heart
  • Making Skybreak
  • Bottom

4 p.m.
parTy boi: Black Diamonds in Ice Castles

Panel Discussion: “Why Black Film Representation is the Fabric of America”

Debra Shade, Writer: Shade Media
Justen Turner, Director: Pseudo
Julian Turner, Director/Writer: Psuedo
Michael Rice, Director: parTy boi: Black Diamonds in Ice Castles
Keya Crenshaw, Writer: Black Chick Media
Whamae Boayue, Writer, Producer: Abolitionist

7:30 p.m.
Homegrown Shorts

  • Chain Heavy
  • Stolen Dreams
  • Psuedo
  • Mission
  • Abolitionist 6:31

Read more from Hope at MADDWOLF and listen to her podcasts THE SCREENING ROOM and FRIGHT CLUB.

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