The BlackStar Film Festival is back in Philadelphia this weekend for its seventh year. Started as a film club for friends by Maori Holmes, the festival has become one of the most significant showcases of indie films. Ebony magazine dubbed BlackStar "the Black Sundance" and this year's four-day celebration features 16 feature-length films and 62 short films, organized by theme and style.
"The reason why we started this festival was because these films weren't coming to Philly," Holmes said. "But we really try to have something for everyone. We want everyone to try to come to everything."
So far this year the festival has sold 4,500 tickets. Holmes said that they've also sold more four-day passes this year than before. The festival received about 300 submissions, making it the biggest yet.
"We approach the festival as organizers," Holmes said. "Film is a really powerful way to communicate and we really want to be invested in how communities of color are archived. We're creating an alternate collection of works."
But if you can't commit to the full festival, here's what you shouldn't miss. Panel discussions are free; tickets for movies are $12.
This film, about a black teenage Instagram celebrity exploring her sexuality during her mother's conversion to Islam, is Nijla Mu'min's debut feature. The Philadelphia premiere of the movie is preceded by a panel on the making of the film.
"There are so many people involved in the making of Jinn who are part of the BlackStar family, so we're super excited," Holmes said. "This is only the second time we've held a panel about the making of a film."
Panel on the making of "Jinn," 3 p.m. Friday, ICA, 118 S. 36th St. "Jinn," 8:30 p.m. Saturday, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St.
When journalist Assia Boundaoui began investigating rumors of surveillance in her Chicago neighborhood, she uncovered one of the largest FBI terrorism probes conducted before Sept. 11, 2001. This documentary explores the lasting effects of surveillance on this community and how deeply unsettling that can be. "Revert the Gaze: The Relationship Between Surveillance and Film in Communities of Color," a panel about the relationship between seeing and watching in documentary-making, is at 11:30 a.m. Saturday at the ICA, 118 S. 36th St.
"The Feeling of Being Watched," 5:25 p.m. Sunday, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St.
Leo, an aspiring drag superstar, is working at a cannery in Alaska. When a boxing coach spots his potential, he's forced to reckon with the real reason that he's stuck in Alaska. His worlds collide when he finds out that boxing qualifiers fall on the same day as an important drag audition.
Talented leading actor Martin L. Washington Jr. is from Philly and got the role because he convinced director Shaz Bennett that the role of Leo reflected his own life story.
"Alaska Is a Drag," 2:15 p.m. Saturday, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St.
Terence Nance became recognized for his experimental film, An Oversimplification of Her Beauty, in 2012. At BlackStar, he's premiering Random Acts of Flyness, a new late-night series for HBO. The six-episode series explores patriarchy, sensuality, and white supremacy using surrealistic elements, musical performances and animation.
"Random Acts of Flyness," 8 p.m. Friday, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St. Passholders only.
Catch the world premiere of this six-part, short-form, speculative fiction web series about how a group of civilians resist the state violence and surveillance systems put in place by a powerful corporate government in a near-future Philadelphia.
"Resistance: The Battle of Philadelphia," noon Friday, International House Philadelphia, 3701 Chestnut St.