BlackStar Film Festival’s short films center love from fresh perspectives

Janyce Denise Glasper highlights her 5 favorite short narrative films from this year's BlackStar Film Festival (which was Oscar-qualifying for shorts this year)! Janyce says BlackStar curated an impressive selection of films by new talent (again); her favorites are sincere in their approach, and love is baked in to each of them. BlackStar Film Festival was held August 4-8, 2021, in Philadelphia and online.

Two young adults, a Black man and a Black woman, sitting back to back and drinking beer in front of an archway with a view of a landscape.
Still, “Negotiating Liberation” (2021), 7 mins. Dir. Amirah Tajdin (U.A.E). Courtesy BlackStar Film Festival.

This year’s BlackStar Film Festival shorts selection far exceeded expectations. Twelve amazing programs, Frontier, Symbiosis, Duology, Physiography, Denouements, Demiurgic, Phototropism, Antumbra, Emergent, Egress, Concomitance, and Phosphene offered inspiration, seduced, fascinated, shocked, or encouraged laughter. Here are five that personally stood out:

Jahmil Eady’s Heartland from Symbiosis struck the most relatable chord. In a futuristic world that subtly expresses the dangers of excessive documentary in our own current time, Jackie visits her grandfather in a nursing home facility. In their visits, however, she is obsessed with recording, even interrupting natural moments to ask her grandfather to repeat what was just said, sucking all the joy just to record a noteworthy anecdote. This behavior calls to mind how excessive photography and filming has become, a tool that almost devalues the human experience. We have become used to filming every last part of our lives, leaving no mystery, no remembering via writing and the precursor— oral tradition (which is mostly how her grandfather can recall such details from his past). While Jackie’s fears of losing her memory are reasonable, she must take the time to understand that the valuable time she has with her elder is the time spent being physically, emotionally and mentally present. Leave the recording at home and just be.

Amirah Mohamed Tajdin’s gorgeous cinematic achievement Negotiating Liberation from Duology is a seven minute heaven set in the United Arab Emirates. A woman has her hair artfully arranged in hundreds of cowrie shells, a simple braid entrails down her back in a mermaid fashion. She is dressed in purple. Her male lover has a mostly shaved head and a long braid that mirrors hers. They are a genuine anomaly backlashing against the historically ingrained context of Hollywood colorism, a freeing justified unit of two dark brown skinned, natural hair wearing lovers merrily dancing and smiling into one another’s eyes, sending each other love texts. The world is theirs— as gorgeous and unrestricted as the impressive building that they are secluded in.

Close-up of a young Black woman with thick braids wrapped silver wire, who is lit with red light near the top of her face and yellow-is green light on her chin and neck.
Still, “Rejoice Resist” (2020), 5 mins. Dir. Elisha Smith-Leverock (U.K). Courtesy BlackStar Film Festival.

Elisha Smith-Leverock’s thrilling Afrofuturistic Rejoice Resist from Emergent further celebrates coming into one’s own self with live action and a little joyous animated sequence. The women showcase beautifully arranged hairstyles— silver or gold strings in twists and box braids, big, flowing curls, and gold cropped hair and boisterous fashion changes as the narrative setting shifts from the desert to crystal water to a rooftop. Three women encourage a quiet girl not to listen to those who would dismiss/stereotype loud laughter, rhythmic singing and dancing, etc. In the end, she takes a hand and joins the fray, released from her inner inhibitions to take pride in herself and her cultural inheritance.

Angel Kristi Williams’s whimsical Friendzone LA and Amina Sutton and Maya Tanaka’s surreal Price of Cheap Rent from Phototropism are both compelling on different wavelengths. Friendzone LA is a refreshing, enchanting picture of friendship snapped poignantly in a single day, taking turns between warm color schemes and black and white. Its simplicity: two people grabbing donuts, walking around town, pretend fighting, chess playing, hair store shopping— drives home that companionship can be so relaxed, uncomplicated, inexpensive. Although it is three minutes long and has the soothing backtrack of Levek’s “Look on the Bright Side,” it feels like a genuine portrayal of bliss, not a full fledged music video. However, Price of Cheap Rent is a hilarious satire— a Blair Witch Project meets Casper vibe— about a talented, emerging New York based artist that finds a great rent rate, but must compromise with unexpected additions. It is bold, candid, unguarded as the artist talks to the camera on living in a “clown car of hell,” a haunted studio apartment. While modern creatives have spoken of horrendous roommate and sticky neighborhood situations, the ghosts take the cake here.

As the BlackStar Film Festival continues to showcase an incredible, thought-provoking range of phenomenal, fresh new talent, it is imperative to note that within these five highlighted short films, love is centered: love for family, love for a lover, love for identity/culture, love for a friend, even love for a space. By writing, directing, and producing noteworthy content that allows authenticity, inclusivity, endearment, and sincerity, creators have truly enhanced my ongoing appreciation for film/filmmaking.

BlackStar Film Festival was held August 4-8, 2021, in-person in Philadelphia, and online. You can browse the 2021 schedule on the BlackStar Film Festival website. You can support BlackStar Film Festival by purchasing merch from their store. Festival catalogues and copies of BlackStar Projects’s publication ‘Seen‘ can also be purchased on the site.

Two friends, a Black man and a Black woman, both wearing tank taps, lean against a concrete pole on a suburban street as they eat food together.
Still, “Friendzone LA” (2021), 3 mins. Dir. Angel Kristi Williams (U.S.). Courtesy BlackStar Film Festival.