Artists Are My Muse – #BlackStarFest14


by Joy Simone–

The BlackStar Film Festival was an awesome experience. First of all, it’s grown tremendously in three years. The level of attendees and the turnout was impressive. Most of all, however, it was such a nurturing environment for artists (filmmakers, writers, singers, etal.). I am reminded that these events, in their best moments, are a wonderful way to network and find inspiration, delve deeper and remember why you wanted to express yourself… and most importantly what you wanted to say.

Abstract analysis aside, I saw two films, Little White Lie and Stay Cold, Stay Hungry. White lie is a documentary about a woman who grew up believing she was Jewish, and was not made aware of her African American ancestry until she was a college student. It was gritty and raw, healing, and it approached the topic of race in a unique way, one that illuminated all sides of the issue, including an intense realness from the subject’s mother — through the course of the film, she admits to an affair and the reasons for her betrayal. Lacey Schwartz, the film’s writer, director, and main character, provides fodder for a wealth of race related discussions.

Lacey Schwartz
Lacey Schwartz and panel discuss “Little White Lie”

There was a packed house for this film, which debuted in San Francisco’s Jewish Film Festival two days later. There’s more in this New York Times review . I see in this film an opportunity to discuss skin color and “black hair issues”, class issues, race and ethnicity vs. skin color, parenting issues, and family secrets. Family secrets is a universal issue that obviously affects all cultures and races. In the African American community, secrets about heritage and upbringing are often harmful because they prevent children from learning their history as well as breaking harmful traditions that no longer serve us.

Festival Highlights

Some of my favorite moments were getting to know Marla Harris (BlackStar Film Festival Operations Manager and Volunteer Coordinator) – But I don’t have any pics with her 😦 – and meeting and discussing Black film with CEO Michael Dennis (Mike D.). Dennis also heads ReelblackTV. (Reelblack TV is currently in its fifth season on PhillyCAM and  It features interviews with up-and-coming filmmakers, musicians and living legends. Our goal is to capture and document the New Black Film Revolution.) founder Mike Dennis
Selfie with Mike. D of

I also met Tanya Wright of Orange is the New Black and True Blood fame. She was there to promote her new book, I Found God in My Hair – 98 spiritual principles I learned from…my hair! I couldn’t resist purchasing. The hair journey is such a profound one for many black women.

Author Tanya Wright
Selfie with actress Tanya Wright #OISNB #Trueblood


Volunteer selfie

The Black Star Film Festival 2014 announced its winners Sunday night at a closing ceremony at the World Cafe Live. A complete list of winners is here.

Definitely looking forward to being involved next year. Who knows, I might enter the competition myself.




BlackStar Film Festival 2014 – Philly’s Finest Deliver “Music is the Weapon”

BSFF Citypaper credit Mark Stehle

by Joy Simone

For the third year, the annual BlackStar Film Festival has emerged on the campus of Univ. of Penn and the surrounding Philadelphia area. I had the pleasure of participating last year, and I’m excited to be involved again. This year’s theme, “Music is the Weapon,” brings together filmmakers and musicians to highlight the ways these mediums converge to create and powerfully impact lives. Two industry panels will take place, “The Crossover: Film and Music Industries” and “Composing for Film.” They will both explore the “intersections of the two creative industries with participation from composers, producers, directors, and executives.

Two film shorts, Til Infinity: Souls of Mischief and Time is Illmatic will premiere during at the festival. 

Time Is Illmatic is a feature-length documentary that delves deep into the making of Nas’ 1994 debut album, Illmatic, and the social conditions that influenced its creation. Twenty years after its release,Illmatic has become a hip-hop benchmark that encapsulates the socio-political outlook, enduring spirit, and collective angst of a generation of young black men searching for their voice in America.

The BlackStar Film Festival was created to provide a platform for independent black filmmakers. Founder and Producing Artistic Director Maori Karmael Holmes says, “We are super excited about the third installment of the festival. We now know that the festival is an intimate
space where filmmakers get to interact with one another, dream, connect, and foster
new ideas and new projects, and we expect that family reunion vibe again this year.”

I will have more on the festival and topics covered tomorrow. In the meantime, you can check the schedule and get more info here:

BlackStar opens Thursday, July 31 and runs through Sunday, August 3. The festival will primarily take place at International House (3701 Chestnut Street). Other venues include: Scribe Video Center (4212 Chestnut Street), Institute of Contemporary Art Philadelphia (118 South 26th Street), the Annenberg School for Communication (3620 Walnut Street), and World Café
Live (3025 Walnut Street).