BlackStar Film Festival grows to 75 films exploring African diaspora

"Merkato" explores the daily lives of four merchants who sell their wares in an open-air market in Ethiopia.  Credit: BlackStar Film Festival
“Merkato” explores the daily lives of four merchants who sell their wares in an open-air market in Ethiopia.
Credit: BlackStar Film Festival

What’s the appeal of the BlackStar Film Festival?

It can provide an outlet for a young Philly filmmaker who saw the loss of a culture in Ethiopia and drew parallels. Sosena Solomon’s “Merkato” looks at the demise of a market in Ethiopia due to the construction of strip malls and parking lots, a situation not unlike the cultural erosion that happens here.

“I fell in love with this flea market and then I began to see the transition of the place, and things were happening rapidly,” Solomon says. “I began to see long, tall buildings that in my opinion didn’t really belong there. I really wanted to document this way of life before it actually deteriorated.”

“Merkato,” a 19-minute short, will have its Philadelphia premier Aug 2., along with the feature “Tey” at International House.

Solomon, 28, is a native of Kenya who now lives in Philly.

“In so many ways, it’s a universal story, and it’s important for us who have access to the stories to document the universal connections,” Solomon says. “These are challenges and problems that we’re all facing.”

The BlackStar Film Festival, now in its second year, seeks to draw out the global connections of the African diaspora. The fest, founded by Northern Liberties-based Maori Karmael Holmes, has doubled in size to about 75 films this year.

The home base is International House, but there are events in several other venues.

“Philadelphia is a great incubator for a festival like BlackStar,” says the festival’s Lauren Holland. “The city is so supportive of independent art.”

Film icon Spike Lee will be featured on the “By Any Means Necessary: Producing Independent Film” panel, moderated by Nzinga Kadalie Kemp, Friday morning at International House.

This year’s highlights also include the 1984 sci-fi cult hit “Brother From Another Planet” shown with a new live score by King Britt, Damon Bennett, Anthony Tidd and Marlo Reynolds, tomorrow at Johnny Brenda’s on Frankford Avenue, and a screening of “Yelling To The Sky” on Sunday with a Q&A featuring actor Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter of The Roots and composer Zakee Kuduro after the film at the International House.

“Part of the reason that sparked me is the idea of cultural preservation,” Solomon says. “The idea of capturing a culture before it evolves into something else.”

If You Go

BlackStar Film Festival
Aug. 1-4
International House, 3701 Chestnut St.
Drexel University, 33rd and Chestnut streets
Barnes Foundation, 2025 Ben Franklin Pkwy.
Johnny Brenda’s, 1201 Frankford Ave.
$10/$7 students and seniors/$125 all-festival pass
www.blackstarfest.org


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