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Philly talent shines at the 6th annual Black Star Film Festival

Mark your calendars for August 3 through August 6.
"Baobab Flowers" examines the current state of education for minorities. | Provided
"Baobab Flowers" examines the current state of education for minorities. Provided

The festival will host the world premiere of Shahin Izadi’s scrappy low-budget feature, “Ironwood” on August 4 at 11:00 a.m., at the Lightbox Film Center. African American Devin (a winning Aaron Moten) and stoner Caleb (Cameron Scoggins), are both being considered for the same job teaching philosophy. While they (and the film) get sidetracked on the road to the interview, things get more interesting when the host university’s Professor Jane McGinnis (Kathleen Wise) goes camping with the guys after their interviews. Her presence may be unethical—especially as she plays the rivals/friends off one another—but “Ironwood” uses these scenes to make its points about racism, sexism, and the slippery nature of friendship. Izadi’s film is a slight and shaggy bromance, but the affable leads make it watchable.

Four of the five shorts in the festival’s “Shorts Program 6,” August 5, 12:00 p.m., Lightbox, are by Philly talent. Bryan Oliver Green’s “The Philadelphia Bicycle Vignette Story” is the video equivalent of a mix-tape, with a series of comic, absurdist sequences that flip the script on cultural attitudes, from a “gang banking” posse of African American youths that coerce a young woman to open a checking account, to a guy who has a sound engineer bleeping out a friend’s profanity and use of the n-word. While some episodes work better than others, the local settings (SEPTA!) and comic touches make this long short amusing. “Resistance: The Battle of Philadelphia (prologue),” by M. Asli Dukan is an ambitious and striking 5-minute short set in the near future. A group of African Americans are protesting killer cops and trying to organize resistance against the oppressive system. This timely film is part of a larger web series.

Louis A. Moore’s “Tales from Shaolin: Part 1: Shaky Dog” pays comic homage to Wu Tang Clan as a guy recounts a story about a robbery of a drug dealer. The film’s funky style and amateurishness is endearing as the film offers action, comedy, and a punchline (or two) during the end credits. “Yo Bro!!!” is Ronniere Spacely’s “jawn,” an experimental documentary that features superimposed images and comic bits, such as an intervention via cell phone messages, along with pop culture advertising that expresses Spacely’s thoughts on music, relationships, and identity.

“Shorts Program 8,” August 6 at 11:00 am at the Lightbox includes “Baobab Flowers,” an insightful documentary essay by Brazilian filmmaker Gabriela Watson Aurazo. This film makes cogent points about the ambitions and failures of public school education in both Philadelphia and São Paulo, Brazil. Aurazo links the experiences of two female teachers who live and work in underserved communities where budget and government restrictions are imposed upon them. Moreover, as they try to teach effectively, their situations change, prompting them to make their own adjustments, such as one teacher exploring homeschooling after a violent incident in her classroom. “Baobab Flowers” initiates an important discussion about that state of education for minorities.

“How They Sway” is a lovely short by Jaad Asante that plays August 6, at 3:05 p.m., at the Lightbox as part of the Horace Tapscott, Musical Griot program. An observational documentary, this film showcases the founders and members of Atlanta’s Ballethnic dance company as they rehearse a production of The Urban Nutcracker. Asante gracefully presents the dancers and shows their determination as they create a mostly African American production that honors the performers who lift, bend, plie, and twirl while also developing an appreciation for a timeless work in a new context.

how they sway - teaser from Jaad Asante on Vimeo.