The Black Star Film Festival offers more than 100 shorts, documentaries and features that depict African-American, African-diaspora, and other communities of color. In addition, the festival, unspooling Aug. 1-4 at various locations in West Philadelphia, offers parties, panels, and pitch sessions plus conversations with artists, filmmakers and more.
Several shorts and documentaries have LGBTQ-plus themes in this year’s program. Here is a rundown of what to watch.
“The Cancer Journals Revisited” (August 2, 10:00 a.m.; Lightbox Film Center) features more than two-dozen women reading and reacting to selections from Black lesbian feminist Audre Lorde’s seminal book, “The Cancer Journals.” With emotion and candor, the women speak eloquently about how they faced their diagnoses, contemplated mastectomies and prostheses and considered health care for low-income and minority communities. Using Lorde’s concept of “transforming silence into language and action,” the documentary allows its readers, as well as filmmaker Lana Lin, the opportunity to reflect on the treatments and the decisions they have made, such as “staying flat” after a mastectomy. There are also important discussions of race and gender that magnify Lorde’s themes of visibility, community and political power. Lin’s impassioned, experimental film is inspiring, and the stories these courageous women share are moving.
“Yeh Freedom Life” (August 2, 3:00 p.m.; Annenberg) is Priya Sen’s observational documentary, set in Ambedkar Nagar, in South Dehli. Sachi works in a salon and loves her girlfriend Sai, but she faces resistance from family and friends who question a future for two women in love. “Yeh Freedom Life” also chronicles Parveen, who is also attracted to women and tries to navigate her relationships. This engaging film shows the difficulties of same-sex love in India and also offers hope as both Sachi and Parveen have plans to marry their girlfriends.
“Yea Freedom Life” is preceded by the fantastic short film, “Translucent.” Director Azzan Quick traces their evolution as a genderqueer person. They describe how a masculine identity “felt natural” but that others had difficulty with their gender expression. A revealing anecdote involves Quick’s disorientation when they declined their sister’s invitation to have their nails painted. And while they experienced dysphoria growing up, they also learned affirmation. Through phone calls, they express themselves and their pronouns, to family and friends. In addition, as home movies unspool, Quick reflects on masculinity and their possible future. “Translucent” is not only heartfelt and impactful, it is beautifully made.
“Shorts Program 7” (August 2, 9:00 p.m.; outdoor screening at ICA) features three queer shorts. “Femme Queen Chronicles (Episode One: The Clock)” is an engaging introduction to this funny, feisty web series about the trials and tribulations of four trans women of color in Detroit. The characters deal with various micro aggressions and disappointments — and even an eviction notice! — while also celebrating their sisterhood on Chanel’s (co-writer and director Ahya Simone) birthday. Hopefully, more episodes of this fabulous series will become available soon.
In the British import, “Ladies Day,” Amma (Savannah Steyn) feels slightly uneasy being affectionate in public with her girlfriend. However, when she goes to her hair salon, the homophobic talk makes her feel even more uncomfortable. This slight but winning short shows how the decision to come out is both personal and political for everyone.
“Motherstruck,” is a bright, amusing short by lesbian Staceyann Chin — based on her life and play — about her wanting to have a baby. Her girlfriends offer sarcasm and support as Staceyann tries to secure sperm. Chin is a charming heroine on a quest, but this terrific short is a tease — it will only make viewers want to see the rest of her story, which ends too quickly here.
Two other shorts screening at the fest depict queer male lives and sexuality. In the intense drama “Outdooring,” (Part of Shorts Program 5, August 1, 6:40 p.m.; Lightbox Film Center) Kobby (Keith Machekanyanga) has deliberately missed his nephew’s outdooring (a Ghanaian tradition not unlike a baptism). He is planning to rob the money collected at the ceremony for reasons that soon become clear, but there are a few unexpected developments. “Outdooring” is gripping as its story, which addresses issues of family and homophobia, unfolds.
“Sweetheart Dancers” (Part of Shorts Program 12, August 4, 1:30 p.m.; Lightbox Film Center) is an uplifting documentary short about Sean Snyder and Adrian Stevens, a two-spirit couple from Mesquite, Nev., who want to dance at a powwow for a $10,000 prize. However, after creating a dance, and assembling costumes, they are denied participation for being a same-sex couple. But they discover the San Manuel powwow, where the sweetheart contest is open to all partners in long-term relationships. It is thrilling to watch Sean and Adrian perform their routine — and it is hard not to tear up watching them realize their dream.
Also screening at the Black Star Film Fest is out gay filmmaker Rodney Evans’ documentary, “Vision Portraits” (August 2, 1:00 p.m.; Lightbox Film Center), about blind and visually-impaired artists.
For tickets and more information, visit https://www.blackstarfest.org.