Firelight Media x BlackStar Film Festival 2023

Firelight Media
8 min readJul 7, 2023

Firelight Media is proud to sponsor the 2023 BlackStar Film Festival — in person in Philadelphia and online, August 2–6.

A graphic with bold type that says “BlackStar Film Festival 2023” in the top left corner. The text is on an acid gray background. On the bottom right there are 3 large rectangular shapes, they are chartreuse, teal, and light blue. There is text in the shapes that says “Aug 2–6.” On the bottom left corner there is small text that says “blackstarfest.org @blackstarfest”.

Firelight Media is thrilled to return as a sponsor of BlackStar Film Festival, an annual celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and of global Indigenous communities. Each year, the festival showcases films by Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists from around the world. This year’s festival will take place in Philadelphia and online from August 2–6.

Firelight Media and its sister production company Firelight Films will be well-represented throughout the program. Firelight Media and Firelight Films Co-Founder Stanley Nelson will host a Special Preview Screening of his new film Sound of the Police, with co-director Valerie Scoon. Firelight Media will also co-present a special edition of Beyond Resilience on disability justice. Plus, several Firelight Media-supported filmmakers will screen feature documentaries and documentary short films throughout the festival.

See the story below for a complete list of Firelight Media-related happenings at the Festival.

Tickets and Passes for BlackStar Film Festival are available now!

BlackStar Film Festival Accessibility Guide

BlackStar is actively working to make their spaces accessible to as many people as possible. Their new Accessibility Guide details the accommodations available and the work being done at this year’s BlackStar Film Festival:

Opening Night Party, Co-Sponsored by Firelight Media

A black & white image of a man and a woman dancing surrounded by an assembled crowd.

On Wednesday, August 2 at 9pm, join BlackStar Film Festival and Firelight Media for the festival’s Opening Night Party at Cherry Street Pier. The party will feature mixes by DJ Laylo and DJ Yolo Ono, with host Ler of Late Night with Ler & Lionel.

This event is free and open to the public with RSVP! Get Tickets.

Philadelphia Premiere: ‘Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project,’ Co-Directed by Michèle Stephenson

A close-up image of the poet Nikki Giovanni photographed from above in front of a bright orange image of Mars.

On Thursday, August 3 at 5pm ET, Spark Fund recipient Michèle Stephenson and Co-Director Joe Brewster will screen their acclaimed documentary Going to Mars: The Nikki Giovanni Project. Through intimate vérité, archival footage and visually innovative treatments of her poetry, the film pushes the boundaries of biographical documentaries by traveling through time and space to reveal the enduring influence of one of America’s greatest living artists and social commentators. Get Tickets.

Special Preview Screening: Stanley Nelson’s ‘Sound of the Police’

A black & white image of a Black man photograph from behind, on his knees, kneeling with his arms raised on a city street in front of a group of assembled protestors holding an American flag.

On Friday, August 4 at 5pm ET, Firelight Media and Firelight Films Co-Founder Stanley Nelson will present a Special Preview Screening of Sound of the Police, co-directed by Valerie Scoon. The feature documentary examines the fraught relationship between African Americans and the police from slavery to the present, tracing the long and complex racial history in the U.S. that set the path for policing in communities of color and fuels ongoing conflicts and calls for reform. Get Tickets.

Philadelphia Premiere: ‘unseen,’ Directed by Set Hernandez Rongkilyo

A close-up image of a bald-headed, fair-skinned man in profile wearing sunglasses against a blurred background.

On Sunday, August 6 at 11am ET, Documentary Lab Fellow Set Hernandez Rongkilyo will screen unseen, a documentary feature about an aspiring social worker, Pedro, who must confront political restrictions as a blind, undocumented immigrant to get his college degree and support his family. But when attaining his dreams leads to new and unexpected challenges, what will Pedro do? Get Tickets.

Disability Justice Panel: Spotlight on ‘unseen’ | Beyond Resilience

On Sunday, August 6 at 4pm ET, Firelight Media will co-present Beyond Resilience | Disability Justice: Spotlight on unseen, featuring filmmaker and Documentary Lab Fellow Set Hernandez Rongkilyo and film protagonist Pedro, along with Thomas Reid and Qudsiya Naqui, moderated by Keisha Zollar.

Through experimental cinematography and sound, director Set Hernandez Rongkilyo’s unseen reimagines a cinema accessible for audiences, while exploring the intersections of immigration, disability, and mental health. This film is a prism through which we can reflect and refract practices of care and intentionality around access in the filmmaking process. The panel will be a discussion with key members of the filmmaking team including the director, protagonist, audio describer and impact producer who will share with us the various creative, technical, and production considerations in building more accessible and equitable worlds.

This event is free and open to all and filmmakers are encouraged to attend! Get Tickets.

‘Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games,’ Co-Directed by Michèle Stephenson

An image of two young Black girls in profile sitting on the porch of a wooden house playing a hand game.

Black Girls Play: The Story of Hand Games, a documentary short film co-directed by Spark Fund recipient Michèle Stephenson and Joe Brewster, provides an illuminating look at the influence that hand games played by Black girls has had on the American creative landscape. Get Tickets.

‘Here, Hopefully,’ Directed by Hao Zhou

An image of the film’s protagonist, Zee, wearing a red jacket and black pants standing between two trees growing from interconnected roots inside a forest clearing.

Firelight-supported filmmaker Hao Zhou will present the East Coast Premiere of Here, Hopefully, a documentary short film created as part of Firelight Media series Homegrown: Future Visions, presented with the Center for Asian American Media and PBS Digital Studios with support from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Here, Hopefully follows Zee, a nonbinary aspiring nurse from China, as they strive to build a gender-affirming life in rural Iowa, US. After graduating from nursing school, they work tirelessly to pass their licensure exam in hopes of obtaining a work visa. Get Tickets.

‘Jonathan Thunder: Good Mythology,’ Directed by Sergio Rapu

A close-up image of painter Jonathan Thunder photographed from behind while painting a brightly-colored canvas with surreal figures on it.

Firelight-supported filmmaker Sergio Rapu will present the East Coast Festival Premiere of Jonathan Thunder: Good Mythology, a documentary short film created as part of Firelight Media’s In the Making series with PBS’ AMERICAN MASTERS. The film follows Anishinaabe artist Jonathan Thunder as he dives deep into the inspirations behind his surrealist paintings and animations. From the killing of an iconic American hero to critical perspectives of how Indigenous people were portrayed in early children’s cartoons, Thunder’s art prompts viewers to take a critical look at our shared mythologies. Get Tickets.

‘Sydney G. James: How We See Us,’ Directed by Juanita Anderson

Filmmaker Juanita Anderson will present the Philadelphia premiere of Sydney G. James: How We See Us, a documentary short film created as part of Firelight Media’s series In The Making with PBS’ AMERICAN MASTERS. Visual artist and muralist Sydney G. James draws inspiration from her hometown of Detroit as she addresses the status of Black women in society, police brutality, family, and community through bold brushstrokes and hues that evoke the complexities of Black reality, joy, pain, and resilience. Get Tickets.

‘Over the Wall,’ Directed by Krystal Tingle

An image of Nascar pit crew member Brehanna Daniels photographed from behind wearing a helmet and leather jacket standing in front of a race track as blurred race cars speed past her.

Filmmaker Krystal Tingle will present the Philadelphia Premiere of Over the Wall, a documentary short film created as part of the Sports Explains the World series produced by Firelight Films and Meadowlark.

Nine seconds — it’s about all you have. Welcome to the fast-paced world of a NASCAR pit crew. Over the Wall is an immersive film following Brehanna Daniels, the first Black woman pit crew member and tire changer in NASCAR, as she works her way back from injury to participate in the Daytona 500, the biggest race in the sport. A testament to the power of perseverance and what it takes to be a trailblazer. Get Tickets.

‘Birthing A Nation: The Resistance of Mary Gaffney,’ Directed by Nazenet Habtezghi

A sepia-toned photo of Black women and children standing in a cotton field.

Nazenet Habtezghi will present the World Premiere of Birthing A Nation: The Resistance of Mary Gaffney, a documentary short film produced by Firelight Films in association with MTV Documentary Films. The film explores the story of forced reproduction in the antebellum South and reveals the agency of Mary Gaffney, an enslaved woman who takes control of her body and fertility. Get Tickets.

‘Sol in the Garden,’ Co-Directed by Emily Cohen Ibañez and Débora Souza Silva

An image of a fair-skinned woman with dark hair pulled into a bun inspecting some plants inside a greenhouse.

Firelight-supported filmmakers Emily Cohen Ibañez and Débora Souza Silva will present the East Coast Premiere of Sol in the Garden, a documentary short film about a formerly-incarcerated woman who catches the sun as she nourishes a garden with her new community. Get Tickets.

‘Team Dream,’ Directed by Luchina Fisher

A close-up image of two Black women wearing swim caps and goggles.

Firelight Media Spark Fund recipient Luchina Fisher will present the Philadelphia Premiere of Team Dream, a documentary short film that follows friends and competitive swimmers Ann and Madeline on their journey to the National Senior Games, where nothing — not age, race or history — will stand in their way. Get Tickets.

‘Quiet As It’s Kept,’ Directed by Ja’Tovia Gary

A close-up image of a yellow carnation against a black backdrop.

Documentary Lab alum Ja’Tovia Gary will present the World Festival Premiere of her experimental short film Quiet as It’s Kept, which was previously featured as part of her solo show at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City.

Quiet as It’s Kept is a contemporary cinematic response to The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison’s first novel, published in 1970. Set in Ohio in 1941, the book is an evocative illustration of the everyday particulars of colorism and its ravaging effects on the intramural. Get Tickets.

‘Pandemic Bread,’ Directed by Zeinabu irene Davis

Firelight Media Spark Fund recipient Zeinabu irene Davis will present the East Coast Premiere of her short film Pandemic Bread. The film tells the story of a Filipina interpreter as she works with an African immigrant doctor to converse with an elderly Filipina patient in the hospital in the ICU with COVID-19. The film features the performances of Princess Punzalan, Claire Simba and Becca Godinez — a story of agency, resilience and hope. Get Tickets.

For complete details about BlackStar Film Festival and to confirm showtimes and get tickets, please visit blackstarfest.org/festival/.

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Firelight Media

Firelight Media is a nonprofit organization that supports, resources, and advocates on behalf of documentary filmmakers of color.