A photo of Bria and Bilal Motley, a Black father-daughter duo, they're standing in-front of a step-and-repeat that says "BlackStar Film Festival 2022." They are holding an award.
Bilal and Bria Motley accept the Love+Grit Philly Filmmaker Award at the 2022 Director's Brunch, presented by The Gotham and Neon. (Photo by Daniel Jackson)
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BlackStar Film Festival Announces 11th Edition’s Award-Winners

Films by Simone Leigh, Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich, and Gabriel Martins are among those honored during global celebration of Black, Brown, and Indigenous film and media artists

BlackStar Projects—the premier organization celebrating visionary Black, Brown, and Indigenous film and media artists—is pleased to announce the award-winning films from this year’s BlackStar Film Festival, which concluded yesterday in Philadelphia and online.

Winners include Best Experimental film Conspiracy, which was co-directed by Simone Leigh and Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich on the occasion of Leigh’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale, and Best Feature Narrative film Mars One, Gabriel Martins’ chronicle of a Brazilian family coping with an uncertain future during a far-right leader’s rise to power. 

This year, the first-ever Love+Grit Philadelphia Filmmaker Award—supported by Visit Philadelphia’s Love + Grit, a leading podcast that tells the authentic and diverse stories of the city—is awarded to Quarantine Kids, directed by Bilal Motley and Bria Motley. Quarantine Kids, which held its world premiere at BlackStar, tells the courageous story of nine-year-old Bria Motley in her own words, drawing attention to the devastating impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children. 

Once again, Lionsgate and STARZ partnered with BlackStar to present the Lionsgate/STARZ Speculative Fiction Award. The winner of this prize receives $5,000 and the opportunity to showcase their films on STARZ in Black. This year’s winner is CLONES, a mockumentary short film directed by Letia Solomon that documents a suburban couple’s trial cloning experiment. 

Another special award—the Shine Award—is decided by BlackStar members and goes to a first-time filmmaker. This year, Storming Caesars Palace director Hazel Gurland-Pooler is the winner. Her feature documentary, which premiered at this year’s festival, uplifts the story of Las Vegas activist Ruby Duncan and the mothers who launched one of the most extraordinary yet forgotten, feminist, anti-poverty movements in US history.

The full list of honorees—selected from a slate of 76 films representing 27 countries—is below. BlackStar attendees were invited to vote for Audience Awards in each category as well. 

“We are so grateful to this year’s jurors and to our audiences for taking such care selecting this year’s award winners,” says BlackStar Founder, Artistic Director, and CEO Maori Karmael Holmes. “We are so proud of all of their contributions to the festival and congratulate them on their achievements.”

“It has been a joy gathering with the BlackStar family this past week—both virtually and in person,” adds Festival Director Nehad Khader. “As we reflect upon the 2022 festival, we extend our gratitude to each participating artist, viewer, and team member—old friends and new. We look forward to continued imagination, learning, and community building in the weeks and months ahead.” 

With a lineup spanning narrative features and shorts, documentary features and shorts, and experimental films, the 2022 BlackStar Film Festival presented 16 world, 8 North America, 12 East Coast, and 8 US premieres. 25 films were Philadelphia premieres. As an Academy Award-qualifying festival for both short documentary and short narrative films, BlackStar’s Best Narrative Short and Best Documentary Short winners will be eligible for entrance at the Academy Awards.

In addition to screenings, this year’s festival included panels, workshops, parties, morning yoga sessions, and The Daily Jawn—a talk show hosted by Maori Karmael Holmes. Festival guests included directors Moses Sumney and Kevin Jerome Everson; activist Ruby Duncan; authors Marc Lamont Hill and Jason Reynolds; and singer Durand Bernarr, among others. 

This edition of the BlackStar Film Festival marked the world premiere of short films created through BlackStar’s Philadelphia Filmmaker Lab, presented by Black Experience on Xfinity. The opportunity is designed to uplift emerging and mid-career artists in the Greater Philadelphia area. Applications for the next cohort will open on September 1, 2022. 

Winning Films:

BEST EXPERIMENTAL

Jurors: Reveca Torres, Asinnajaq, Christopher Harris

Winner: Conspiracy, dirs. Simone Leigh and Madeleine Hunt-Ehrlich

On the occasion of her pavilion at the Venice Biennale, Simone Leigh co-directs a film with Madeleine Hunt – Ehrlich in her studio.

Jury Comment: “The film Conspiracy is music, and it speaks of the sonic manifestations of Blackness. Working on all registers with minimal gestures—it is textured, complicated, and transparent.”

Honorable Mention: Golden Jubilee, dir. Suneil Sanzgiri

In Golden Jubilee, Sanzgiri reconsiders ideas of freedom, loss and recovery in the wake of colonial and neo-colonial theft. The film asks us to consider “what is liberation when so much has been lost?”

Jury Comment: “Golden Jubilee is excellently rendered and has a dreamlike effect on its audience with the power of reality—it is both real and unreal, we are seeing one thing but feeling something different.”

BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY

Jurors: Janaína Oliveira, Theresa Hill, Louis Massiah

Winner: One Take Grace, dir. Lindiwe Matshikiza

Eclectic cinematic portrait of Mothiba Grace Bapela (58), South African mother, grandmother, film & television actor, and former domestic worker for over forty years. Narrating events from her extraordinary life, Bapela searches for a way to break out of the societal roles cast for her.

Jury Comment: “The exceptional film One Take Grace presents a different and exciting way to make documentary with the potential to impact audiences and filmmakers alike. This film is a powerful journey and a masterful example of fugitivity.”

Honorable Mention: Wisdom Gone Wild, dir. Rea Tajiri

An immersive meditation on elder consciousness and the act of caregiving a parent with dementia, filmmaker Rea Tajiri weaves her mother’s storytelling wisdom into the fabric of this film. Rose’s songs provide a soundtrack for time travel as we witness her evolution across nine decades of living.

Jury Comment: “Wisdom Gone Wild is a compelling film that will have a long life, and represents a poetic, sensitive tribute to the complexity of motherhood, aging, and love.”

BEST FEATURE NARRATIVE 

Jurors: Kamilah Forbes, Jason Reynolds, Naomi Johnson

Winner: Mars One/Marte Um, dir. Gabriel Martins

A Brazilian family copes with an uncertain future as a far-right conservative leader rises to power. Through this time of turbulent change, the family’s optimism and deep capacity for love guides them through.

Jury Comment: “Mars One is a masterpiece about perseverance, voyaging on new terrain, and maintaining optimism in the face of adversity. A great story with compelling characters, this film receives the jury award by unanimous consensus among the jury.”

BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY

Jurors: Errin Haines, Michelle Ortiz, Asad Muhammad

Winner: The Game God(S), dir. Adrian L. Burrell

The Game God(S) shows 4 characters: Martina, Frank, Brianna and Craig. They share their experiences as the Goddess of the Crossroads pushes us between the then and the now, connecting The Game God, The Game and Capitalism to the Blackness.

Jury Comment: “The Game God(S) plays like a sermon, and is brimming with thoughtful, tender, exciting images. The perspective is unique and unexpected to the point of knocking the jury members off their seats.”

BEST SHORT NARRATIVE

Jurors: D’Lo, Dagmawi Woubshet, Lynnee Denise

Winner: Sunday Morning/Manhã de Domingo, dir. Bruno Ribeiro

Gabriela is a young pianist who will perform at her first major recital. However, a dream about her dead mother destabilizes Gabriela’s mind and heart, putting her presentation at risk.

Jury Comment: “Sunday Morning is a gem of a film, imbued with a quiet, interior power that beautifully renders the ghosts of our lives, and whose music propels the narrative, becoming a conduit for nostalgia.”

Honorable Mention: For Love, dir. Joy Gharoro-Akpojotor

Nkechi, lives happily in the shadows with her partner Martha, but when immigration officers turn up unexpectedly, they have to make difficult decisions about their future together.

Jury Comment: “For Love uses minimalism to effectively cultivate emotional intensity. From a technical perspective the film slows down time, each frame so well chosen and sequenced beautifully together.”

Special Prizes:

LOVE+GRIT PHILADELPHIA FILMMAKER AWARD (VISIT PHILADELPHIA)

Winner: Quarantine Kids, dirs. Bilal Motley and Bria Motley

The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children has been devastating. Quarantine Kids tells the courageous story of nine year old Bria Motley, in her own words. Using previously recorded audio notes, home video and animation, Quarantine Kids is an honest testimony from a child’s point of view.

Jury Comment: “Quarantine Kids is a rich, real, and emotional short film with relatable content and an important perspective. This jury felt infatuated by the story, and are excited for other kids to see it.”

LIONSGATE/STARZ SPECULATIVE FICTION AWARD

Winner: CLONES, dir. Letia Solomon 

Suburban couple Calvin and Lisa document their experience of a trial cloning experiment in a mockumentary short film. The film starts off productively with three Calvin clones and three Lisa clones. Groceries are placed away, dinner is cooked, and the house is cleaned, however, they quickly realize that the copies aren’t the life hack they thought they would be.

Jury Comment: “Who has ever thought that having a clone would make life easier? Well in Letia Solomon’s Clones that thought becomes a reality for a young suburban couple who elect to become a part of a trial cloning experiment. Letia’s voice was clever, fresh, and wholeheartedly entertaining as she portrays mockumentary style filmmaking with incredible performances. Letia, a chemical engineer turned filmmaker, is an excellent example of why we at Lionsgate and Starz are so excited about supporting this award, because it means we get to uplift and amplify voices like Letia’s – a voice that will continue to carry through the future.”

BLACKSTAR PITCH

Winner: Postcolonial Piñata dir. Daniel Larios

Postcolonial Piñata delves into the tangled & historically destructive relationship Christianity has with both piñatas and myself.

Honorable Mention: Occupy dir. Sonali Gulati

Occupy is a landscape using portraits of people who have encountered gendered spaces in hostile, violent, humorous, and life-changing ways.

Audience Awards: 

BEST EXPERIMENTAL 

Winner: Foreign in a Domestic Sense, dir. Sofía Gallisá Muriente and Natalia Lassalle Morillo

A constellation of testimonies and imaginaries of Puerto Ricans who have migrated to Central Florida as a result of political and environmental disasters in the Caribbean archipelago. The 4-channel video unsettles space and time through the layering of fictional and non-fictional narrative forms.

BEST FEATURE DOCUMENTARY

Winner: Wisdom Gone Wild, dir. Rea Tajiri

An immersive meditation on elder consciousness and the act of caregiving a parent with dementia, filmmaker Rea Tajiri weaves her mother’s storytelling wisdom into the fabric of this film. Rose’s songs provide a soundtrack for time travel as we witness her evolution across nine decades of living.

BEST FEATURE NARRATIVE 

Winner: Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, dir. Mahamat-Saleh Haroun

On the outskirts of the capital of Chad, determined single mother Amina works tirelessly to provide for herself and her 15-year old daughter Maria. When Amina discovers Maria is pregnant and does not want a child, the two women begin to seek out an abortion, condemned by both religion and law.

BEST SHORT DOCUMENTARY

Winner: Still Waters, dir. Aurora Brachman

A daughter asks her mother a question about her mother’s childhood. Her answer begs them to wade through its rippling effects throughout their lives.

BEST SHORT NARRATIVE

Winner: Glitter Ain’t Gold, dir. Christian Nolan Jones

A sixth grader takes a trip with his best friend to the flea market in order to buy his first fake chain.

SHINE AWARD

Winner: Storming Caesars Palace, dir. Hazel Gurland-Pooler

This film uplifts the story of Las Vegas activist Ruby Duncan and a band of ordinary mothers who launched one of the most extraordinary, yet forgotten, feminist, anti-poverty movements in U.S. history providing a blueprint today for an equitable future.

This year’s festival is presented with the support of the following sponsors: AmDoc/POV, Annenberg School For Communication, Black Public Media, Catapult Film Fund, Center For Cultural Power, Drexel Westphal College of Media Arts, Expressway Grip, Eventive, Firelight Media, Gotham Film & Media Institute, Impact Partners, Indego, ITVS, Leeway Foundation, Lionsgate/STARZ, MediaJustice, Meta, NEON, Open Society Foundations, PBS, PECO, Philadelphia Foundation, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Red Bull, Scattergood Foundation, The Study Hotels, Temple University Film and Media Arts Department, Unique Photo, Urban Affairs Coalition, Urban Outfitters, Warner Bros./Discovery, Wyncote Foundation and Xfinity.

BlackStar Projects and its year-round programs are generously supported by Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Critical Minded, Ford Foundation/JustFilms, Gucci Changemakers Fund, Independence Public Media Foundation, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Mellon Foundation, Mighty Arrow Family Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Perspective Fund, Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, Philadelphia Cultural Treasurers, Philadelphia Foundation, Ruth Foundation for the Arts, Samuel S. Fels Fund, Surdna Foundation, Wallace Foundation, William Penn Foundation, and Wyncote Foundation, in addition to its board of directors, community partners, and a host of generous individual donors and organizations.

About BlackStar Projects

BlackStar Projects is the producer of the BlackStar Film Festival, an annual celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and global communities of color — showcasing films by Black, Brown, and Indigenous people from around the world. In addition to the acclaimed festival, BlackStar presents an array of programming across film and visual culture year-round, including the twice-annual journal Seen, the podcast Many Lumens, the William and Louise Greaves Filmmaker Seminar, and the Philadelphia Filmmaker Lab, among other initiatives. 

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