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Major New Grants and Full-Time Staff Announced

In our ninth year, BlackStar is making big moves in response to rapid growth

The BlackStar Film Festival is pleased to announce several new developments that highlight our growth as the world’s premier celebration of film and video artists of color: the hiring of five full-time, year-round staff members, a first for the organization; the receipt of two substantial grants from the Surdna Foundation and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund; and the welcoming of a new Board of Directors. Together, they are emblematic of the great strides the festival has made in recent years, drawing national and international acclaim and bringing together some of the most innovative and impactful filmmakers, producers, thinkers, and distributors working today. This years’ festival, the ninth, remains scheduled to take place from July 30–August 2 in Philadelphia, PA, with more information to be announced in mid-May.

The Surdna Foundation has awarded BlackStar Film Festival a significant three-year, $500,000 grant and the Philadelphia Cultural Fund has awarded the festival over $11,000 in additional funding for this year. The support from these organizations will go towards expanding BlackStar’s yearlong programming, going beyond the festival model to support creatives and communities of color around the country and wider world. BlackStar’s robust slate of initiatives includes an Annual Filmmaker Seminar, that invites participants to explore the technical and creative aspects of mediamaking, and a Production Lab, offering fellowships, equipment, mentorship, funding, and critical feedback to young and emerging Philadelphia-based filmmakers. There are also plans for an Exhibition Program and a periodical Journal of Film and Visual Culture, which aims to extend the critical discourse of BlackStar’s to a wider audience while also creating a platform for writers of color and critics with a racial justice analysis.

The organization has also welcomed five full-time staff members, who join Founder, Artistic Director, and CEO, Maori Karmael HolmesNehad Khader, Program Director; Lauren Hunter, Operations Director; Imran Siddiquee, Communications Director; and Kira Rodriguez, Administrative Coordinator. The newly constituted team will help BlackStar in its mission to showcase the varied and nuanced landscapes of communities of color, while also expanding upon and illuminating the global experience.

BlackStar’s board also boasts stellar additions, bringing with them a wealth of knowledge to further the organization’s growth, including Holmes, Denise C. Beek, Chief Communications Officer of ‘me too.’ International; Amanda Branson Gill, Co-Founder of Kilo Films; Sekou Campbell, Partner at Culhane Meadows PLLC; Michael Garden, Principal of Michael Garden Group; Sunanda Ghosh, Director of External Relations at Philadelphia Contemporary, Ted Passon, President of All Ages Productions, Tayyib Smith, Principal of organizations Little Giant, Smith&Roller, and Pipeline Philly; along with an Advisory Board consisting of Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Tariq “Black Thought” Trotter from The Roots.

Lauded as the “Black Sundance,” the BlackStar Film Festival is scheduled to take place from July 30–August 2 in Philadelphia, PA. Now in its ninth year, attendance to the festival continues to increase with each iteration. BlackStar receives support from its dedicated audience along with private foundations, public agencies, corporate, non-profit and individual sponsors. Past and current supporters include: Barra Foundation, CAA, CineReach, Color of Change, Comcast/Streampix, Critical Minded, Firelight, Ford Foundation, Fractured Atlas, HBO, Independence Media Foundation, Knight Foundation, Leeway Foundation, Lionsgate/STARZ, Lomax Family Foundation, MacArthur Foundation, Nathan Cummings Foundation, Netflix, PECO, Pennsylvania Department of Economic Development, Philadelphia Cultural Fund, William Penn Foundation, Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, Annenberg School for Communication, Wyncote Foundation and Visit Philadelphia.

Learn more about BlackStar’s staff here.

Learn more about BlackStar’s board here.

About BlackStar Film Festival

The BlackStar Film Festival is 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.

About the Surdna Foundation

The Surdna Foundation seeks to foster sustainable communities in the United States––communities guided by principles of social justice and distinguished by healthy environments, strong local economies, and thriving cultures. Learn more at

About the Philadelphia Cultural Fund

Established in 1991 to support and enhance the cultural life and vitality of the City of Philadelphia and its residents, the Philadelphia Cultural Fund, through the combined efforts of the Philadelphia City Council and the Mayor, promotes arts and culture as engines of social, educational and economic development and has played a key stabilizing role for numerous organizations by providing much needed general operating funding. Learn more at and follow along using the hashtag #PHLArtsSayThnx and @PhilaCulturFund on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Press Contacts

Ed Winstead
Director, Cultural Counsel
[email protected]

Danellys “D.W.” Wong
Account Coordinator, Cultural Counsel
[email protected]

Robert Grand
Account Coordinator, Cultural Counsel
[email protected]

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Seen is BlackStar’s journal of film and visual culture, published twice each calendar year. Issue 005 is now available.

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