Aug. 3

12pm – 2:30pm ET

Pitch Session

As a maker-centered festival, BlackStar has been always been a space where connections are forged through sharing works, concepts, advice, and the occasional tea.

Join us for our third annual pitch session where a selection of filmmakers of color will propose their works-in-progress to an illustrious panel of funders, distributors and producers. Get a behind the scenes look at what it takes to develop a short documentary film and listen into how leading decision makers evaluate projects.

8 filmmakers will pitch their short doc projects to a panel of representatives from highly influential foundations, distribution platforms and production houses. One winner will receive an artist grant from WarnerMedia OneFifty, while an honorable mention pitch will receive $2,500 from POV and IF/Then, mentorship from IF/Then staff, and two hours of impact campaign planning support from Working Films.  The winner and runner-up will both receive Vimeo PRO accounts for a year as well. Each filmmaker will be given 7 minutes to present followed by 8 minutes of constructive feedback.

Please note that a private URL will be made available to invited guests only, who will be comprised of passholders, members, and industry.

Panelists include: 

  • Alex Hannibal, CNN
  • Caitlin Mae Burke, IF/Then
  • Chi-hui Yang, Ford Foundation/JustFilms
  • Chloe Walters-Wallace, Firelight Media
  • Chris Hastings, WORLD Channel/WGBH
  • Jeff Seelbach, Topic/First Look Media
  • Mervyn Marcano, Field/House Productions
  • Opal Hope Bennett, POV/American Documentary

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Selected Projects

These are the finalists for this year’s BlackStar Pitch.

Ampe Study; or Leap into the Sky, Black Girl

dir. by Claudia Owusu & Ife Oluwamuyide

Logline: Under the lens of the traditional game ampe, a group of Ghanaian girls retrace the steps back to their childhood selves.

Ampe Study; or Leap into the Sky, Black Girl is a documentary film by Ghanaian/Nigerian artists Ife Oluwamuyide and Claudia Owusu. Set in Accra, Ghana and their hometown Columbus, OH, the film highlights the journey of Black Girlhood, and the relationships that Ghanaian girls have with their childhood selves through the lens of the traditional game, ampe. Ampe is a high-energy game played by girls in Ghana, West Africa. It includes jumping, clapping, and an all-around cheer as two teams select a stepping pattern and face off. The teams have leading players, referred to as “mothers”, who start the game and encourage players to compete at their best. The innate joy and competitive edge of ampe reveals the desire that Black girls have to be set free and feel a range of emotions without judgement. Ampe is slowly disappearing from the Ghanaian-American cultural landscape; and it’s now rare to see Ghanaian girls in Columbus playing the game, even though Columbus is home to over 10,000 Ghanaian immigrants and stands as a sister city to Accra. With each new generation of immigrants, there’s a loss of history and personal connection. Ampe Study seeks to reconcile and preserve the cultural memory of Ghanaian traditions. By documenting the experiences of young Ghanaian women in Columbus and Accra, we want to understand the history of ampe as a coming-of-age ritual across the African diaspora, how it informs the way Ghanaian women view themselves, each other, and the world around them

Black Abandon

dir. by Lydia Hicks

Logline: Despite constant change, the spirit of Idlewild’s Black Eden is everlasting.

There is a popular narrative that says that the civil rights movement left historically black resort towns around the nation abandoned. Last summer, during the height of the pandemic and social unrest, I fled to Black Eden following in the footsteps of W.E.B. Du Bois. What I found was much more than a ‘resort town’ and it is anything but ‘abandoned’. This is an introduction to the political history of Black Eden, Idlewild. This short documentary will explore the founding of Idlewild in Michigan. A place that would become known as Black Eden, Michigan’s Apollo, and a place for idle men and wild women. Many have shared stories about the ‘hay day’ in the 50’s and 60’s but few have highlighted the revolutionary cooperative politics that laid the groundwork for black self-determination nestled in the forests of Michigan.

Citizen Khan

dir. by Sana Malik & Khaula Malik

Logline: Over a 100 years after Zarif Khan settled in Wyoming and built a successful food empire, his daughter, Zarina, weighs how to honor his legacy.

CITIZEN KHAN is a 30’ independent documentary that tells the story of the deep-rooted, charismatic Khan family of Sheridan, Wyoming — descendants of the late, legendary Zarif Khan, affectionately known as “Hot Tamale Louie,” who immigrated to the U.S. from South Asia in the early 1900s. The story unfolds through the point-of-view of one of Zarif Khan’s daughters, Zarina. As Zarina considers following her adult children to begin a new life far from the small town community that embraced her father, she struggles to honor his memory and legacy. Set in the storied mountains of Wyoming, against a backdrop of persistently resurgent anti-Muslim sentiment, CITIZEN KHAN is a moving exploration of the racialization of American identity in unexplored places.

Diaspora Letters: Postmarks Between Iran and the US

dir. by Beeta Baghoolizadeh & Shane Nassiri

Logline: Living under sanctions and the constant threat of war, this documentary follows how six families negotiate distance and belonging by sending mail to the loved ones across hostile borders between Iran and the US.

Diaspora Letters: Postmarks between Iran and the U.S., illustrates the stories of six families based in Iran and in diaspora from 1979 onward. Diaspora Letters: Postmarks is a black and white animated graphic film that also weaves in archival footage, found audio, interviews, and more, to trace how people negotiated distance and longing through tangible expressions of love and belonging.

Freedom Hill

dir. by Resita Cox

Logline: Princeville, NC is the first town incorporated by freed, enslaved Africans in America. This historical significance sits on a precipice: it is gradually being washed away.

Princeville sits atop swampy land along the Tar River in North Carolina. In the 1800’s this land was disregarded and deemed uninhabitable by white people. After the Civil War, this indifference left it available for freed Africans to settle. Before its incorporation, residents called it ‘Freedom Hill,’ gradually establishing a self-sufficient town. Resting along the floodplain of the river, Princeville residents are no strangers to adversity. The historical town has been inundated with flooding over the centuries. Freedom Hill is a short documentary that explores the environmental racism that is washing away the town of 2,000 through the lens of Marquetta Dickens, a Princeville native who recently moved back to help save her hometown and whose grandmother casted the historic vote in 99’ as mayor against the federal and state government’s recommendation to simply move the town elsewhere .

Hope Song

dir. by Yasmine Mathurin

Logline: Hope Song is a poetic animated short documentary about belonging forged through the immigrant journey of a Haitian-Canadian family. Through their journey from Haiti to Canada and back, their future is threatened by Haiti’s ongoing instability.

Hope Song is an animated short documentary about an Haitian-Canadian family and their journey from Haiti to Canada and back. Through an intimate conversation between a mother and her eldest daughter and through 2D animation as they examine hope, belonging and their sense identity forged through their immigrant journey.


dir. by Elena Guzman

Logline: A story of how two friends transcend time, space, and even death to find hope and resilience through their struggles with mental illness.

Smile4Kime is a documentary film that uses live-action footage and animation to explore the friendship between two women: Kime–a vibrant, unapologetic Black woman who lived with mental illness, and Elena–an Afro Puerto Rican woman and devoted friend coping with grief in the wake of Kime’s death. This story begins as a conversation between Kime and Elena unfolding across time and space. They ask each other about who they are, what they need, and what their future holds. As Kime’s mental health begins to spiral, the film urgently weaves together the past, present, and future in search of answers. Elena’s spiritual practice is a key element in the film, serving as the mechanism that transports Elena (and the viewer) through time and spiritual worlds. Rendered through animation, her altar operates as a portal between the present, the past, and unrealized futures. As we journey to the past, Kime offers critical insight about her experiences as a Black woman with mental illness navigating the harmful institutions that were meant to support her. In the present, Elena exists in a shadow space moving through grief after Kime’s passing, processing guilt and reflecting on the memories of her inability to support Kime when their friendship was “too much.” In the end, Elena and Kime must reckon with the reality that death is not an ending but the beginning of a new journey.