A Lesson from Philadelphia’s Little Film Festival that Could

A Lesson from Philadelphia’s Little Film Festival that Could

Colorlines: News for Action

Akiba Solomon, Columnist, Gender Matters

For a four-day event that began as a small assortment of screenings, there were plenty of major moments at Philadelphia’s inaugural BlackStar Film Festival last week. Curated in less than a year by producer and filmmaker Maori Karmael Holmes, this new celebration of film by and about people of the African diaspora featured more than 40 works from four continents including the Philadelphia premiere of Byron Hurt’s Kickstarter-assisted Soul Food Junkies; the U.S. debut of Berlin filmmaker Oliver Hardt’s The United States of Hoodoo, a sold-out screening of Nelson George’s Brooklyn Boheme, and a candid talk about African American filmmaking outside of the Hollywood system by Sundance-prize winning director and organizer Ava DuVernay…

…While the biggest crowds filled Philadelphia’s International House for screenings of nationally publicized works such as Brooklyn Boheme and Soul Food Junkies, lesser known films also attracted audiences. For me, the highlight was a German import, Audre Lorde: The Berlin Years 1984 to 1992.

Written, directed and produced by German feminist publisher and professor Dagmar Schultz, the documentary provides an intimate portrait of the poet, professor, activist and cultural organizer who died of cancer in 1992 at age 58. Through never-released video, photographs and (sometimes hilarious) interviews with Lorde, her partner, Gloria Joseph, and a tight-knit group of Afro-German activists and writers, The Berlin Years tells the story of Lorde the genius facilitator.

When Harlem-born Lorde arrived in Berlin in 1984 as a visiting professor, she immediately sought out Afro-Germans—who were then known only by pejoratives like “cross-breed,” “mulatto” and “brown babies”—and taught them how to see themselves outside of what she observed as “the pain of living a difference that has no name.”

The anecdotes are rich. For instance, at the end of a 1984 poetry reading, Lorde asked the white women to leave the room and the black women to remain until they had spoken to at least one other black woman. “Her intention was to make us feel: No matter what you do, you are not alone,” recalls one Afro-German activist who was in that room. “You must work together! Make yourself visible and raise your voice, each of you in her own way.”…

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