DuVernay talks filmmaking at BlackStar Film Festival [photos]


The line of fans snaked from the Lightbox theater throughout International House in Philadelphia Saturday.

Visionary directory Ava DuVernay was the box office attraction, and festival-goers stood in line for almost an hour for a chance to hear her talk about the power of cinema and how she’s created space for her and other black filmmakers to tell stories not usually told.

It wasn’t surprising: DuVernay’s at the top of her game with movies such as the Oscar-nominated “Selma” and “Thirteenth,” and the hit TV series “Queen Sugar,” along with the upcoming Disney adaptation of the Madeleine L’Engle’s children’s classic, “A Wrinkle In Time.”

Lisa Cortes, a noted producer and director in her own right, was one of those waiting in line. Cortes worked with Philadelphia’s Lee Daniels to produce such films as “Precious,” “The Woodsman,” and “Shadow Boxer.” Cortes credits DuVernay as a creator who empowers her community by telling stories on her own terms. 

“The sister wears natural hair, OK?” Cortes said. “She’s up there in Hollywood, but she’s up there in her queendom also.”

Festival-goers enjoyed more than 60 films screened over the weekend. It was paradise for seasoned film lovers including Herbert Humphrey of Atlanta.

“Oh man, I’m a black movie enthusiast,” Humphrey said. “When I grew up, every Saturday was a trip to the dollar theater to see the old classics, the real classics — ‘Shaft,’ ‘Superfly,’ all of those.”

Festival organizers said this year’s four-day festival was the best attended during its six-year history. And even though DuVernay screened her film, “Middle of Nowhere,” at BlackStar in 2012, landing her for a sit-down interview with festival found Maori Karmael Holmes was still a big coup.

DuVernay exudes the warmth of your most creative friend. She grew up in Compton, California, the daughter of a mother who she says “looked like Beyonce.” A child of the ’90s, she said she was influenced by the golden age of hip-hop.

While at UCLA, she majored in African-American studies and English. Filmmaking was an afterthought — she didn’t even pick up a camera until she was 32.

“I was grown, fully grown,” DuVernay said. “I didn’t go into the idea of filmmaking thinking that it would be sexy. I just had stories that I wanted to tell.”

Those stories have especially motivated 15-year-old Aniya Wolfe of Northeast Philadelphia to pursue her passion. Aniya is a budding filmmaker who has already started own own production company.

During Saturday’s Q&A, she asked DuVernay for professional advice.

“You’ve inspired me and so many other young women — please don’t stop.  What about film school? Would you recommend it? I know you didn’t go … ” Aniya said, as the audience laughed.

“First, I want to say you make my heart leap with joy. We’re all so proud of you,” DuVernay replied to the rising 10th-grader. “It sounds to me that you don’t need film school, film school needs you!”

Saturday evening, DuVernay received  BlackStar’s Richard Nichols Luminary Award during an awards show at World Cafe Live.

Poet and author Sonia Sanchez, a longtime supporter, summed up the feel-good creativity BlackStar evokes.

“To be here in a place like BlackStar, to see these films made by young people … the genius, the talent,” she said. “You know you’re going to win,” she said.

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