MAKING A DIFFERENCE
By Darlene Donloe
Movies helmed by Black women filmmakers are the focus of Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center’s (BHERC) 28th annual “Sistas Are Doin’ It for Themselves Short Film Showcase.”
This year, BHERC is highlighting 10 films and their directors selected from 570 entries. For the second time in as many years, the entire festival, which opened March 27 and runs through April 11, is taking place virtually, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and will stream online at BHERC.TV.
BHERC, a nonprofit founded in 1996, is a public benefit organization designed to advocate, educate, research, develop and preserve the history and future of Blacks in film and television.
“‘Sistas Are Doin’ It For Themselves’ began 28 years ago as a call to the entertainment industry to acknowledge that there is major talent amongst African-American women filmmakers,” said BHERC founder Sandra Evers-Manly. “What began as a simple screening and discussion became one of the most recognized inspirational and emulated events of the Black filmmaking community.”
Evers-Manly said “Sistas Are Doin’ It For Themselves” is the only program that has consistently promoted and supported the work of African-American women in film for nearly three decades.
“It is a clear-cut concept, a screening of short films written and/or directed by some of the nation’s emerging and top filmmakers with an opportunity through an interactive panel to learn about the filmmakers and their journey,” said Evers-Manly. “Still today, after all these years of promoting the work of Black women in film, now more than ever the Black female perspective is needed in filmmaking. We cannot deny their power! Likewise, the community here and abroad needs to know and support our “Sister Sheroes” as they tell our stories. This is an opportunity, and a platform to do just that.”
Although the number of Black women directors has increased over the festival’s 28 years, Evers-Manly said there is room for more.
“When we started ‘Sistas’ there was not a number of Black women directors,” she said. “From the beginning, we wanted to amplify that. We need more. They are able to tell diverse stories that are pertaining to women that are important. We want to keep the conversation going about the important role Black female directors play — telling our stories.”
The “Sistas” film festival, the first of BHERC’s seven popular festivals, spotlights shorts created by veteran and emerging female filmmakers of African-American descent.
BHERC’s other festivals include Reel Black Men, Doin’ It The Independent Way Film Showcase, Faith-Based & Inspirational Film Festival, Youth Diversity Film Festival, Festival @ Sea, and African American Film Marketplace & S.E. Manly Short Film Showcase.
Although it’s not being held in person, Evers-Manly said audiences can still expect a high-caliber event.
“The only thing that really changed is that we all can’t be together,” she said. “Going virtual has been a curse and a blessing. It expanded our footprint. We are able to reach more people. More people get to watch the films in the comfort of their homes.”
Evers-Manly said the “curse” is that the festival can’t be held in person.
“We can’t get together,” she said. “We can’t be in that theater and get the real-time feedback. We can’t get the real-time oohs and aahs.”
Evers-Manly said this year, several historically Black colleges and universities will be using the program and having students tune in.
“That’s been great,” she said. “We have students from different cities tuning in. Teachers are using it for their students. The National Black Nurses Association asked us to put together a showcase so they could go online and see something inspirational. It’s been very positive.”
Criteria to participate in the “Sistas” festival include films being completed by a Black female director. Others may participate in the project. Films should not exceed 45 minutes in length. Films can be shot in any format, celluloid (S8, 16MM, 35MM) or digital. There is no age limit. Anyone can enter.
The youngest to participate this year is 16.
“‘Sistas’ was the first one we started,” Evers-Manly said. “It was successful from the beginning. It was an anomaly. The first year was like magic. There was a spark. I’m really proud that we created this platform.”
This year’s films and filmmakers are:
• “Compassionate Release,” Lynn Dow, of New York, director. The tragic death of her husband has set Carol and her two daughters on an unexpected and heartbreaking journey. How will she navigate their changing lives with one who sees the world through the eyes of an elitist and the other as a defeatist?
• “Twisted Dreams,” Yvette (Karamell Jones) Walters, director, Philadelphia: Dreams and reality collide and sparks fly when the mystery woman Gregory Jones, a 28-year-old architect, has been dreaming about becomes his new client in real life. His fiancé’s patience has worn thin.
• “Blackbird, Fly,” Jay Winters, director, Oak Creek, Wisconsin: A short fantasy film about Raven Wilkinson seen through the mind of a young girl named Gabby. The first in a series called “Medusa Girls” featuring women throughout history, pictured as girls that dared to dream.
• “Misfits,” Ciani Rey Walker, director, Los Angeles: When two sisters and leaders of the Black Panther Party learn their friend has kidnapped a cop on the night of MLK Jr.’s assassination, they must set aside their differences to navigate one of the most turbulent nights in history.
• “La Dernière Danse” (The Last Dance), Fatoumata Diallo, director, Tambacounda, Senegal: Noor is dying and receives a visit that offers her a choice from three proposals that expire at midnight. … With the help of her best friend Oumar, she gets down to it. It will change their lives forever.
• “Evidence,” Laurie Gardiner, director, Texas via Los Angeles: While working the night shift in downtown L.A., a rookie cop finds himself at a crossroads when pressured into a life-altering decision.
• “The Appointment,” Marlena Neal, director, Baltimore: A short experimental film surrounding the stressors of a doctor appointment during COVID.
• “Head Hunters,” Cherrelle e’Lan, director, Los Angeles: Three women interview to become the next corporate CFO, a job normally targeted toward the “ole boys network.” Only one can be chosen.
• “Intoxicant,” Natashia Bobbitt, director, Los Angeles: Simone Hoperight, a prominent therapist battling depression from the sudden death of her newborn, seeks comfort in an activity that could cause her to lose it all. Will she regain her focus to seek help or succumb to the comfort the drug provides her?
• “Coffee,” Melissa Jones, director, New York: It’s a new normal Saturday in Brooklyn, with the rule six feet away from humanity. Rules are made to be broken even if it leaves you breathless. Meet two strangers whose lives collide over coffee. Weston Harrison and Gabrielle Wintry. Their names say it all.
Past “Sista” filmmakers and participants include Gina Prince-Bythewood “Love & Basketball,” “Shots Fired,” “The Old Guard”; Kasi Lemmons “Eve’s Bayou,” “Harriet,” Yvette Freeman “ER,” Dianne Houston (first Black female to be nominated for an Academy Award short film category), and the Oscar-nominated Dee Rees “Mudbound,” just to name a very few.
Screenings take place at www.BHERC.TV through April 11, with a question and answer session with the filmmakers on Zoom at 3 p.m. April 11.
Festival-goers can log on to www.bherc.org to register. Admission to the showcase is $10. For general and festival information, call (310) 284-3170, email John Forbes at John@bherc.org or visit the website www.BHERC.org.
“Making a Difference” is a weekly feature profiling organizations that are serving their communities. To propose a “Making a Difference” profile, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Darlene Donloe is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at email@example.com.