A Festival For Black Filmmakers Sets Up Shop In Columbus

Aug 4, 2017

On Friday night, the first Columbus Black International Film Festival kicks off, including 28 screenings, a film-making workshop, and an award ceremony over the course of three days.

Filmmaker and festival founder Cristyn Steward has said the festival is partly aiming to address the lack of representation of black independent film in the Columbus scene.

"Every city, large and small, they try to have a formula of Hollywood," Steward says. "With that Hollywood model, the idea is you have to have a certain budget and you have to tell a certain type of story. And I think that the black experience has kind of been placed in this box."

Steward says there's an impression that black people's stories are limited, and can only exist within a certain formula.

"But our experiences are not monolithic," she says. "That's why you see this need for wanting to have those black stories, wanting to have those black stories that talk about black experiences."

Steward chose the festival's 28 films out of 178 submissions. While she saw some recurring themes among the films, she argued "those are things that are America in general."

Many of the selections revolved around music, culture and colonization, while others dealt with current issues like the election of President Trump or the Black Lives Matter movement.

Steward, a native of Columbus who attended Miami University, says the film industry in the city - like other arts here - is isolated and exclusive. One of her goals for the festival is to help expose the resources that the city offers for filmmakers, and provide a place for those in the industry to network.

"With everyone, and not just of people of color, filmmaking is kind of difficult because of the silos," Steward says. "So one of the things was, even with filmmakers who are not black, is to kind of break down those silos and to open up the larger community for everyone."

In addition to screenings at the Drexel Theatre and the Columbus College of Art and Design, the festival includes presentations and discussions at the Wexner Center for the Arts, plus a workshop about how to make short films through all stages of production.

But Steward says the Columbus Black International Film Festival is right for Central Ohio for the same reasons manufacturing, agriculture and other industries found homes here: "Ohio is the heart of America."

"So where else would you need or want to be in Columbus?" Steward says. "There are filmmakers that live and work here that we live amongst every day that we probably don't even know."