Black Star Film Festival features queer short films

“Heaven Reaches Down to Earth,” directed by Tebogo Malebogo.

The 10th annual Black Star Film Festival, August 4-8, is happening mostly virtually this year, with numerous online features, documentaries, shorts, and more. One program that should be a highlight of this year’s festival is a livestream conversation between bisexual singer-songwriter Meshell Ndegeocello and Princeton professor Imani Perry on August 5 at noon.

In addition to the opening and closing night parties, and outdoor screenings each night at Eakins Oval, there is also “The Daily Jawn,” a “talk show” that offers interviews with filmmakers as well as festival updates and insights.

There are only a handful of LGBTQ shorts this year (alas, no features), but the festival, which showcases and celebrates Black, Brown, and Indigenous filmmaking, still has plenty to offer moviegoers. 

Among the non-queer entries, one of the best features this year is “Eyimofe (This Is My Desire),” screening August 4 at 8:00 pm, a diptych about two Nigerians hoping to improve their lives by leaving Lagos. However, various situations and reversals of fortune may prevent them from pursuing their dreams. While this film is slow, it is highly rewarding.  Also worthwhile is “Writing with Fire,” a blistering documentary about women journalists in India who challenge the patriarchy, screening August 7 at 2:00 pm. Writer/director Christopher Kahunahana’s “Waikiki” August 7 at 6:00 pm, is a fever dream of a film about a struggling Indigenous woman (Danielle Zalopany).

The six LGBTQ shorts this year are spread out in five different programs. The “Duology” shorts program, August 4 at 10:00 am, features films about couples, including “Noor & Layla,” a Canadian short written and directed by Fawzia Mirza. The titular couple’s relationship is told in reverse — from what may be their breakup to their initial meeting. As such, watching Noor (Nicole Nwokolo) and Layla (Sahar B. Augustin-Maleki) on their first date, having a meal and playing footsie under the table is charming, as are scenes of them in a bathtub experimenting with henna. This short gets viewers invested in the relationship between these queer Muslim women.

“Pink & Blue,” written by Níke Uche Kadri.

The “Symbiosis” shorts program, August 4 at 2:00 pm, emphasizes families, and includes “Pink & Blue,” where a trans couple, Crea (Níke Uche Kadri, who wrote the film) and Armani (Jojo Brown), discover they are pregnant and are determined to raise a gender-free baby. They face doubts and have an episode (or two) of misgendering, but together they feel their love can overcome the difficulties they face. This is a sweet, inspiring short that feels like it is just the start of a series or a feature. 

The “Denouements” shorts program, August 5 at 2:00 pm, features “The Beauty President,” a fabulous 9-minute profile of Terence Alan Smith, who “made a dent in history” in 1992, when he, as the drag queen Joan Jett Black, ran for President of the United States. (Black was a write-in candidate). Smith recounts his Queer Nation’s campaigning, which was to give folks visibility and a voice — especially during the AIDS crisis, where there was a lack of housing and other rights for LGBTQ people. There is some fabulous archival footage of Smith as Black, and he tells a very amusing story about how he got on the Democratic Convention floor in drag. “The Beauty President,” is so joyous, it is guaranteed to get every viewer’s vote. 

The “Physiography” shorts program, August 5 at 4:00 pm, includes “Heaven Reaches Down to Earth,” a gorgeous drama from South Africa in which two men, Tau (Sizo Mahlangu) and Tumelo (Thapelo Maropefela) go hiking in a mountain range above the clouds. As the men swim and climb, they share an intimate moment. The film’s cinematography is exquisite, the music pulsates, creating emotion, and the men are very sensual and attractive. This short may actually be too short, as viewers will want more from writer/director Tebogo Malebogo’s stunning film. 

The queer comedy, “Mercury Afrograde,” screens in the “Phototropism” program, August 6 at 10:00 am. Zina (Charisma Glasper), a closeted lesbian, is getting signs from the universe that technology is awry. When her sister Nickelle (Jordan-Amanda Hall) catches Zina with her lover, Jazz (writer-director Blanche Akonchonga), she promises not to out her if Zina can secure Nickelle the pregnancy test she needs. However, at the pharmacy, there are unexpected encounters which reveal more secrets and lies. Akonchong’s film is cute and winning, and includes some surreal elements, like a set of twins (Jonathan and Jesse James Lightning Jr.) that keep crossing Zina’s path.  

Also part of the “Phototropism” program (but not available for preview) is “Abundance,” a three-part short film that proudly proclaims, “No white, cis-heterosexual men were involved in making.” 

For tickets, schedule, and more information, visit

Newsletter Sign-up