LGBTQ films at the BlackStar Film Festival

Still from “Mars One,” directed by Gabriel Martins. (Photo courtesy Black Star Project.)

The BlackStar Film Festival, Philadelphia’s annual showcase for Black, Brown, and Indigenous cinema (and panels and parties) screens in-person and virtually August 3 to 7. This year’s program features several LGBTQ features, shorts, and documentaries. Here is a rundown of what to watch.

One highlight this year is the closing night feature, writer/director Gabriel Martins’ involving drama, “Mars One,(August 7 at 8:00 pm virtual and 8:30 pm at the Zellerbach Theater). The film depicts the dignity of a lower middle-class Black Brazilian family. Wellington (Carlos Francisco) is the patriarch who works at a luxury apartment building. He is underpaid, but he engenders respect with the manager and his coworkers. His wife, Tércia (Rejane Faria), cleans houses, but she has had a hard time finding work of late. Her troubles are compounded after she is in a café where a bomb goes off. Surviving the attack, she feels she is bringing bad luck on everyone around her. Meanwhile, their daughter Eunice (Camilla Damião) is planning to move in with her girlfriend, Joana (Ana Hilario). They have been “looking” at apartments and having sex in the empty spaces. Her brother, Deivinho (Cícero Lucas) plays soccer — Wellington wants him to be a star — but he would rather study astrophysics. How their lives and storylines play out in this modest film is absorbing. A scene of the girls holding hands when Joana is introduced to Eunice’s parents is both sweet and prickly. But the love this family feels for one another through the difficulties they experience resonates. 

Another feature, not available for preview, is “The Passion of Remembrance,” (August 3, 2:00 pm at the Zellerbach Theater and 10:00 pm virtually) codirected by out gay filmmaker Isaac Julien — whose installation “Once Again… (Statues Never Die)” is currently on display at the Barnes Foundation — and Maureen Blackwood. The film examines issues of race, class, gender and sexuality in Britain. 

Among the numerous shorts programs there are a handful of LGBTQ entries.

For Love” is featured in the “Gather Me” program, (August 3, 5:00 pm at the Montgomery Theater and 6:00 pm virtually). This heartfelt drama has lovers Martha (Ann Akin Jirin) and Nkechi (Marcy Dolapo Oni) at a crossroads when Nkechi, an undocumented immigrant, makes a life-altering decision. The film shows each woman’s despair as they consider a future together while also confronting the possible reality of being kept apart. There are several moving scenes — and a fabulous dance sequence — in this topical short.

One Magenta Afternoon” screens in the “Sillage” program (August 4, 11:00 am at the Zellerbach Theater and 12:00 pm virtually). A young boy (Thelonious Palacio) and his grandfather (Douglas R. Ewart) play music and reflect on the past as they recall queer spirits. The music and costumes provide the aural and visual delights in this experimental short. 

“Body Language” in the “Savvy” program (August 5, 10:00 am at the Montgomery Theater and virtually) is an excellent, empowering, and all too brief documentary about gay men who struggle with body positivity. Often shamed by family and/or friends, the half dozen interviewees talk about being too thin, or too heavy, and not being “sought after” in the gay and bear communities, where racism is already an issue. But as they combat both physical and psychological issues, and transform their appearances, they learn to love themselves. 

Losing Joy,” which also screens in the “Savvy” program, is a poignant two-hander about love and grief as Faith (Michele Tiwo) wants to be left alone on the first anniversary of Joy’s passing. However, her friend Olivia (Shanay Neusum-James) stops by for a visit, bringing Faith’s emotions to a head. While it takes a little time to develop, this intimate film is ultimately quite moving.

Still from “The Spirit God Gave Us,” directed by Michael Donte. (Photo courtesy Black Star Project.)

The Spirit God Gave Us,” in the “Pulsate” program (August 5, 1:00 pm at the Montgomery Theater and 2:00 pm virtually) has New York transplant Shamont (Elijah Boothe) meeting Malcolm (Nic Ashe) at the local church during a Sunday service. The two young men head off to a nearby river where Shamont gives Malcolm a psychic reading, letting his new friend imagine his future. But as the guys become close friends, some horseplay in the church leads to potential trouble. Writer/director Michael Donte’s short is very engaging, and most viewers will want Shamont and Malcolm’s story to continue. Hopefully, it will be developed into a feature soon.

Also screening in the “Pulsate” program is the comic short, “The Syed Family Xmas Eve Game Night.” When Noor (Kausar Mohammed) brings her Puerto Rican girlfriend Luz (Vico Ortiz) home for a holiday family tradition, there are several awkward moments. But Noor was hoping her judgy older sister, Soraya (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) was not going to be there. Since she is, Soraya asks Luz to make her a chai — a true test to determine if she approves of Noor’s new love. Featuring high energy and broad comedy, this short is a delight. 

Lastly, “Black Beauty” in the “Locomotive” program (August 5, 8:00 pm virtually and 8:30 pm at the Zellerback Theater) is transwoman Elle Moxley’s inspiring documentary self-portrait. Using interviews, conversations, and archival footage, Elle talks about how her experiences of coming out, being homeless, and organizing against injustice — as well as her activism for the Black Lives Matter movement — shaped her life and helped develop her sense of self-worth. For tickets, showtimes, and more information, visit