Inaugural festival celebrates the work of black filmmakers

The motto of Awalkonwater Entertainment, Columbus filmmaker Mark Cummings Sr.'s production company, is, “It's possible.”

Broadly applicable to Cummings' vision for his company and passion for filmmaking, the motto might also help tell the story of the filmmaking scene in Columbus. It's part of the message Cummings will share in his keynote address at the inaugural Columbus Black International Film Festival (CBIFF), to be held this weekend at three screens around the city.

Columbus native and filmmaker Cristyn Steward founded the festival to not only share the stories being told by black filmmakers, but to also share the stories of those filmmakers themselves. Steward has taken her own films to the festival circuit and believed there was something she and her hometown had to offer to the filmmaking community.

“There are tons of film festivals, and they're growing. And there are a lot of black film festivals of notoriety in the United States,” Steward said. “Part of the purpose of this event is letting people know that, on a community level, there are black filmmakers that already exist here and that are being successful inside and outside of Columbus. And that, since we have a scene here, to invite filmmakers into our city to show them what our scene looks like.”

The three-day festival will feature screenings, workshops, speakers, an awards ceremony and more. CBIFF will screen feature films and shorts, documentaries, narrative films and animation by filmmakers from Columbus and beyond.

“I feel like when you have black filmmakers making films you're going to get themes or an underlying message that talks about a portion of the black experience,” Steward said. “Essentially, we bring all these things together… and every film is telling some story that talks about the black experience and you'll see it's not a monolith.”

“Also, one of our missions is to break a stereotype that black filmmakers only make one type of film,” she added.

Cummings recently completed his fourth feature-length narrative film, “Holy Hustle.” The comedy, about a con artist and his upright brother who attempt to hustle a church to come up with money they owe to some gangsters, has received a distribution deal from Leomark Studios. Cummings has made all four of his movies in Columbus.

“Making movies [in Columbus] is a big move, but if there's one thing about being here, it's one of those can-do type places,” Cummings said. “Creative-wise, we are in an age where digital [technology] makes it possible to make a feature film in Columbus.”

His keynote address will focus on the state of black filmmaking. “You can't just judge the state of black cinema by the upper echelon. We are the next generation of black filmmakers. You need to work hard and provide variety and quality, and just be passionate about it,” Cummings said.

Cummings said having a film festival of this kind in Columbus is a benefit to the local industry, and that a festival screening benefits any filmmaker. “Holy Hustle” will be screened following Cummings' keynote on Friday evening.

“A lot of people think [festivals] are industry-specific, but we want to make people aware of the films we're going to be showing, to present an opportunity for audience members to see independent films that they probably wouldn't have otherwise,” Steward said. “Plus we want a platform for the community to actually be involved, to create an active engagement between filmmaker and community, so that people can interact with filmmakers and maybe talk to them about [their film].”

The festival will also feature a workshop with local filmmaker Celia C. Peters on Saturday afternoon at CCAD titled “By Any Means Necessary: Make Your Film!” Geared toward emerging and aspiring filmmakers, the workshop will focus on the nuts and bolts of getting a short film made.

A “Black Media Matters” panel discussion will be held Saturday evening preceding Homegrown Shorts, a series of short films by Columbus filmmakers. Steward said the discussion will address “why it's important for black representation to be in media [and] why it's important for the film industry to have black people telling their stories.”