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Aug 09, 2019
Wex Film/Video Director David Filipi checked in with Cristyn Steward, Director of the Columbus Black International Film Festival, as the fest moves into a third year of presenting works spotlighting black filmmakers from around the world.
Their conversation is below, along with the trailer for Djibril Diop Mambéty’s hallucinatory comedy Hyenas (pictured above). It's one of two CBIFF opening night programs happening at the Wex: Hyenas screens at 7 PM on Thursday, August 22, preceded by a free 4 PM show of the shorts Anemone Me and Oreos with Attitude, with a reception in between starting at 6 PM. We're also hosting two free workshops for filmmakers on Saturday the 24th. Here's the complete schedule for the fest, happening August 22–25, and here's how you can get involved as a volunteer.
CBIFF Director Cristyn Steward, photo: Erica M. Allen
You're about to launch the third CBIFF. How has your outlook changed from year one compared to where you are now?
In year one I was really focused on like the overall mission of CBIFF, making sure there were enough resources for filmmakers, films, and general access. It was really stressful just starting out. I think that idea was good in the beginning, but now I am more focused on the films. Making sure that the content we screen is of good quality and getting people engaged with the community and fellow filmmakers.
Could you describe how CBIFF is filling the need that you identified when you started the festival?
CBIFF is giving people the opportunity to shine and talk about their art. CBIFF is where Black film lives. If we go to an event that celebrates Black narratives, CBIFF is the festival to look forward to annually. It's also given young black filmmakers in this city the motivation to keep telling stories and creating moving images.
With two festivals under your belt, what has been both the most fulfilling development as well as the biggest disappointment?
The biggest development has to be our growth. When we first started we received 75 submissions, and I watched every single film, sometimes twice. This past season we received 142. I realized we are doing something really great here and I love it!
The biggest disappointment has been how tough it is to get local support. Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot of people who genuinely rally behind the festival. We are a small fish right now and that is part of the journey. We are still trying to figure out how to market a festival in a city like Columbus. It's a growing city that is still discovering its strengths.
How does CBIFF fit in with the rest of the film culture in Columbus?
Well, CBIFF is a part of the Black film culture here. We have proudly placed our flag and welcomed the locals. The goal is to expand on what Black film means for Columbus. CBIFF is ready for Columbus to embrace what we are doing as a film festival here in the city and around the globe.
What should people pay extra attention to in this year's fest?
Of course, the films. We also have really good content. But the voices like CJ Johnson Jr, Justen and Julien Turner, Michael Artis, Kyle Meeks, and Candace Wright—they're using their platform this year to share their stories and their expertise. It's time for Black filmmakers and creatives to be at the helm of THE conversation. Many of us have already created a table and now we are passing out invitations to our peers to collaborate and educate. Our society is driven by the tech and creative industries; there is no way around it anymore. That’s why our theme this year is "infinity." What CBIFF does today will catapult where Black film will be in the future.