Black Warrior Film Festival returns for 3rd year


Photo Courtesy of Alexis Butler

Laura Testino

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” and “50 Shades of Grey” debut at Hollywood 16 Theatre this weekend, but won’t be the only additions to the Tuscaloosa film scene: The Black Warrior Film Festival returns for its third year of student films and guest filmmaker appearances tonight, complete with a Valentine’s Day showing of “Juno” on Saturday evening.

The film festival began as a Creative Campus project in 2013, but operates independently this year through the continued support and sponsorship of the organization, as well as with the assistance of other University and Tuscaloosa community sponsors. The festival begins tonight and continues until Sunday, with free admission to workshops, panel discussions and screenings of guest filmmaker films and 44 films by students at universities across the Southeast.

Katie Howard, a senior majoring in public relations, has been involved with the festival since its conception, and is the current executive director. The festival provides great networking opportunities for students interested in pursuing a career in film, and the student films are also a great way to represent the growing film community in Tuscaloosa, she said.

“[Black Warrior Film Festival] really does want to showcase filmmakers from a region that isn’t necessarily known for filmmaking,” Howard said.

Student filmmakers at UA also participate in Campus MovieFest, a festival that travels to various universities throughout the year before culminating with a finale over the summer. A student film from UA has won the finale over the past two years, and films from Tuscaloosa need to be showcased, Howard said.

“We have some great talent here. And that’s what started it all, really,” Howard said. “We knew we had the talent to showcase. [Black Warrior Film Festival] was just something a group of people wanted to do, and we did it, and have continued to for three years.”

Last year, the festival invited Ava DuVernay, director of “Selma,” to the festival, in order to provide network and educational opportunities to students from professionals in the industry. This year award-winning filmmakers Ya’Ke Smith, Margaret Brown and Tom Heller will both show films and be a part of workshops.

The festival begins Friday at 7 p.m. in the Dinah Washington Cultural Arts Center with a film screening and Q&A session with Smith.

“If I leave the University community with nothing else, my goal is to leave them knowing that art not only imitates life, but art birthed from the soul can change lives,” Smith said in a news release.

Saturday’s events begin at 10 a.m. in the Ferguson Center with the first of five one-hour film blocks, and continues with a Sidewalk Film Festival panel discussion at 11 a.m. Rachel Morgan, an adjunct instructor at the University who co-teaches the Documenting Justice course, has been with Sidewalk for nine years, and is currently the lead programmer and creative director for the festival, which is a nonprofit organization that began showing films in Birmingham in 1999.

Morgan has worked with Black Warrior Film Festival for the past three years, but this will be her first year as a panelist for Sidewalk. She has witnessed many connections made at Sidewalk turn into new opportunities for film projects, and believes networking is important in the film industry, she said.

“I think you can’t underestimate that,” she said. “It’s not just about what you can learn and take away from Black Warrior [Film Festival], but also about the people you meet and the connections you make.”

Morgan has seen an increase in the number of student films submitted to Sidewalk over the past few years, and hopes to see the trend continue by encouraging students to submit films and stay involved in filmmaking, she said.

While the festival appeals to student filmmakers in artistic and academic outlets, the communal appeal has also helped to make the Black Warrior Film Festival successful, Joey Weed, the festival’s director of business, said. Weed, a junior majoring in math and economics, has been involved with the festival over the past two years has been impressed by the community response, he said.

Various university departments, campus organizations and businesses in Tuscaloosa sponsor the event, allowing it to be more accessible to students and the rest of the public, Weed said. He said he is looking forward to the community watching and discussing films together.

“In the Netflix and YouTube era, we forget that movies can be a communal experience and something to celebrate,” Weed said. “Experiencing the thrill of storytelling through these films allows people to come together even if people have their own opinions.”

Black Warrior Film Festival culminates with an awards ceremony Sunday at 7 p.m. at the Bama Theatre. For a full schedule of events, visit