Festival serves as launching pad for local Black filmmakers

Natalie Morrow
Natalie Morrow Stephenetta Harmon/MSR News

The entertainment industry has finally caught on that Black films can break box office records. As the mainstream searches for the “next” Ryan Coogler, writer-director of the smash hit Black Panther, local film festivals prove that these creatives have been here all along.

In Minnesota, it is the Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF) that stands as an important launch pad for emerging filmmakers. Now in its 16th year, the TCBFF has showcased and given a platform to hundreds of new and award-winning films.

“We get to see that we have talent everywhere. We are a talented people,” said founder Natalie Morrow. “I’m looking and working to be a platform for this new group of people in film. I have been doing this for 16 years and people [around the world] are starting to notice. This is the time to step into our talents and embrace them.”

The platform has already opened up filmmakers to national exposure and awards. Davar McGee, who won best film in 2016 with his first-ever film (Suspect?), said he would not have gotten such a big break if not for the festival.

“They supported me a lot,” said McGee. “They really gave me a platform to be myself, even pushing my [film] to HBO. I didn’t even know that was on there until [Friday]! There [are] a lot of different festivals in Minnesota…but there’s no other festival in Minnesota that does that as much as this one does.”

Davar McGee
Davar McGee Stephenetta Harmon/

While the four-day festival receives submissions from all over the world, including Germany and Japan, instead of seeking big-name marquees, Morrow said she was keen on shining a spotlight on the Twin Cities’ filmmakers.

That included a night dedicated to local talent. “Brown Creatives” featured a series of shorts and feature-length films by McGee (Let Go), James Curry (masterjam), Chris McDuffie (Sola Rise), Henry Tribes (Bald and Beautiful), Erica Jeffers (Pregnancy Test) and D. Wilmos Paul (Heart Wound).

“Minnesota is very resourceful and rich for many things,” continued Morrow. “We have the most Fortune 500 companies of any other state. We have four [sports] teams. We [had] the Super Bowl. There is so much. They keep saying we are the next ‘Mini-apple’ and we’re seeing that. This is the time.”

McGee stressed the importance of not just seeing Blacks on the screen, but also behind the camera.
“Perception is reality, and those that control the perception can control the reality. My goal with filmmaking is to make something that can shift that paradigm. I want to make something that shows us in a different light…that has a backstory of…why some people might be [the way they are] because it’s a systemic thing that set us up that way,” said McGee.

“We need more Black filmmakers to show that,” he continued, “and also just to inspire kids. Everybody can’t play basketball and everybody can’t rap. So I want to just be able to show that there are different avenues of art that people should be able to tap into as Blacks, and we don’t really get enough representation of that.”

“I just want people to see that we’re out here and that there are these things that people can get behind in Minnesota.”