Editors’ note: If your spring break plans included travel or large events, precautions surrounding the coronavirus likely upended them. While it’s smart to bookmark the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s website to keep an eye on things, now is a fine time to research summer fun at getaway hot spots within driving distance.
Want to see advance screenings of Black feature films, documentaries and short films created by indie and established filmmakers before they hit your local cineplex, and rub elbows with Hollywood stars? Well, save up your popcorn money for one of these Black film festivals, and get ready for lights, camera and plenty of action — with perks like parties, workshops and panels with celebrity guests.
American Black Film Festival, Miami Beach, Florida, June 17-21
Pack your bags for balmy Miami Beach, where every day feels like a Margarita Monday or Taco Tuesday happy hour. If you want to be part of the in crowd, your chance to see and be seen is at the popular American Black Film Festival (ABFF). Founded by film producer Jeff Friday, ABFF has helped to launch the careers of past attendees-turned-Hollywood A-listers, including Issa Rae, Kevin Hart and Black Panther director Ryan Coogler. In addition to movie screenings, this year’s festival features a master class for aspiring screenwriters led by TV creator and showrunner Mara Brock Akil (Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane). (abff.com)
March on Washington Film Festival, Washington, D.C., Sept. 21-27
Fall in love with the nation’s capital this September, an ideal time to visit the National Museum of African American History and Culture, see the monuments and historic sites, and dine and shop in the historic U Street Corridor. The March on Washington Film Festival is another autumnal draw, launched in 2013 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Drawing over 1,000 attendees — including celebrities like the late Diahann Carroll, 9th Wonder and award-winning author Ta-Nehisi Coates — the festival’s highlights include panels and film screenings about freedom fighters and civil rights history. (marchonwashingtonfilmfestival.org)
Baltimore International Black Film Festival, Baltimore, Oct. 7-12
Come to Charm City for crab cakes, shopping and entertainment along the picturesque Inner Harbor waterfront. Enjoy visits to the National Aquarium and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture. Then settle in at the grassroots Baltimore International Black Film Festival (BIBFF), which focuses its lens on Black art and culture, social justice and films that celebrate the LGBTQ community. (bibff.com)
BlackStar Film Festival, Philadelphia, July 30 – Aug. 2
The home of sprawling street murals, cheesesteaks and the sound of Philadelphia pioneered by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff, and carried on by Jill Scott and the Roots, Philly is full of art and soul. In keeping with that creative community vibe, the BlackStar Film Festival champions storytelling by filmmakers of color from around the world. It's dubbed “the Black Sundance,” and highlights of 2019’s festival included daily yoga sessions, a conversation between filmmaker Spike Lee and #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke, and premieres of the complex coming-of-age drama Jezebel (now streaming on Netflix) and HBO’s documentary The Apollo. (blackstarfest.org)
Run & Shoot Filmworks Martha’s Vineyard African- American Film Festival, Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts, Aug. 7-15
Hop a flight or ferry for this bad and bougie event, dubbed “the summer’s finest film festival.” You might even spot Michelle and Barack while biking or dining out in Oak Bluffs. Founded by Stephanie Rance and her husband, Floyd Rance, the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (MVAAFF) boasts an impressive lineup of indie Black films and studio flicks, plus nightlife and celebrity guests like Janelle Monae, Michael B. Jordan (hello!) and Lynn Whitfield. (mvaaff.com)
Urbanworld20, New York City, Sept. 23-27
Spend a few days shopping, sightseeing and watching movies in the Big Apple. UrbanWorld has been rolling out the red carpet for Black filmmakers for over two decades. Always a star-studded affair, the 2019 festival featured an opening night screening of the Academy Award-nominated Harriet, with appearances by director Kasi Lemmons and the film’s star Cynthia Erivo, a performance by musician Meshell Ndegeocello and a panel featuring talk show host Tamron Hall and actress Tika Sumpter. (urbanworld.org)
Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival & Lecture Series, Brooklyn, New York, Oct. 24-25
Head to New York’s hippest borough for dazzling Manhattan skyline views in Brooklyn Bridge Park, performances at the Brooklyn Academy of Music and Barclays Center and exhibits and First Saturdays dance parties at the Brooklyn Museum.Then, settle in for the main event — Reel Sisters, the first Academy Award-qualifying film festival devoted to films written, produced and directed by women of color. Created by African Voices publisher Carolyn A. Butts, its past celebrity guests and honorees include actress and Brooklyn native Rosie Perez and award-winning artist, author and activist Camille Yarbrough. (reelsisters.org)