Interview with Festival Director Cristyn Steward (Columbus Black International Film Festival)

The primary objective of the Columbus Black International Film Festival is to showcase Black filmmakers locally, nationally and internationally, while highlighting a spectrum of stories told by people of the African diaspora.

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Matthew Toffolo: What is your Film Festival succeeding at doing for filmmakers?

Cristyn Steward: The Columbus Black International Film Festival (CBIFF) is a movement that centers positive media representations of African American and African Diaspora communities. It provides a unique platform in Columbus, Ohio, to showcase films that are often not at the forefront of the mainstream film festival circuit, especially at the local level. This festival’s goal is to show the value of independent black cinema and highlight the importance of black filmmakers being in charge of their own narratives.

What would you expect to experience if you attend the festival this year (2017)?

In its inaugural year, the festival is setting the stage for a culture shift in Columbus. There will be three days of entertainment featuring 28 films from around the world. There will also be many moments for black filmmakers to network and build community. Festival workshops will also be featured to engage new and intermediate filmmakers to cultivate local talent.

What are the qualifications for the selected films?

This mission of the Columbus Black International Film Festival is to unapologetically uplift media representations of the African American and African Diaspora experience. All films submitted to the festival were required to feature black filmmakers in front of and behind the camera. A jury featuring black filmmakers, business owners and media critics rated the films based on creativity, direction, cinematography and acting, among other things. Films were also required to feature a valuable story uplifting the African American and/or the African Diaspora experience.

Do you think that some films really don’t get a fair shake from film festivals? And if so, why?

Black voices have a long documented history of being ignored or suppressed in mainstream film. Many films that feature marginalized communities aren’t given their just due. There are many reason why this is. Our society has been built on structural oppression and the idea of uplifting certain voices over others. This of course also plays out in the film industry as well. Luckily there are many niche festivals that now uplift marginalized voices, from the American Black Film Festival in Miami to the OUTFest Film Festival in Los Angeles. The Columbus Black International Film Festival is simply creating space to fill a similar void in Columbus, Ohio.

What motivates you and your team to do this festival?

The motivation for the CBIFF Board of Directors and Staff to do this festival is to start a movement and uplift black filmmakers in Columbus in an unprecedented way. My personal passion comes from how beneficial this film festival can be to the City of Columbus, its artists and its filmmakers. Nothing like this has been done before and we want to make sure we create something that is truly lasting.

How has your FilmFreeway submission process been?

I am a strong advocate of FilmFreeway. It is very easy to navigate and they have created new additions to make film festival management much more convenient and efficient. I think it was because of FilmFreeway and its reputation among filmmakers that we were able to garner 81 submissions in our first year.

Where do you see the festival by 2020?

Once the festival makes it to its fourth year in 2020, we hope that it will become a staple statewide and nationally for black film. We hope to have doubled our submissions by then and will have expanded the festival to a week-long series of showcases and workshops hosted in various neighborhoods throughout the city.

What film have you seen the most times in your life?

Being a film nerd, I don’t think there is just one, but I would have to say “Crooklyn” or “Baby Boy.” During my “starving artist” period as a film student living in San Francisco without cable, I couldn’t stop watching these movies.

In one sentence, what makes a great film?

It’s quite simple, a valuable story that universally touches everyone who watches it. It’s simply put, but very hard for even the best filmmakers to accomplish.

How is the film scene in your city?

Columbus will surprise you. It has a growing film scene with many new filmmakers coming out of The Film Studies Program at The Ohio State University and the Columbus College of Art and Design who are looking to build more opportunities locally. There are several popular film festivals here, including the Columbus International Film + Video Festival, the LGBT Fest and the Columbus Jewish Film Festival. There are also several filmmakers that have set up successful production companies, including our 2017 Keynote Speaker, Mark A. Cummings’ Awalkonwater Entertainment, which has sold out several theaters in the city for his films because of his unique approach to creating universally comedic films that feature black actors and filmmakers, and expertly highlights the black experience.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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