Lea Najjar’s debut Kash Kash defies expectations. Countering the smoke that floats upwards from the devastating 2020 explosion in Beirut, Najjar’s gaze jumps sideways. We go from one rooftop to another, observing three men in a game of kash hamam — players throw oranges at pigeons so that they fly higher and eventually lure other pigeons back to their respective roofs. Whoever brings in the most pigeons is the winner. One girl wants to join in, defying the limitations society imposes on her. Within this game and its incessant luring in and casting away of birds, the film finds resonance for the endless strife of Beirut at large.
Kash Kash is making its North American premiere at the 11th edition of the BlackStar Film Festival, just one title in an intriguing and eclectic lineup showcasing Black, Brown, and Indigenous storytellers from around the world. This year’s program celebrates the resilience and joy in worldwide struggles against erasure and confinement. Hyperallergic has previously covered titles in this year’s program, such as dream hampton’s Freshwater and Tonya Lewis Lee and Paula Eiselt’s Aftershock.
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Rakesh Narwani’s Spanish short film My Parents’ Bazaar is about his Sindhi immigrant parents, who moved from India to Malaga and ran a small electronics and watch repair shop. As a South Asian male heir, Narwani struggles with familial expectations and forming a sense of legacy in a seemingly foreign land. To that end, he creates art at the intersection of Spanish, Indian, and Pakistani influences, provoking the viewer to rethink ideas of immigration, success, legacy, and South Asian masculinities. Through music, archival images, and a swift lesson in South Asian history, Narwani creates an artistic heirloom in place of an inheritance that discomforts him.
Making its world premiere at the festival is Rea Tajiri’s Wisdom Gone Wild, following her mother, Rose, amid her long and painful struggle with dementia. Tajiri becomes both witness and participant in an arduous exercise of remembrance and archiving, set to a soundtrack of songs sung and hummed by her mother. Rose has lived nine decades as a daughter, mother, stylist, and at one point a prisoner in a concentration camp. Without falling into any self-centered trappings of nostalgic family documentaries, Wisdom is a patient meditation on life, time, and love, and a confrontation with monumental loss. It also features mesmerizing switching of parts, as the camera sometimes changes hands and Rose becomes the filmmaker and Tajiri the subject. It blurs the lines by which we define ourselves and the roles we play in love. The film is a slow burn that singes but doesn’t sever.
Filling an absence, reclaiming a memory, and layering spaces are all part of Kevin Jerome Everson’s very short 16mm silent film Weidle’s. As the filmmaker remembers a deli from his hometown of Mansfield, Ohio, he uses the film to transpose it to a modern-day Charlottesville butcher, George H. Swingler, embodying his reminisces in Swingler’s physicality as he hammers meat. Brit Hensel’s short ᎤᏕᏲᏅ (What They’ve Been Taught) also toys with time and liminality, questioning our conception of time as finite and linear. In the film, she listens to Cherokee Nation elder Thomas Belt explaining the idea of an eternal culture of reciprocity, which defines the worldview she aspires to live for. It is through a balance of receiving and providing that Cherokee people define time — a conscious blurring of the familiar markers of development, success, and consumption by which people measure their lives.
“When it all perishes, why do we hold on to flying?” Najjar asks in her artistic statement as she watches men spend their lives chasing birds in a burning city. BlackStar’s program reminds us that it is through such flight that we find hope and new worlds where stories can live.
The 2022 BlackStar Film Festival runs August 3-7, with events both online and at various venues in Philadelphia.