Youth matters at BlackStar Film Festival: a Q&A with Tanya Jackson - Generocity Philly

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Aug. 5, 2019 2:08 pm

Youth matters at BlackStar Film Festival: a Q&A with Tanya Jackson

Jackson: "Young people are making feature films and they’re really good. So every year, there’s a new expectation that even we get surprised by."

2019 BlackStar Film Festival.

Photo @BlackStarFest Twitter)

An often  overlooked part of the BlackStar Film Festival (which just came to a close) is its youth program.

I sat down with BlackStar Film Festival’s youth program co-manager Tanya Jackson for a brief Q&A about the inclusion and representation of youth voices at BlackStar. Some questions and answers have been edited for clarity.


Generosity: Please introduce yourself, how you got involved with BlackStar Film Festival, and a little bit about your role as youth program co-manager?

Jackson: My name is Tanya Jackson. I am co-manager of the youth program at Blackstar along with Nuala Cabral.

How I first got involved with BlackStar: The first year I attended. And I know a lot of the people who manage and operate BlackStar like Maori Holmes, who is the founder and creative director. I met her when she was presenting her thesis film at Temple.

I am also a Temple graduate. I did my master’s at Temple, which is where I met Nuala and Rashid Zakat, who does the trailers and a lot of the media for BlackStar, we also met at Temple. We are a close friendship group, so a lot of BlackStar is family. That’s how I got introduced and stayed connected to BlackStar.

As far as co-managing the youth program, Nuala was really the initiator of having a youth program in the way that it is. She was brought on to make sure young people were represented and she kind of built it up for the first few years. I believe youth programs began the second, if not first year, at BlackStar. In 2014 or 15, I started assisting her.

She and I are friends, we both work in youth media as educators. It’s what we do, it’s our passion. And so I was assisting her at first, and she took a step back to try a different role at BlackStar doing community partnerships. So I stepped up to the manager position so that she could try out another aspect of what it means to run a festival, but she stayed on to assist me with administrative stuff.

Then the roles reversed for two years. She started assisting me to the point where we were both managing it. It was last year when Maori made it official that we would be co-managers. Because we would go back and forth– I’m managing her, she’s managing me, and we’re both responsible for everything– it just made sense for us to both co-manage it.

Generocity: Why do you think is it important for youth to be represented at BlackStar in this way?

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Jackson: Because just like any other person that gets to be represented, they matter. I would say that for every reason for why BlackStar exists, the same thing is true for young people. And I would say the stakes are higher in one regard because what we’re incubating, what we’re figuring out, what we’re wrestling with, what we’re making space for is longevity and legacy that’s sustainable by way of young people having that normalized in their lives.

So what does it mean to make a film by/for black and brown people? What does it look like? What does it mean to decolonize the types of film that we make? All of those conversations we’re having, all of that honoring and space-giving, how dope is it for young people to be amongst that and feel like this is normal and it should be? Because then, it just becomes something that they take on and defend. And to feel honored by a film festival and for them to be respected in this way means that the work that they’re making is not just for a school screening or for friends and family.

When young people make stuff, its echo sometimes is not carried to a wider audience unless people honor that they made this work. These echo chambers are of being relegated to a school building or a community space, which are dope and awesome, but in addition to that, why not have a wider audience? Why not show up for their work in the same way as older filmmakers? They’ll just become better filmmakers. The more that they practice what filmmakers do, the more they take ownership, the more they take it seriously, the better they’ll be.

And filmmaking, like music, like other art forms, is something that black and brown have always taken and flipped it, made it so dope in ways that are just phenomenal. So making sure that young people are in the space because they are the ones that will take something and flip it in ways that we’re not even dreaming of. They’re already using their phones to do amazing things and coupling what they’re already doing with the intentionality, can you imagine? So beyond just that young people need a voice, there’s all these other imprints that happen by them being part of a festival space.

Generocity: Are there other plans to expand on the relationship with these youth filmmakers or other ways to foster the community and creativity of the youth?

Jackson: Yeah, so as BlackStar grows, Maori is very intentional about the way the youth films exist within the festival itself. So the youth program will grow with that. And the intentionality around how youth are integrated in the festival will also grow with that thinking. It’s all very intentional.

And we are already incorporating elements beyond just the screening of the work but also for the development of their practice. So each year, depending on the topic we choose, it’s a panel or conversation or workshop or masterclass for their development. We have seasoned filmmakers come and share their experience, insights, their knowledge with the young people for that purpose. And we try to choose a topic that is relevant to helping them in that development. We’ve been having that element within the youth program for the last three to four years, and we continue to figure out new ways of how we cultivate their development and not just have a space to screen their work. So we’ll see how that goes. We have some ideas that we’re playing around with.

Because they’re also young people, there are some challenges with people who are minors in terms of when things can happen, what season things can take place because they have school or need parental permission. So there are some things that you have to consider how does this translate for young people whereas you can just do for adults, like filmmaker breakfasts or retreats and those kinds of things. S

o those are the challenges we have to figure out because of their age. But it doesn’t mean we can’t do things that filmmakers get to do for young people. And we are very intentionally looking to figure out how to build on what we’re already doing. So that’s a long way of saying that we’re doing some things, we’re going to do some more, and stay tuned for what that might look like.

Generocity: So tell me about this year’s youth program.

Tanya: Each year depending on the submissions we get, the youth program kind of morphs into something that responds to those submissions. Like the fact that we have different screening blocks was in response to three years ago when we got middle-school submissions. And it was like what if we have this, but you didn’t want the audiences of the college films to be 10-year-olds. We’re gonna have a youth program where all youth are here, but some of this content is not audience or age appropriate.

So thinking of these audiences, what if we create different screening blocks? So we had a tween block, a teen block, and a college/young adult block so that parents and guardians can prepare themselves for what they want to take them to. Because when we say youth program, you may assume you’re gonna bring all your kids and then you’re like, “Wait a minute, they’re talking about drugs or sex or whatever. I wasn’t prepared for this and I’m not prepared to have this conversation with them.” So it was about being intentional and giving disclaimers or trigger warnings or any things like that so we were responding to that.

And then last year, we had feature submissions and because of that, we were able to have youth feature screenings in addition to the shorts program, which was really amazing. So now we’re like, ‘Yeah, young people are making feature films and they’re really good.’ So every year, there’s a new expectation that even we get surprised by.

Generocity: And my final question is for aspiring or emerging artists and filmmakers, what advice do you have for young creatives looking to take the first step?

Jackson: Well for anyone who has an idea that they haven’t given themselves permission to act on, I would say just try it. Just try and don’t be intimidated by anyone else’s product or technology.

There’s so much that can be done with what you already have like your phone. Young people are making such amazing and innovative things with just their phones. You have to be willing to be a student, to really learn during your process. Youtube is such a good, free resource for that. Any question or issue you may encounter someone else has already been there and is showing you exactly how to do it.

If you can identify your problem, where you got stuck, and what you want to do, you can search and find people who are sharing their process. A more traditional route would be to find a program or major to study so there’s many ways to go about it. And mentorship, seek mentorship.

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