Brad James (Superstition, For Better or Worse) stars in The Other Side, the closing night film for the 2018 Houston Black Film Festival.
Brad James (Superstition, For Better or Worse) stars in The Other Side, the closing night film for the 2018 Houston Black Film Festival.
Film still courtesy of Houston Black Film Festival

The Houston Black Film Festival Looks at Love, Black Panther and a Comedy Fest

Love is in the air at the 2018 Houston Black Film Festival, though there are several twists and turns with this year's offerings. The festival's opener, Love by Chance, features a pair of South African actors who meet while trying to break into Hollywood; One Bedroom toys with finding love and keeping the perfect apartment; and the closing night film, The Other Side, places a writer in a difficult situation when another woman wants to steal his fiancée's heart.

Michael Phillip Edwards wrote, directed and starred in Last Life, a drama about reincarnated lovers.
Michael Phillip Edwards wrote, directed and starred in Last Life, a drama about reincarnated lovers.
Film poster and film still courtesy of Houston Black Film Festival

Last Life, which was nominated for an Audience Favorite Award at the Pan African Film Festival, is a fascinating tale about karma and getting the chance to right one's wrongs. It was written and directed by Michael Phillip Edwards, who also stars in the film along with Tamika Lamison. The couple discovers that they've known each other in previous lives — as slaves, strangers on a train and officers of the law — and their last chance to get it right is jeopardized by a mysterious entity.

Everybody's buzzing about Black Panther, which has broken the top 20 of highest grossing films in the world. So it comes as no surprise that the superhero flick has inspired several programming options during this year's festival. There's a Wakandian Comedy Festival at The Joke Joint on March 25, a Black Panther movie panel discussion* at Texas Southern University on March 26, a Cosplay Night at DuVin Pintor Gallery on March 29 and — last but not least — actor Atandwa Kani, who portrayed young T'Chaka, stars in the festival opener on March 27 at The MATCH.

Vanessa Morman, HBFF's founder, tells us the cosplay night is one of their most popular events. "We’re already getting our costumes together; very excited. We’re going to be seeing a lot of people dressed in Black Panther outfits; we’ll see a variety." In spite of the film's success, she acknowledges that the content may have some issues, and that will be discussed in one of the festival's panels.

"We dissect the movie Black Panther. Were they truly revolutionary, the angst and the tribulation," says Morman. "You also have to pause in some of the ways that it played out."

Another panel is devoted to imaging in film. "The Houston Black Film Festival is about imaging and trying to keep films in front of people that show our culture in a good light to address the imaging, to actually dispel the stereotypes," says Morman, who seeks out films with quality storylines. "At the same time we actually turn down a lot of films because it has gratuitous language, objectifies women."

Longtime Houstonians will remember Mickey Leland, who attended Wheatley High School and Texas Southern University, worked as an activist and went on to become a United States congressman. The festival is screening a 60-minute historical documentary, Rise Up: Mickey Leland, during a private VIP event and again for the public.

One Bedroom, a comedy about love and the perfect apartment, stars Darien Sills-Evans, Stephen Hill and DeAriesha Mack.
One Bedroom, a comedy about love and the perfect apartment, stars Darien Sills-Evans, Stephen Hill and DeAriesha Mack.
Film still courtesy of Houston Black Film Festival

Key event dates and after parties:
March 21, Jack Yates Youth Storyteller Competition
March 25, Wakandian Comedy Festival
March 26, Black Panther Movie Panel Discussion*
March 26, Wine Tasting
March 27, Opening Night Red Carpet Screening of Love by Chance
March 27, Jazz at Phil & Derek's
March 28, Roaring '20s Black Carpet Affair
March 28, Free Community Day
March 29, Special Art Activism Panel
March 29, Media Day and Industry Day
March 29, Cosplay Night
March 30, Invitation Only VIP Mixer and Silent Auction

*Presented as part of HBFF's Art Activision series in collaboration with TSU's Music Chair, Dr. Oby's Third  Collegiate Conference-Liberal Arts Behavioral Sciences Department.

The Houston Black Film Festival runs March 21-31 at various locations, including Texas Southern University, The Ensemble Theatre, The Montrose Center, The MATCH, Aurora Picture Show, The Joke Joint, Phil & Derek's Jazz Lounge, DuVin Pintor Gallery, The LIBRARY Coffee Shop, Jack Yates High School and the Royal Graphix Museum. For information and scheduling, call 713-999-3531 or visit houstonblackfilmfest.com or ticketleap.com.

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