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The LightReel Film Festival Finishes Strong

The 5th Annual LightReel Film Festival concluded on June 8, 2024, after completing its strongest slate of films, panels, and parties in its short five-year history. During a year when concerns were raised about movie attendance's downward trend, LightReel tripled in attendance and box office receipts.

Filmmakers and cinephiles alike turned out en masse for Washington DC’s largest BIPOC film festival, which featured seventy-two films from 13 countries over four days of programming. This included the upcoming KiKi Layne feature, “Dandelion,” Richard Roundtree’s last on-screen performance in “Thelma,” Academy Award nominee Dianne Houston’s “Freedom Hair,” the 40th Anniversary screening of “Purple Rain” and a shorts series showcasing up-and-coming filmmakers from the only HBCU with a Masters of Film Administration (MFA), Howard University.

“Howard University has a rich history of prolific and profound contributions to the world of cinema,” explained festival director Tim Gordon. “We are extremely proud to feature the work of the future of BIPOC filmmaking this year and for many years to come.”

In addition to the strong and diverse slate of films in the festival, LightReel featured six talk series events at the festival hotel, the Washington Marriott Capitol Hill.

The events connected attendees with industry professionals on topics as varied as “Faith in Film” and “The Enduring Legacy of Spike Lee.” The 35th anniversary of Lee’s groundbreaking “Do the Right Thing” was celebrated with a festival screening spurring the panel. The “Faith in Film” talk was inspired by Kim Moir’s provocative documentary “gOD-Talk,” which also screened at the festival.

In the culmination of the exciting week of events, during closing night festivities on June 8, Tim Gordon unveiled the Black Butterfly, LightReel’s festival award to honor and celebrate the films and participants in the festival. The first Black Butterfly awards were bestowed upon the guest panelists of the festival: mega-producer Brenda Gilbert (panel entitled The Executive Suite), make-up artist Ashunta Sheriff (The Art of the Face Beat), art consultant and curator Myrtis Bedolla (The Art of Film) and four-time Emmy, as well as Peabody and ACE Award-winning Film/Television Editor Stephanie Filo (The Art of Storytellers). 

Butterflies were also awarded to five filmmakers for outstanding films at the festival. The Black Butterfly for Best Narrative Feature was awarded “Yellow Bus,” the story of a mother fighting for truth and justice faced with a cover-up over the death of her daughter, who was trapped inside a school bus in the hot Indian sun. Best Documentary Feature went to “Rising Hope,” Theo Avgerinos’ triumphant tale about overcoming the odds of life in the Mississippi Delta. Best Narrative Short was “Essex Girls,” the story of a black high school girl forced to embark on a journey of self-discovery. Best Documentary Short was presented to “Earthbound: Nzambi Matee,” about a young girl in Africa leading a major environmental change. The final Black Butterfly of the festival was given to “Mosiah” for winning the Audience Award. “Mosiah” is a dramatic recount of the trial of Marcus Garvey.

When asked about the surprising turn in success for the festival, Tim Gordon stated, “We have worked very hard to curate a strong slate of films and interactive panels again this year. The LightReel team has been very focused on reaching out to filmmakers and the general public to create interest all year around. Early ticket sales were good, but we had an amazing amount of people who just walked in and attended. We can’t rest on our laurels, though.” Gordon and his team plan to relax for about a month and then return to the grind of curating the festival for 2025. 

The LightReel Film Festival will return to the Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market in Northeast Washington, DC, from June 4-7, 2025, and the submission period for films will open on September 9, 2024.  

Note: The author is a programmer for the LightReel Fim Festival.

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