Twin Cities Black Film Festival founder on 10 years of stars and screenings


Ten years ago, Natalie Morrow wanted to establish an annual Black film screening event on the comparable level as similar events held in Atlanta and Los Angeles.

Since then, the Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF) has been held each September in such places as Augsburg College (twice), at downtown hotels and once at now-vacant Block E. Stars such as Nate Parker, cinema icons such as Pam Grier and countless screenwriters, directors and documentary producers have been special guests over the years as well.

Among this year’s 14-film festival September 27-30 at St. Anthony Main Theatre included a tribute to the late Whitney Houston (The Bodyguard), two unheralded 1970s classics (The Spook Who Sat by the Door and Black Brigade), a documentary on the final season of sports at Minneapolis Community and Technical College and a comedy filmed in the Twin Cities.

“I’m happy that I am still on the right track in selecting the right films,” says Morrow in an interview with the MSR.

High Card Trumps, a six-minute film, was among several shorts shown at this year’s TCBFF. It featured a headstrong, proud Black woman (played by April Grace) who has a son serving overseas, and an Arab mother (Anoush NeVart), who also has a child in the military, who put their “pride and fear” on the table like playing a high-stakes card game.

“We were really lucky with them,” said writer Stacey Parshall Jensen on the two established actors. “They don’t work for free and they don’t do shorts. We got the scripts to their agents… They came to us and want[ed] in.”

Jensen told the audience during a Q&A at the TCBFF that NeVart won a best actress award at a Tokyo film festival where Trumps also was shown. “To win based on six minutes was amazing,” added Jensen.

“This is my first film,” Jensen, a 2009 Hamline graduate, told the MSR afterwards. “I didn’t start writing until I was in my 30s. I went to film school at the University of Southern California in 2010.” She wrote the screenplay in 2009 as part of a nine-month fellowship. “We had four weeks to pull it all together” using a $2,200 budget “and a weekend to shoot.”

The writer said that after she submitted her script to a screening board, some of the board members wanted different characters. “I had [a] director who wanted to make all the characters Latino. I had somebody else who wanted all the characters White. But in my mind, I tried to picture this in an inner city, at a community center [with] what [kind of] women [who] would be there.”

Jensen won out at the end by having two women of color as the main protagonists in the film, rather than “the straight-up White guy-Black guy, White woman-Black woman thing,” she surmised.

She is currently working on a longer version of High Card Trumps. “Our goal is to have a script by the end of the year, do fundraising by [next] spring and start production in the fall,” predicted Jensen.

“I am extremely grateful for Minneapolis,” said Jensen. “This is my creative home.”

“I would have loved a larger turnout,” observes Morrow of TCBFF’s 10th year. Yet she was encouraged that the final day’s attendees “were all new people.”

Morrow says she’s also received some feedback from the attendees as well. “From talking to some of the people who were there, what they’re saying is that people may not know [about TCBFF],” admits the festival founder-director.

It’s still bothersome to her that the TCBFF can’t attract a larger following, especially among Blacks. “My thoughts were it would be from our newspapers and radio station [KMOJ]” that got the word out, believes Morrow, who annually put notices and updates in local newspapers and uses both a website and social media as well. Word-of-mouth by regular attendees is also used, she adds.

“I don’t know if it is because people aren’t hearing about it or where they get their information,” Morrow muses.

She also got suggestions that she might try a different audience or use television for advertising about TCBFF — “hit a different group of people that may not go out all the time or may not read the newspaper,” notes Morrow.

“[What] I am looking to do is to make the Twin Cities Black Film Festival a membership [organization] like the Film Society [of Minneapolis St. Paul]. They are a membership and people sign up. Whether they come or not, they still have the opportunity to be a part of it, and if they don’t use their season passes, they can give them to someone else.”

The 11th annual TCBFF will be held next year, Morrow announces. “The next goal is [for] a larger audience to experience it.”