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'Beautifully Black' film series born from collaboration, inclusive spirit and a local spotlight

The series runs all February at Arthouse at Blue Star, and includes movies from working Texas filmmakers in addition to Hollywood classics.

SAN ANTONIO — Back in early November, Ada Babineaux, Barbara Felix and Angela Martinez hadn’t connected with each other, let alone collaborated. 

But now, barely three months later, their partnership has led to “Beautifully Black,” a showcase of movies from African American filmmakers taking over Arthouse at Blue Star for Black History Month. 

Felix, a San Antonio artist who’s dabbled in watercolor, collage and even video, is always looking to expand her palette. So when she was approached by Martinez through a mutual connection about potentially programming a series dedicated to Black storytellers, she was eager for the challenge. 

“I seem to always have multiple projects, and I could have referred her to someone else,” Felix said. “But I said, ‘It sounds like fun, I’m going to say yes. I’m going to say yes to this because this is a really cool opportunity.’” 

She went on to put together “a huge spreadsheet” of potential movies, but eventually felt they needed to add a third voice to the mix. Felix has fostered a network of Alamo City-based creatives over the years, and there had to be someone in town with experience in the film industry who could help build the program. 

Who better than the founder of the San Antonio International Black Film Festival (SABIFF)?

“By the time she got to me, she had this massive chart of films that she researched. I had seen a majority of them,” said Ada Babineaux, who left her hometown to study film before returning in 2014. “So I came on, really, to compliment her. I was really impressed with her, her attitude and her spirit. It’s easy to become involved with someone who has that much energy.”

Babineaux came on board in December, and from that point on the three worked on fine-tuning their selections. The resulting slate is an eclectic mix of Black stories, from established classics (“Do The Right Thing,” “City of God”) and Oscar-winning dramas (“Moonlight,” “Black Orpheus”) to genre fare (“Us,” “The Wiz”) and independently produced masterworks (“Killer of Sheep,” “Daughters of the Dust”). 

But the team behind “Beautifully Black” expanded their scope even further by including a local focus, and a sort of reminder that the biggest directors started somewhere.

“We’re here at the Blue Star Arts Complex; this is a space for creativity. People come here to see art and all kinds of creative stuff,” said Felix, who took full advantage of her arts-community connections. “I wanted to showcase Texas talent and film. I wanted to leave it open and broad, but show the work and also let people know who these people are.”

That’s why the first thing visitors will see when they enter Arthouse at Blue Star this month is a wall covered with the names and faces of Black Texas filmmakers working today – among them Ya'Ke Smith, Hallease Narvaez, DeAnna Brown and Cedric Thomas Smith – as well as how to connect with them. It’s also why the program is kicking off with two days of shorts from those directors, and why the venue’s walls are adorned with paintings from Black artists, turning “Beautifully Black” into a multimedia showcase elevating new voices. 

Credit: David Lynch / KENS

It’s that same initiative that motivated Babineaux to create SABIFF in 2019, having learned about filmmakers like Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and Euzhan Palcy, whose groundbreaking works have never translated to mainstream status. 

“Those are my heroes and sheroes, and their films (are ones) people probably haven’t even heard of. You really don’t see Black independent films unless you go to film festivals. I wanted to bring that to San Antonio,” she said. “When you localize things and say, ‘These people are making films in your backyard, they’re making films here,’ that gives more pride and encouragement to kids, students and onlookers. The talent is here. The potential is here.” 

Proving her point, “Beautifully Black” was sponsored by Icon Talks, a Washington D.C.-headquartered organization founded by four San Antonio friends which works to cultivate diverse leadership while providing disadvantaged youth with resources and connecting them with those who have overcome adversity. 

It’s also the producer behind the documentary “I Am a Dreamer” – an examination of the world today through the lens of social injustice and sociopolitical advocacy – which will premiere on the afternoon of Feb. 19 as part of the “Beautifully Black” slate. 

“It’s San Antonio boys that made this movie,” Felix said. “It’s our boys, our men. It’s really inspiring that we have San Antonio people doing such great things and making an impact.”

Credit: David Lynch / KENS

Echoing the inclusive spirit by which Felix, Babineaux and Martinez approached “Beautifully Black,” the series also features movies from high school and UTSA students, as well as some short-film directors who are just starting to explore the medium. Also on the schedule is “Walk on the River,” which bills itself as a “Black history of the Alamo City” and drives home the program’s local ethos even deeper. 

“It just means so much to us to be able to spotlight local filmmakers,” said Martinez, who opened Arthouse at Blue Star just last summer as an offshoot of Slab Cinema, the company she runs with her husband. “We try to do that in this space. It means so much to us to really do what we can in the community.”

“Beautifully Black” is also arriving as Babineaux – herself an independent filmmaker – gets ready to ramp up preparations for the 2022 edition of SABIFF, which, barring a prolonged pandemic, could return to being at least a partially in-person event after going virtual in 2020 and 2021. 

The call for submissions is now open for the next several months, with the festival planned to run Oct. 6 to Oct. 9, and Babineaux has plans to entice even younger, future filmmakers with a focus on animation. 

“This year is so focused on pulling kids in—kids from the east side and the west side that have no inkling about the possibilities of where life can take them,” she said. “Doing things locally is so important. It can change lives, and let you know what’s possible in the world.”

Buy tickets here.

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