How The Blackhouse Foundation Redefined The Sundance Film Festival
The Blackhouse Foundation helps to promote black filmmakers at the country's top film festivals.
It may have been 18 degrees outside on this night in Park City, Utah, but no one could tell in a comfortably crowded restaurant on the edge of Main Street. In a town that thrives on the frigid temperatures, 804 Main was heating up yet again for just for one reason: Blackhouse was throwing one of their (many) parties during the Sundance Film Festival.
An official partner of the annual Sundance Film Festival since 2007, the Blackhouse Foundation opened their doors to film industry insiders and attendees for six days during the 2014 event, providing filmmakers of color a hub for networking while promoting the festival’s black films and creators. Though Blackhouse’s presence isn’t limited to Sundance—they also participate in high profile fests like Tribeca, AFI and the L.A. Film Fest—it’s at Sundance where their influence is the most prominent and palpable.
So how did the Blackhouse Foundation, a group bursting with elite executives from all areas of the entertainment industry, become a driving force in making the Sundance experience more diverse? Blackhouse founder Brickson Diamond filled Loop21 in on why there’s a need for Blackhouse and shared the organization’s long-term vision.
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Loop21: Blackhouse started after you realized there wasn’t a real central hub for black filmmakers at Sundance. What were the first few years at Sundance like for Blackhouse?
Brickson Diamond: They were actually more elaborate. The first two years we did eight days at the festival. We did two panels and a bunch of parties. The second year we added programming. Since we downsized, it’s much more focused. Our program has been focused on creating a space, a haven. People are now calling us to be on panels and are calling us with panel ideas.
In 2007, our first year in the festival, there were seven black films. This year there were 26 black projects. We count liberally, so we take director, subject matter or principal cast, so that gives you a pretty wide field, but you need to celebrate all of those.
Loop21: Do you get to collaborate with the Sundance Institute about festival programming?
BD: We always work with the festival to push them to include more black content. We were very clear about not wanting to be guerrilla or renegade—we wanted to be official partners. Fast forward eight years later and Sundance is starting a diversity department, and someone they’ve hired has worked with us for three years.
Loop21: How can the black community do more to support independent black filmmaking and continue the work you’re doing with Blackhouse?
BD: Go and see these movies when they come out. Keep an eye out for them, expand the palate. When you see an art house black film, go out and support it. Ride Along is fantastic and we’re thrilled for Ice Cube and Kevin Hart, but go out and see something like Mother of George of Blue Caprice. Find an independent space in your community and make it a habit to go see all of the things they exhibit. Go out to your local theatre and tell them “You better be playing this movie because I want to see it.”
Loop21: What type of impact do you want Blackhouse to have on film festivals like Sundance?
BD: We want to make sure the festivals are as representative as they can be of the diversity of this country. To make sure that Sundance uses all of its history, all of its resources and all of its knowledge to nurture the storytelling of our community, whether that’s black, Latino or South Asian. We want to make sure these stories are on the screen so that we see ourselves and that others see us. The big objective is to increase acceptance and plurality in America because it increases opportunity. If you see me and you know me, you’re less likely to discriminate against me and you’re more likely to give me opportunity and to create opportunity with me.
Our goal is pretty big in that regard, but in the short term we’re tying to make sure the festivals are pooling all of their resources to have storytellers who are brilliant learn the craft, understand the commerce and give the commitment to be involved.
Loop21: What words of advice do you have for young filmmakers of color?
BD: The thing about filmmaking is that you get better by doing it more. Because of the accessibility of technology today and the accessibility of platforms, you can use your iPhone to make a movie. You can use software on your mac to edit it. You can then post it to YouTube. It’s a true democratization of film that allows you to get your feet wet. Then there’s a wealth of resources once you hone your craft and build your audience to move it to the next level. My message to young filmmakers is to just start and be open to ever chance you can get.
Shontel Horne is the Senior Lifestyle and Entertainment Producer for Loop21.com. Follow her on Twitter @writerrambling.
Photo Credit: TheBlackhouse.org