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The 2023 Black Film Festival of New Orleans is here – Festival Director Gian Smith tells us about the films, performances, and strengthening community

Mar 11, 2023 | Film Festivals, Louisiana Filmmakers

Black Film Festival of New Orleans

“A stronger, more connected, more prepared filmmaking community is an asset to all of us, and that’s what we’re helping to be a part of.”

Black Film Festival of New Orleans Director Gian Smith shared this when he detailed the isolating struggle of trying to become an independent filmmaker with no support structures. Well, the 2023 Black Film Fest of New Orleans is here, and ready to help turn artistic isolation into a vibrant time of amplified creativity and strengthened community.

In its sixth year, the Black Film Fest continues to spotlight an eclectic array of artistic mediums that range from film to live poetry. It’s ready to spark two weeks of screenings, live music, and a coalescing of Black Louisiana talent ready to share and connect over outstanding artistry. 

And for the festivalgoer? It’s all free. 

The schedule, lineup, and registration for the 2023 Black Film Festival of New Orleans

Black Film Festival of New Orleans

The festival opens Sunday, March 12th at 7 p.m. with Freshwater by Dream Hampton screening at the Andre Cailloux Center. Freshwater is an experimental short film that uses the symbolic nature of water to depict the nature of memory through water and its duality as a “force of both harmony and devastation”. The entire fest will run from March 12th to March 26th, with dozens of in-person screenings before transitioning to virtual screenings.  

Monday night will move into the much-anticipated screening of Jonathan Isaac Jackson’s documentary Big Chief, Black Hawk about the New Orleans’ Mardi Gras Indians and the cultural significance of their tradition of masking. The evening will be accompanied by a live soul and funk performance by the Vegas Cola Band and music throughout the evening by DJ Funke. Each evening presents a featured film, live performance, or host – and often a combination of the three, creating an atmosphere that blends artistic celebration into a vibrant party. The featured lineup can be viewed on the Black Film Fest Instagram, and the complete lineup of film screenings is presented on the festival lineup page.   

The entire festival will be free, but attendees must complete a free registration via email, which can be done here on the Black Film Fest of New Orleans website. Awards will be given across 15 categories, including an Audience Award, and presented at the filmmaker’s Jazz Brunch.

Live music performance nights at the 2023 Black Film Fest:

  • Vegas Cola Band – Monday, March 13th – Broadside Theater, 8:30 p.m.
  • Sweet Southern Heat – Wednesday, March 15th – Cafe Istanbul, 9:20 p.m.
  • Yusa – Thursday, March 16th – Andre Cailloux Center, 9:00 p.m.
  • Max Moran Trio – Friday, March 17th – Andre Cailloux Center, 7:30 p.m.
  • Water Seed – Saturday, March 18th – Andre Cailloux Center, 6:00 p.m.
  • Jason Neville FunkySoul Band – Sunday, March 19th – Andre Cailloux Center, 4:00 p.m.

Comedy performances will also take place at Cafe Istanbul on Wednesday, March 15th, and the Pass It On poetry series will be at the Andre Cailloux Center on Thursday, March 16th.

Festival Director Gian Smith on what’s expanding with the 2023 Black Film Fest of New Orleans:

I’m really excited that this year BFFNO will have a much broader festival feel. We’re screening even more film projects than we have for our first five years, and we’ve extended the festival from a weekend into a whole week so that we can provide way more entertainment. This year we will have poetry and comedy nights which are somewhat new, and we’ve put a lot of investment into our music as I’ve booked some of my very favorite bands in New Orleans. One of them is the Vegas Cola band which will play at our first-ever outdoor screening at the Broadside (The Broadside New Orleans) as we showcase Jonathan Isaac Jackson’s Big Chief, Black Hawk on Monday, March 13.

We’ve also added some great community programs as BFFNO has been putting in a lot of work in the arts community. Our Wednesday showcase at Cafe Istanbul will feature some films spotlighting some of our favorite community artists as well as the world premiere of our filmmaker development lab, the Level Up Filmmaker Collective. BFFNO will be working with these seven individuals throughout the year providing mentoring, skill development, and resources for them to learn independent filmmaking. Their debut film One Night Stand will premiere at the event which will also include seven hilarious comedians and Southern Sweet Heat, an R&B band out of the Hammond area that’s been lighting up I-55.

On what he’s excited about upcoming at the 2023 Black Film Fest of New Orleans:

Black Film Festival of New Orleans

Honestly, I’m excited about every single thing that is happening. This free festival is and always has been a labor of love for me so I’ve tried to make sure that everything that happens is also something I love. I can’t wait for our visiting filmmakers to make it this way so they can celebrate their films and themselves along with us. Our festival will include the Pass It On poetry event featuring Cuban singer Yusa and the weekend screenings featuring two funk bands, Water Seed and the Jason Neville FunkySoul Band, along with some special filmmaker-only activities including a Treme walking tour with Know NOLA Tours, and a party bus experience through downtown New Orleans on Friday evening.

And the event will culminate with one of our staples, a live-streamed awards show hosted by comedian Mark Caesar and featuring R&B Funk band The Glaspy Experience, which will transition us into our streaming mode as the festival films go virtual and become available for streaming in everyone’s home for free!

On the goals for the sixth New Orleans Black Film Festival:

My festival goals have always been two-fold. As a filmmaker who has traveled throughout the country with my work, providing a carefully curated space for the filmmakers’ most precious commodity tops the priority list. That’s why, in addition to the amazing event lineup, we’re also facilitating the #NolaNoir dialogue series. We’ll have New Orleans industry influencers and artists engaging the audience and the visiting filmmakers in thoughtful dialogue about the films. 

But the second goal is the one closer to me, as building the Black independent film community in New Orleans is my challenge to myself. Again to reference my own experience as a filmmaker, when I started less than a decade ago I often had no idea where to turn for guidance, skill development, or role models. Our Black filmmaking community was fractured as many of us had no awareness of or connection to one another. And going at it alone in film is a difficult path. A stronger, more connected, more prepared filmmaking community is an asset to all of us, and that’s what we’re helping to be a part of.

The 2023 Black Film Festival of New Orleans is a festival that fully embraces the artists of New Orleans

Black Film Festival of New Orleans

Look at the lineup, the performers, the comedians, and the poets. It’s not just a film festival – it’s an arts festival, and the entire fabric of it is woven into a tapestry that represents the Black voices of New Orleans.

Festival attendees have the opportunity to partake in an amazing (free!) event. Rising and aspiring young filmmakers have the opportunity to connect, build, and spotlight their craft.

It all starts Sunday. Register and view the full line-up here.

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