When a burst water pipe flooded one of his key locations in 2017, director J.B. Armstrong wasn’t sure how he could complete his feature film debut. “I remember just seeing water pouring from the ceiling in every room,” he says.
Two years later, filming was able to resume, a comeback that he says reflects “the spirit of Detroit that a lot of people embody, that spirit of hustle and drive and perseverance.”
“Solomon” will be among the movies screened at the first-ever Detroit Black Film Festival. The two-day virtual event on Friday and Saturday will showcase the work of Black independent filmmakers.
There are 30 short and feature-length movies representing eight different countries on the schedule, plus online master classes and appearances by prominent figures who’ve already made their mark in Hollywood.
Deborah Joy Winans, star of OWN’s “Greenleaf” and a member of Detroit’s first family of gospel, is on board as the festival ambassador. She also stars in one of the short films, the drama “Last Words.”
The founders and co-directors of the Detroit Black Film Festival, Lazar and Marshalle Favors, are the husband-and-wife team behind the Trinity International Film Festival, which has been a staple of the Detroit cinematic scene for 14 years.
They’re launching the new festival to bring more awareness to the growing number of movies being created in Detroit and to help Black filmmakers connect with each other and expand their creative community.
With the help of a 2018 Knight Foundation arts grant, the couple formed the Fearless Tribe of Fanatical Filmmakers, a group of African-American indie movie-makers that
host screenings, panels and workshops and provide programming for the city of Detroit’s “The Neighborhoods” cable channel.
The next goal of of Lazar and Marshalle Favors was establishing a major annual movie celebration that would bring together new talent and established artists in the Black creative community.
Marshalle Favors recalls the lightbulb moment that happened one night after she returned home from a national conference: “I woke up at three o’clock in the morning and I told Lazar, ‘We need to create the Detroit Black Film Festival’ There’s a lot of talent here. There are writers, actors, directors and producers. We need a platform that really uplifts their work in a collective way.”
Lazar Favors says the festival will be “a platform to be able to tell their stories, from their voice, from their own experience.”
Many of Detroit’s African-American indie filmmakers spend long hours crafting commercials and corporate videos or shooting weddings and family occasions, often through their own production companies. “But at the end of the day, they want to make their feature films,” says Marshalle, who knows of six movies by city filmmakers currently in production.
“We have the product, we have the people, we have the (film) activity here for sure, absolutely,” adds Lazar.
A number of the films selected for screenings are about the racial and social justice issues that have sparked mass protests in 2020.
“It’s a great way for artists to contribute their voice to this moment,” Marshalle says of those movies. “I think a lot of these artist are using their platform to create greater understanding and…to see the greater humanity within ourselves and other people.”
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The industry figures who’ll be holding online master classes are:
Emerging director J.B. Armstrong says he is honored to be included in the inaugural Detroit Black Film Festival. “I was born and raised at 7 Mile and Ryan in the heart of the city. To finally come back after years of college and being out in California in L.A. for five years, to give my first film its screening at my hometown was serendipitous.”
Armstrong partnered on “Solomon” with David Hines Jr., an independent film producer who’s also a mechanical engineer working in the auto industry. It explores the friendship between a retired Black psychiatrist and a young white writer amidst the c…