By Sanaphay Rattanavong
Film festivals have historically showcased up-and-coming talent and brought standouts to the attention of not only the wider film industry, but also the general public. The Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF), now celebrating its 20th year, has been doing this for independent Black filmmakers in general, highlighting those with ties to Minnesota or neighboring states.
“I’m a movie buff, I love movies,” Natalie Morrow, TCBFF’s founder and CEO, says. Which is why she said yes to a fateful trip with a friend to go to a film festival in Miami, Florida.
“We took a mini-vacation … one of the best trips I’ve taken. I was impressed by the different things, the discussion panels, and all the stars just walking around like you and I … and I thought, ‘Wow, wouldn’t that be so cool to have in Minnesota.’”
To get started, Morrow drew from the largest extant Black film festivals, such as the American Black Film Festival, the Pan African Film Festival, and the Hollywood Black Film Festival. Locally, Morrow found that “we had the MSP Film Festival, the largest and longest-running here, so I started to go to these kinds of things here and decided to launch.”
Morrow found mentors who would point her in the right direction: Craig Rice, who was then the Executive Director of the MN Film & TV Board; Van Hayden, who launched his film production career after subleasing his Minneapolis apartment to drive to Brooklyn, NY, to work as an unpaid intern on a Spike Lee film; and Tanya Kersey, the late director of the Hollywood Black Film Festival, aka the “Black Sundance,” who generously gave Morrow a list of filmmakers that she had. From there, Morrow sent out a call to entry. “From that we started our first film festival,” she says.
Morrow hasn’t forgotten how mentorship changed her life. One of her own mentees, Ricky Collins, who was just a teen when he first approached Morrow more than a decade ago, will have his short film, Switcharoo, included in this year’s TCBFF.
While Morrow received a lot of George Floyd-related film submissions, she chose not to show them all. “Even though it’s a horrific thing that has happened in our history, I also want people to feel positive, feel happy, feel the hope, and that there are other categories and topics to talk about, to read about, to watch,” she says. “I think we just need that balance as humans, instead of everything being one-sided, stressful, negative.”
Morrow’s aspirations for TCBFF’s future includes opening a boutique theater that can hold between 75 to 100 people, with a space to rent out to creatives for events. She’s been looking for the right spot for years without luck. But she’s hopeful.