The Black Focus Film Festival is a film competition geared towards Alabama college students of Black and/or African descent.
A: Anna Ulrey, Aura Website Coordinator
T: Timothy Quarshie, Executive Director of the Black Focus Film Festival
A: How did you first develop the idea for the Black Focus Film Festival?
T: So, it was mid-pandemic, and I felt like people during the pandemic were either finding something or doing nothing, and there wasn’t much in between. I was thinking about my last year at UAB and realized I hadn’t done anything yet. I originally decided to create a TV show with UABTV, but then the idea for the festival came to me.
A: That sounds like a big jump!
T: It was a big jump! At first I was like, “Why did I think of this?” But the more I thought about it, I realized that if I could pull something like that off, that would be crazy! So I went to Jackie [Director of Student Media] about it first, and she loved the idea. She gave me the green light to get started, and the rest is “history.”
A: Because it’s such a large event and a big jump from your previous idea, as you said, how have you approached planning and executing the Black Focus Film Festival?
T: It’s been a struggle to this day, but Jackie initially had me bring her a proposal. Doing so made me really think about the intentionality of what I’m doing with the festival. So, I took a week making the proposal and researching things like what other festivals are doing. Originally, the festival was supposed to be four days (and I’m sure Jackie and Rhys laughed when I proposed that, which is fair), but when I was able to narrow it down to a single day, I focused on creating an educational event rather than just a one-off thing. That’s when I worked on adding aspects such as the workshop and reception to include a networking proponent to the festival. I love how Rhys and Jackie have pushed me to make sure that I’ve explored so many facets of the festival. To this day, I’m still learning what all goes into event planning.
A: Would you mind speaking a bit more about the educational and networking opportunities that the festival will have?
T: First and foremost, the workshop, in my mind, should be led by Black creatives so that they’re able to share their experiences as Black individuals in the media industry because it’s just such a different perspective as opposed to other individuals of another race in the industry. So, just having those ideas and tools will help people understand how to better navigate their way in the industry whether they make films here, elsewhere, or do something else creatively. Rhys and I have been in constant communication about potential people to lead the workshop. It’s not just as simple as four directors leading it. Maybe there’s a director, cinematographer, producer, etc. Because there’s multiple spaces in media, we don’t want to narrow down the perspectives to just one position. In the reception, we hope that direct communication with the directors and other members in the industry will promote networking and connections for everyone there, especially those who want to get started but don’t know how. I think it’s important for Black people to find connections to support their art. If I’ve learned anything from this festival, it’s that this takes a team effort day in and day out. The opportunity to meet people who could be part of your creative inner circle—that’s invaluable. I hope that is what people are able to get at this festival.
A: How have you felt throughout this process leading up to the festival?
T: I’m in complete panic mode! No, but I’ve actually had to deal with some imposter syndrome. Every minute since this started, I’ve wondered if someone else should have put this together. No one did, though. As much as I’ve questioned myself, at the end of the day, I’m doing this. Rhys and Jackie have told me to find my voice and be as assertive as I can be, and as an introvert, it’s been hard to get out of my shell and really push this. After the first three months, I came to understand that this is bigger than me. If this goes on for years, my name won’t be what’s associated with it—no, it’s going to be the Black Focus Film Festival. It’s easy to get caught up in the question of who made the event, but I’ve had an executive board who has been putting in just as much work as I have been putting in. I’m not going to pretend that this is my legacy on the line; this is for Birmingham’s Black creative community, UAB, and Student Media. There are so many factors that make this bigger than just me. We all need it.
A: So you’ve been planning this event in the sense that it will be sustainable and continue to be held after this year?
T: I definitely want the festival to continue. This year’s festival is actually planned for two weeks before my graduation, so I will be passing the baton after. Importantly, I don’t want people to look at this festival as something that’s just for straight Black people, or Black men, or certain skin tones. This is for all Black people. Don’t think because you have “xyz” attached to you that you can’t do this. As long as you’re Black, you can be a part of this. So, the biggest thing for me moving forward is that this event will remain diversely Black.
A: We’ve touched on some of the challenges you’ve faced thus far. Is there a challenge from which you feel you’ve learned something particularly valuable?
T: I feel like the biggest lesson is yet to be learned, if that makes sense. Leadership has been a big thing for me, though. I feel like a part of me always wanted to be in a leadership position like this, but when you’re actually in it, it’s completely different from how you imagined it. I’m continually learning how to put the creative team in the best position for them to do their work, and I’m constantly apologizing to the team in this learning process. It all comes down to making sure I’m relating to people, to my team. One of my middle school teachers told me to never tell others to do anything I wouldn’t do, and that has played on my mind.
A: What are the biggest reasons we should be excited to come to the Black Focus Film Festival?
T: It is going to be like a movie premiere type of event. You get dressed to the nines (if you want). You’ll walk the red carpet, and we’ll take your pictures. If you love the fancy stuff, this is for you. If you’re the person to bum it out six days of the week and go crazy that one day, make this your day. We will take care of you, and we will entertain you. In a more serious sense, the bottom line: Black representation is important. I don’t think I need so much extra context to it. When this festival happens, when people are able to talk to directors and those already in the industry, when they’re able to build something here or make that next leap to wherever their career may take them, I hope that they are able to look back and think of the festival as something that sparked their career, or maybe even just a change in their undergraduate major because they realized they wanted to get into communications or filmmaking. There are just so many potential life-changing events that I think could happen at the festival which make it so important to have it. When Student Media puts on an event, I want it to feel like it’s one of those college defining events for students.
Timothy would like to give special thanks to Jackie Alexander, Rhys Finch, Kafui Sakyi-Addo, Teresa Hicks, Shameria Baker, DeSean Motley, Kylan Patterson, Alfredo Murray, Hycall Brooks, and Devin Ty Franklin.