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Black History Month: The History and Celebration of Black Indie Filmmaking

Updated: Oct 10, 2023

October is Black History Month in the UK, and KIFF recognises the profound impact of Black filmmakers and actors on the world of cinema. Film has long been a powerful medium for telling stories that reflect the history, struggles, and achievements of the Black community, yet many people are not aware of the early existence of Black independent cinema that began in the late nineteenth-century.

In recognising the long history of Black independent cinema, and in support of Black History Month, the KIFF team have compiled a list of some short films by Black filmmakers and featuring Black casts:

1. Uncle

The True Story of Kenneth Severin

Writer/director Michelle Jones lost her uncle (Kenneth Severin) in 1995, when she was 14 years old. Kenneth Severin was just 25 when he died in Belmarsh Prison, and he had no history of offending. He was the third Black man to die in prison between October and November 1995.

Set on the day of her uncle’s funeral, this short film uses a mixture of film and animation to share a moment in time as the protagonist speaks to her deceased uncle whilst playing a game, alluding to how Kenneth introduced Michelle to Pac-Man. Uncle shows the person behind the headlines, and is a story that puts the spotlight on the family members left behind.

Find out more at the Uncle website here:

And check out their Instagram: @uncleshortfilm

2. Bazigaga

Inspired by the true story of Zula Karuhimbi, a witch doctor who saved more than two hundred Tutsis from certain death.

In 1994, during the Rwandan genocide, a pastor and his young daughter take shelter in the hut of a feared shaman: Bazigaga. Hunted by the militias and trapped with the strange woman sorcerer, Karembe seeks a way out.

Written and directed by Jo Ingabire Moys, Bazigaga is based off of their own experiences during the Rwandan genocide. More than 800,000 Rwandans were brutally slaughtered by fellow citizens in a state-led genocide against the Tutsi in April to June 1994, in which 75% of the Tutsi population were murdered. In particular, Bazigaga is a tribute to the Rwandan women. Bazigaga was nominated for a BAFTA in 2023 for Best British Short Film.

Check out their Instagram here:

3. The Ballad Of Olive Morris

The Ballad Of Olive Morris is a short film based on real life events that took place in the South London neighbourhood of Brixton in 1969. 17 year old Olive Morris gets violently caught up in an incident of police brutality as she intervenes to help a Nigerian diplomat, Clement Gomwalk, being wrongly arrested for stealing his own car.

Written and directed by Alex Kayode-Kay, The Ballard of Olive Morris was nominated for a BAFTA in 2023 for Best British Short Film. Kayode-Kay also starred in 'Choked Up,' which KIFF screened at our 2023 festival.

4. The Mourning Bird

The Mourning Bird is a coming of age story that takes an intimate look into a 13 year old boy's first encounter with grief in which the protagonist, Ky, is forced to find closure in an unlikely way.

Born from true events and inspired by director George Somner's own experiences, this short film deals with sensitive themes of bereavement, knife crime and adolescence.

Thank you to 'The Mourning Bird' for submitting to KIFF 2023!

5. Tap Boy

Trapped within a county lines drug gang, a teenager with high functioning autism finds escape by practicing tap dance in and around the concrete jungle of Milton Keynes. But, when his dreams start to take over his gangland responsibilities, he's faced with a terrible choice.

Director Will Kenning said in an interview with Director's Notes that he had researched tap and realised that tap dancing originated from Black people; it was created in Southern United States during the slave trade. When slave owners banned traditional African percussion instruments, Black people used dancing to express themselves and their culture.

Find out more information on the film here:

6. Within Our Gates

And finally, we recommend watching classic Black indie cinema such as the film 'Within Our Gates' (1920) by Oscar Micheaux, to see some pioneering work by Black filmmakers!

In the spirit of Black History Month, KIFF wish to encourage each other to explore and celebrate the cinematic contributions of Black artists. We hope to help create a more inclusive and diverse cinematic landscape.


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