Bringing the Spotlight to Black European Films

Black Europe Film Festival of Minneapolis/St. Paul
Lorenzo Fabbri and Antonio Dikele Distefano talking about Antonio's Autumn Beat during the 2023 Minneapolis/St. Paul Italian Film Festival
Lorenzo Fabbri and Antonio Dikele Distefano talking about Antonio's Autumn Beat during the 2023 Minneapolis/St. Paul Italian Film Festival

The fight for diversity in the film industry has been championed by many generations. With every film and every story, more opportunities open for diverse creators to share their narratives and experiences through cinema’s lens.

Lorenzo Fabbri, an Associate Professor of Italian and Moving Images Studies, and Fred Kudjo Kuwornu, an Afro-Italian filmmaker, activist, and producer, cast a spotlight on Black European films and filmmakers through their initiative, the Black Europe Film Festival of Minneapolis/St. Paul (BEFF MSP). During Fall 2024, BEFF MSP developed their vision and introduced the festival to the community with an event at the Liberal Arts Engagement Hub. Fabbri and Kuwornu reflect on the festival and vision.

How did the Black Europe Film Festival of Minneapolis/St. Paul start?

Lorenzo Fabbri: It's a project that actually is just getting started, and it started from a conversation between myself and Fred Kudjo Kuwornu. Talking together, we concluded that it is a necessity for the U.S. to discover a different aspect of Europe. Europe is traditionally considered a white space, a white continent… We wanted to set up a platform where to showcase that another Europe, a Black Europe, exists and has existed for many centuries.

As Fred’s latest film, We Were Here — a documentary that I co-produced and is now showing at the Venice Biennale of Art — traces, Europe is not as white as we take it to be. There has been an important Afro-European presence in the continent since antiquity, and we want to use our festival to tell this untold story so as to document the existence of people, groups, and communities that exist and thrive beyond the borders of whiteness. BEFF MSP was born both out of this necessity to re-imagine Europe and out of the trust in cinema and film as not only entertainment but also as tools that allow the public to discover new realities.

What is the mission of BEFF MSP?

Fred Kuwornu: To bring to the U.S. new stories from contemporary Europe and to highlight the untold stories of the Black community in Europe.

Lorenzo Fabbri: To provide a platform for Black European filmmakers to showcase their talent, connect with new publics, and gain opportunities to grow their profile. We want to create an occasion for them to reach a larger audience, establish bridges within the global Black diaspora, and have more opportunities to work and create art.

Why choose film?

Lorenzo Fabbri: For us cinema and media are windows into words that have remained unseen. So we’re leading with the power of cinema to amplify voices that have been silenced for a long time. Sometimes, we tend to equate the Black experience or a Black European experience only with the trauma and pain of dealing with the legacy of colonialism and exploitation. But we also want to document that there is Black European joy. We are also interested in comedies or love stories and films that really testify to how multifaceted, complicated, and rich the Black European experience is.

Fred Kuwornu: Film is a great medium for us to communicate different things and communicate the story of contemporary Europe in different formats. With this being more specifically connected to the storytellers of African descent in Europe, this is also a way to tell unheard histories about Europe.

Why did you choose Minneapolis and St. Paul?

Fred Kuwornu: I think the Twin Cities, and Minnesota more generally, are really diverse in terms of Black community composition. There are a lot of different African diasporic communities in the area, not only African Americans, and there are a lot of Black Europeans who moved to the United States and settled in this area. Our priority is to have an annual festival in the Twin Cities, but also, one day, to bring Black European cinema on tour through a showcase traveling to major U.S. cities.

Lorenzo Fabbri: We really wanted this festival to happen here.

The Twin Cities were the sites of the murders of Philando Castile, George Floyd, and Amir Locke. These tragic events, especially George Floyd's killing, deeply resonated among Afrodescendant Europeans. In particular, Floyd’s murder catalyzed the Black Lives Matter movement in Europe, prompting Black Europeans to identify themselves as part of a larger community of exploited and expendable individuals. Minneapolis played a crucial role in strengthening this sense of belonging to the global Black diaspora. This is why we believe it's important for conversations about Black European lives to take place here.

How has BEFF MSP utilized The Hub?

Lorenzo Fabbri: The residency at The Hub has been a great opportunity to engage in conversations and start to think together with the communities we are interested in having as our public… What is a Black Europe Film Festival? What should a Black Europe Film Festival happening in the Twin Cities look like, and what sort of activities and initiatives should be planned in its context? These are the questions we have pondered and discussed the past year.

And The Hub was the perfect place to raise these questions.

The Hub is becoming an important place on campus, since it’s a space recognized by communities as a place where academia and community meet and collaborate in a non-exploitative way. Thanks to The Hub, we were able to connect with fantastic local organizations like Memorialize The Movement, Serpentina Arts, Soomal House of Art, and the Minnesota Historical Society — and we are now starting to explore possible partnerships with them.

Moreover, The Hub was a natural collaborator for our initiative in light of the way in which they do things. What led us to The Hub was their idea of doing things with the community rather than for the community. Anti-racist organizing and community co-planning are core principles at The Hub, and we find ourselves in perfect alignment with these values.

How do you plan on working with The Hub moving forward?

Lorenzo Fabbri: Something we love about The Hub’s team is their availability. We have touched base with them throughout the residency, and they were able to give us great advice on how to move forth our initiative. We plan to stay in touch with them even as our residency has come to an end, and we are sure that they will make the time to talk with us anytime we need to brainstorm options and consider opportunities.

More concretely, we are now in the process of creating a community film selection committee, and we will be using The Hub as the meeting space for the committee.

What do you plan to do with this festival in the future?

Lorenzo Fabbri: We want to really focus on Afro-European talent. To give a platform — an opportunity — for Black creatives to not only showcase their art but also use this as a way to educate and create connections. We will bring together three or four Afro-European filmmakers in the Twin Cities, and we want to create opportunities for them to connect with Black creators in Minneapolis and St. Paul. The connection with local communities is really paramount for us. On the one hand, we want our guests to connect with the diverse communities that enrich the Twin Cities, and on the other hand we ourselves want to connect with them.

The Black Europe Film Festival will take place from January 30 to February 2, 2025, at the Main Theater. We have started the planning so early because we wanted to give us the time to find the right partners and create a community of interest around our initiative. Traditionally, one organizes a film festival and then reaches out to the local community, but in this way the community is relegated to a passive position — people come to the festival, watch movies, have fun, and hopefully learn something from the films that are screened, but they are just spectators of an event set up by others. Instead, and this is why The Hub’s way of doing things is so inspiring for us, we want to start with community outreach and community engagement, and involve community members in planning the festival from the get go.

BEFF MSP will be presented in collaboration with Minneapolis St. Paul Film Society, and we have already started to talk with them about different outreach activities. We’re also reaching out to many different community partners and consulting with them about the films, activities, and initiatives that would be important to host during our festival. Doing this takes time and requires substantial funding, since we cannot expect community members to work for/with us for free.

A priority of ours has always been to involve Black and East African community members in the festival’s leadership team. Thanks to The Hub's generous support, we were able to follow-up on this priority and make two key hires for the festival’s present and future. Iman Mohamoud, a Somali-American English teacher at Eden Prairie High School, will be working with us as BEFF MSP’s outreach director, while Sara Osman — a local filmmaker and refugee rights activist — will be the festival’s director of programming. We feel so lucky to have Iman and Sara on board, and we are thankful for the insights and perspectives they are bringing to the festival.

We are really keen on the principle of community co-planning — we don’t just want to bring something here; we want to work with different partners and community members to create a festival that makes sense for this place and this reality. So please reach out if you want to get involved and create the festival together! We would love to hear from you!

The BEFF MSP is still in the preliminary stages, but once they get the cameras rolling, get ready to buy your tickets! The event will take place from January 30 to February 2, 2025, at the Main Theater.

Stay Connected

Follow Lorenzo on Twitter @culture_italian and/or follow BEFF MSP on Instagram @blackeuropefilmfestival to keep updated on the festival. To sign-up to BEFF MSP’s mailing list or get involved, please complete this form.

The Liberal Arts Engagement Hub

The Black European Film Festival Minneapolis/St.Paul is one of eight Hub Residencies for the 2023-2024 academic year. The Liberal Arts Engagement Hub seeks to facilitate reciprocal and trusting partnerships between humanistic scholars in the arts, humanities, and social sciences and the community to respond to important social challenges. 

This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLA.

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