Photo: Benjamin Cotton, 2012.
Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival and Lecture Series, founded by African Voices magazine and Long Island University, Brooklyn Campus, is the first Brooklyn-based festival devoted to supporting films produced, directed and written by women of color. Since 1997, the festival has been enriching the city with over 500 films by women of African, Caribbean, Latino, Asian, Indian and Native American descent. Reel Sisters attracts more than 800 film lovers from across the nation and globe including California, Chicago, Florida to as far away as Britain. The festival screens 25 films each year. Reel Sisters also provides scholarships to emerging women filmmakers and offers other resources for women filmmakers.
The festival not only showcases films, but hosts panels and workshops as well. Past workshops and panels have included: Heal Thy Soul: A Day of Spiritual Cleansing And Release, which dealt with the issues of incest, domestic violence and molestation; High Tea and Cinema, an audience with actresses Ruby Dee and Lonnette McKee and other veteran women film professionals; and Power Panels featuring heavy hitting female industry leaders such as directors Julie Dash, Ayoka Chenzira and Neema Barnette, writers and cultural critics dream hampton, Thulani Davis and Joan Morgan, and actress Phyllis Yvonne Stickney. In our 8th year we stepped “out of the box” and celebrated men who celebrate our women in film with a special Men’s Panel featuring Warrington Hudlin, Arthur Jafa, and then emerging director Byron Hurt.
In 2013, Reel Sisters presented Shola Lynch (Free Angela & All Political Prisoners) with its Trailblazer Award and Issa Rae (Awkward Black Girl) with the first Reel Sisters Innovation Pioneer Award for groundbreaking working in producing her award-winning web series.
Reel Sisters received a National Endowment for the Arts Award to support its 17 Anniversary Festival in 2014. It is one of the first festivals to stimulate an international dialogue on improving the status of female directors, producers and screenwriters and has become a major launching pad for women directors to gain international exposure and recognition. Monikka Stallworth, a recipient of the Reel Sisters 2003 Best Director Award, went on to have her film Mello’s Kaleidoscope featured in Robert DeNiro’s second annual Tribeca Film Festival.
Reel Sisters is sponsored by New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, New York State Council on the Arts and the Brooklyn Council on the Arts. The festival still calls LIU Brooklyn its home and is held at the Kumble Theater each year.
“Reel Sisters is one of the few outlets that film lovers have to experience intellectually stimulating and empowering films by women from around the world,” says Reel Sisters co-founder Carolyn A. Butts. “We’re here to reclaim our stories and launch a national dialogue about issues affecting our community and families.”