The Black Alphabet Film Festival (BAFF) is returning to Chicago after the pandemic forced the organization to cancel last year's event.
On Nov. 5-7, BAFF will showcase 21 films and shorts about the Black queer experience and host discussions about a select number of films.
"We're not just showing films," said BAFF Executive Director Adam McMath, an experienced filmmaker. "We look at BAFF as an education opportunity for our community. It's an opportunity to have frank and honest discussions about some of the subject matter in the films."
McMath was first introduced to the BAFF when his film, Miss UnderStud, was showcased at the inaugural event in 2013. His film explored societal norms within the masculine identifying lesbian community, also known as "studs."
He recalled how successful the first festival was. "When a community doesn't have necessarily see themselves [on screen], and they get an opportunity to see themselves, that it typically brings people out," he said.
BAFF chooses the films to showcase by reaching out to past participating filmmakers, online submissions from the community, and agreements with distribution companies to get better-known films.
Some of the more notable films include Buck, a 2020 Sundance Film Festival selection, which follows a young character in the pursuit of their happiness, and Being Black in Porn, a documentary exploring the experience of Black gay men in the porn industry.
"The films that are made in our community do reflect the lives that our community members are living at the moment," McMath said. "We leverage those stories to have meaningful conversations about how we move forward."
The festival will be in person at the University of Chicago's Reva and Logan Center for the Arts. Attendees must wear masks at all times and show proof of vaccination upon entry. BAFF also will have a virtual, user-friendly streaming option for at-home viewing.
McMath emphasized the importance of having the event be in-person to help reconnect a community separated by the pandemic.
"Our community is built on family," he said. "We pick community members to be our family members. So, oftentimes events like this serve as a family reunion. You get a chance to catch up with them, watch a movie with them, hang out with them during the intermission. It's important because much like blood family, a lot of people haven't seen their 'family' in about two years."
McMath added that Black Alphabet is much more than just a film festival. Since taking over as executive director, he and his team have been working on turning Black Alphabet into a "full-fledged art organization that serves Black LGBTQ+ people not only in Chicago but nationally."
Organizers have since introduced other art events, such as an in-person film festival in Cincinnati as well as virtual festivals in Seattle and Covington, Kentucky. They also host virtual conferences to address social equity issues impacting the Black queer community throughout the year.
McMath said he hopes Black Alphabet can go global by hosting events in countries with large LGBTQ+ populations but are still generally homophobic such as Jamaica.
"We want to serve [LGBTQ+ Jamaicans] and give them an outlet to express themselves artistically," he said.
In addition, the Arts Work Fund, a funder collaborative designed to support Chicago's small art and cultural organizations, will be funding Black Alphabet to produce their own film about the challenges that Chicagoland Black artists face, such as access to resources, and what it takes to keep moving forward.
McMath hopes to further expand the festival to a week-long event, including workshops and talkbacks, since he wants to make sure that every Black LGBTQ+ person can watch these films.
"We have been making sure that we're looking at markets that have no resources or access to stuff like this," he said. "I think our community's overall health depends on seeing ourselves in a positive light through media."
Tickets can be purchased at https://www.blackalphabet.org/film-festival.