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'Twin Cities Black Film Festival' celebrates 20 years

Natalie Morrow started the festival at 29 years old and has since gained major sponsors, including HBO.

MINNEAPOLIS — The 20th annual “Twin Cities Black Film Festival” starts with a meet-and-greet for filmmakers and film lovers Thursday from 6-8:30 p.m. at Ties Lounge and Rooftop, a Black-owned business on Nicollet Mall.

Then, the movies begin. While most of the films included in this year's festival were produced outside of Minnesota, the first night of showings is dedicated to local talent. "Minnesota Filmmaker Night" begins Friday at 7 p.m. at the Capri Theater in north Minneapolis.

One of the locally made movies is "Shot of Influence," a documentary featuring influential Twin Cities women. Filmmaker Gabby Reece thought of the idea during the aftermath of George Floyd's murder.

"In the media, a lot of men were being portrayed as the go-getters, as the frontline worker, the hard workers as for what's going on in the community, founding foundations, but I wanted to portray women to say, 'Hey, women are also doing this work,'" Reece said. "The women who are a part of this documentary, they're not just one skin color, one race, or from one background."

Another locally made movie, "Switcharoo," is a short film starring top Twin Cities comedians. In addition to the festival, director Ricky Collins offers the video on his streaming website, Packed House Live.

"This is the first profit-sharing movie in Minnesota history where all of the cast and production members have equity in the movie," Collins said.

The festival runs through Sunday, Sept. 19, and being the festival's 20th anniversary, this year is especially meaningful for CEO and founder, Natalie Morrow.

"I'm still 29," Morrow said jokingly, "but it has been 20 years."

The festival has grown to involve major sponsors, including HBO. Morrow says there is also an abundance of applicants each year. She says those who make the cut have a clear storyline or message.

"We've had some that were kind of inappropriate and so we have to say, 'Hey, we can't use that," she said.

Like with Reece's film, an all-Black cast isn't a must. However, Black talent is typically involved in some way.

"Sometimes we've had [it where] the filmmaker might be white but his whole cast is Black or vice versa," Morrow said.

Morrow's work doesn't end when the credits roll. Five years ago, she launched Black Fashion Week Minnesota, and at the film fest this weekend, she'll officially launch a fundraiser for a new project. She says some people have already started to donate.

"After 20 years, what's next? Your space," Morrow said. "I'm looking to open a boutique movie theater."

She plans to move into an existing space and renovate it. The "boutique movie theater" would include rental space, room for fashion shows, an art gallery and a coffee or smoothie shop. She hopes to find the right building by next year's film festival, which is scheduled for Oct. 19-22, 2023.

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