By Jannah Johnson, Special to the AFRO
Starting May 2nd the Maryland Film Festival will be taking place in Baltimore’s North Station, showcasing over 40 films and 10 short programs. One film that stands out is “Black Mother,” a documentary style film about Jamaica and its underbelly directed by Khalik Allah.
Allah was raised in Long Island, New York and has been taken with film and photography most of his life.
A still from Khalik Allah’s film ‘Black Mother.’
“I can’t even really say I was interested in the visual arts just capturing memories, taking pictures of stuff. I remember begging my mother for a camera when I was 14 and after I got it I just started filming everything, break dancing, skateboarding, everything that we were doing in the neighborhood. When I went to community college I took an elective called digital filmmaking and that course taught me how to cut and edit footage and opened my creativity, that’s when I really became serious with it. I made my first film when I was 19. My newest project and my last project were both really photographer style documentaries, they’re films you can really tell a photographer made.”
Black Mother is Allah’s second feature film although many people have seen his work on Beyoncé’s visual album “Lemonade,” on which he is credited as a cinematographer. Although his subject matter is normally Black he feels that this newest film is special in that he has a personal connection to the island.
“This new film really is about my evolution, you know going back to the very beginning. The film came about like a freestyle. It wasn’t scripted, hardly anything was written for it, it started with my just capturing photos and taking pictures, the story told me what to do. I’ve been shooting in Jamaica all my life, I’ve been visiting since I was 3 years old.”
“This project is a very personal project but its not a biography, its just my impression of Jamaica, what I see. I don’t look at it like a paradise in the Caribbean. Although the film is very beautiful the poverty and the results of slavery and colonialism on the island. “
“Black Mother” is a conglomeration of different aspects of Jamaica, the serene waterfronts and impoverished underbelly, sex work and beauty of childbirth spiritual and secular, history and present. Allah explores his personal connection with Jamaica and Jamaican history and identity through his different interactions with the inhabitants of the island as they discuss poverty, colonialism and religion. With such controversial subject matter it was only natural the Allah received mixed reactions to his film.
“People have had a lot of different reactions to the film, I’ve screened it a lot of places including London and Paris in a really short time. People raise issues because I am a man who made a film largely about women, although it isn’t the only aspect of the film, but people have had some criticisms about that.
“People have said things like ‘you only show this type of woman, there are so many different layers, you only show one type.’ I feel like a show a crazy panoramic of women and my film and let them speak for themselves and tell their own stories, but many people feel like the prostitution overshadowed some of that because I did deal with the underbelly of Jamaica.”
Many artists and creatives use their craft not only as a tool for self-expression, but a release. This also rang true for Allah who says that the making of “Black Mother” was therapeutic at its core.
“It was all therapy for me. Filmmaking for me is a form of psychotherapy. Everybody is looking at the external world, material things, so when I’m making a film especially with the style of filmmaking I do it all comes from the heart and I’m looking inside. To deal with my family and deal with my grandparents and have them participate was a way to live within the game.
“My approach and process are pretty singular. I don’t have a large crew I definitely feel like I have assistance and guidance from invisible friends. I’m a grown man with invisible friends not imaginary, just not in the physical form. Those who passed away. There’s a lot of elders in my project so I just feel like I’m continuing the story, the baton is now in my hands. This is a spiritual film. Its not to be force fed on anyone, you watch it of your own volition. I feel good that I made it and I feel like I made it at the right time.”
The Maryland Film Festival takes place from May 2 to 6 in Baltimore’s Station North and “Black Mother” will be screening both that Thursday and Friday. For more information on the Maryland Film Festival visit mdfilmfest.com.