On the Fly: Natalie Morrow

Little known fact: This year is the 25th anniversary of House Party, the popular cult classic film starring legendary 1980s hip-hop duo Kid ’n Play. Locals will be “rollin’ with Play” (aka Christopher Martin) who will be in Minneapolis this week to talk about the film’s significance at the 13th annual Twin Cities Black Film Festival (TCBFF), which runs October 8 through October 11 at Intermedia Arts. Celebrity speakers will also include Keith Robinson, best known for his work in the 2006 film Dreamgirls, and local Doomtree rapper and McNally Smith College of Music professor Toki Wright.

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Natalie Morrow

TCBFF is the brainchild of Natalie Morrow, event planner and concert promoter and president of the annual event. “We strive to show a broad variety of films within the four days from mainstream to indie to documentaries to animation,” says Morrow. “This year there’s a focus on health and wellness—issues that increasingly effect African American communities such as heart disease and mental illness. Film is an excellent vehicle with which to educate the population and advocate for action.”

Morrow attends festivals all over the country to scout films for TCBFF. We caught up with her before opening night to find out what film fests are worth the flight and what to watch this year.

How did you develop an interest in film?

I’ve always been a movie buff. I’m enamored by the craft of acting—how someone can make you hate them in one film and love them in another. It’s not as easy as it seems. The editing process, which is so technical and detailed, is also fascinating. I’m amazed at how editors can cut down all the footage and tell a complete story—often times someone’s entire life story—in an average of two hours.

What inspired you to found TCBFF?

I began my career as a concert promoter, primarily for rappers and hip-hop artists and also for gospel musicians. Mind you, this was before the dawn of social media, so it was a lot of pounding the pavement. It was grassroots, hanging fliers and relying on word-of-mouth. I built up a huge following and decided to turn my attention to my other love, which was film. Minnesota is not considered a “destination” city. People aren’t coming here for our sandy beaches. But we’re a highly artistic community, and we have many amazing filmmakers. TCBFF was a way to draw attention to our local talent, as well as to bring some award-winning films to our community.

What can we expect to see at this year’s festival?

I’m extremely excited about The Girl is in Trouble, produced by Spike Lee and starring Columbus Short. Set in New York, it’s about a bartender who becomes entangled in a murder mystery, involving a desperate woman, a missing drug dealer, and the scion of a powerful investment firm.

Blackbird is a film written by Mo’Nique. It’s won a lot of awards, but it’s controversial. It’s about a young man, brought up in the church choir, who is struggling with his sexuality and coming of age in a Southern Baptist community.

Bahamian Son is another film that’s gotten critical acclaim. It’s about a man who sets out to find his father whom he hasn’t seen in more than 30 years and, in doing so, finds himself in the process.

We’ll also be screening Forgiveness about a beloved pastor who works to serve his ‘flock’ and save his 100-year-old church, but crosses a lot of boundaries in the process.

What are your top recommendations for destination film festivals?

The American Black Film Festival in Miami is a must-see for film buffs. Not only are there fantastic films on display, but also Miami is such a fun place to visit from its warm weather and beaches to its architecture. Sundance in Utah is, of course, incredible, both for its idyllic scenery and for the films on display—not to mention the many celebrity sightings you’ll take in. I found the Toronto Film Festival extremely educational. And then, of course, there’s New York where there is always a plethora of film festivals happening at any given time. It’s hands-down my favorite city to visit. There’s always something out of the norm.