The XL Film Festival & Summit took shape earlier this year when its creator, Troy Pryor, founder of Creative Cypher, merged his Cypher Foundation with the Chicago South Side Film Festival. This rebranded version, touting Black-owned and Black-led artistic visions centering DEI philosophies and BIPOC voices, arrives at a perilous time in the entertainment industry. Presently SAG-AFTRA and WGA are striking against AMPTP, a work stoppage that stretches beyond Hollywood to the independently minded.
So how can you give life to a new festival while the industry holds its collective breath?
I was fortunate enough to attend most of the event’s talks and screenings (where the strike loomed large). The consistent refrain from everyone involved preached resourcefulness, sustainability, and determination.
It began for me with a panel entitled “The Family Business,” featuring Black mom-agers, mothers turned managers for their talented acting and directing children (I missed the opening talk, “Mental Health & Black Artists,” moderated by Saudia Davis, and featuring panelists Jae Davis, Vee L Harrison, Richard Gallion, and Brooklyn McLinn). The assembled women, guided by moderator Taron Patton, spoke about protecting their kids from a nefarious business, and instilling a sturdy work ethic within them. They also discussed how to balance dueling roles as mom and manager. Gwenda Starling, the mother and manager of recording artist Jeremih spoke from a music perspective. Altovise Ferguson, mother, and manager of actor Ahmad Ferguson (“The Chi”) and singer Amari Noelle, bridged the gap to television.
The topical panel intuitively connected to the proceeding film block, the lone movie section on a day that felt too heavily geared toward talks. There, mom and manager Adrienne McGee’s daughter Addison Belhomme shared her short “A Thin Line Between White and Black,” an identity-based work about assumptions and biases, while mom and manager Joyce Kelly-Brown’s son Dusan Brown showed his film “All In,” a very familiar take on “Rounders.”
Conversations titled “Creating Through Chaos” and “Queens in Media” dealt with the strike head-on. The former witnessed Chicago SAG-AFTRA president Charles Andrew Gardner decrying the rise of A.I. and the fall of residuals, while the latter witnessed SVP of Development & Production for Monkey Productions, Dana Gills, explaining, “People aren’t being paid fairly, and they’re really fighting for what they deserve. The streamers are making a lot of money off their creativity,” adding “I feel like there are people in certain positions that they weren’t in years ago and we’re primed and ready for a change. Ownership is a big thing, ownership of your creative ideas. There are people creating new types of studios and production companies, and I think as those things are created it will change our business model.”