Jussie Smollett (Empire), Jennia Frederique Aponte (Sacred Heart) and Erica Brnfre greet a surprised audience at the GIBFF when Brnfre presents the first-ever Kelechukwu Brnfre Vanguard Award to Aponte. Smollett is the Executive Producer of Aponte’s film, SACRED HEART. (Photo by Saidah Holt)

What a weekend! Three days, 40 films, 11 filmmakers and 10 awards. Whew!

The audiences at the 5th Annual Gary International Black Film Festival were treated to an unexpected surprise when, after three days of dynamic shorts, narrative and experimental film, the Closing Night event featured a touching tribute to GIBFF Director of Community Engagement, Kelechukwu Brnfre. Tears of remembrance turned to tears of joy when Brnfre’s widow, Erica Brnfre presented the first Annual Kelechukwu Brnfre Vanguard Award to Gary’s own Jennia Frederique Aponte for her film, SACRED HEART, capping of a jam packed weekend  that opened with Stanley Nelson’s BLACK PANTHER: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION


Photo by Naomi Ishisaka

As Aponte was accepting the award, given to Gary natives who have shown exemplary vision in the arts and cinema, out walks SACRED HEART Executive Producer, Jussie Smollet (Empire).  The audience leaped to their feet! What a fitting surprise to our most powerful and engaging festival yet.  Smollett, Sol and Jennia Aponte and Closing Night Film director Nefertite Nguvu led a delightful talkback following the screening of SACRED HEART.

Along with announcing the Kelechukwu Brnfre Vanguard Award, the GIBFF issued 8 additional awards based on audience vote.

Best Youth Short – ONE NATION (USA 2015) – Dir. Anthony Hobbs
One_Nation_Movie_PosterA boy name Steven and his 5 friends (Jeffrey, Spice, Hope, Rose, and Brianna) are kids who decide that they need to give back to the members of the army returning home after fighting for freedom.
Best Student Film – A WALK TO SCHOOL (USA 2015) – Dir. Chaz Bottoms
A Walk To SchoolA young boy’s imaginary friend is a bad influence on him.
Best Narrative Short – SACRED HEART (USA 2015) – Dir. Sol Aponte
Sacred HeartWhen a beautiful woman suspects her millionaire husband is cheating, she escapes to Paris for revenge and meaningless sex, but finds much more instead.
Best Documentary Short – DIVIDED TIME (USA 2014)- Dir. William Feagins
dividedtime_poster07“Divided Time” captures the lives of nine fathers who share their experiences in parenthood and their pursuit of success in the music industry while being accountable to their families
Best Documentary Feature – NATHAN EAST: FOR THE RECORD (USA 2015) – Dir. Chris Gero
nathan-web (1)Nathan East For The Record is a documentary film that takes viewers behind-the-scenes as one of the most influential bass players in modern music recorded his debut solo album last year. His long-awaited solo album (released in March).
Best Narrative Feature – FORGIVENESS (USA 2015) – Dir. Hakim Khalfani
ForgivenessA beloved Pastor works to serve his ‘flock’ and save his 100 year old church. In his dedication and desire to do so, he crosses boundaries that are not to be crossed. Stars RICHARD T. JONES, Adam Lazarre-White, Robinne Lee, Maya Dunbar, Inny Clemons.
Best Narrative Comedy – NOLA CIRCUS (USA 2015)- Dir. Arnaud Bettan
Nola CircusNOLA CIRCUS chronicles the lives of the inhabitants of a black neighborhood in Algiers Point (New-Orleans), the lives that intercross around two barber shops facing each other on the main street. On one side there is Will, a black hairdresser who preaches against racial prejudices while having a secret affair with Nola, a young white woman who is dreaming of Broadway. On the other, there is Marvin, well known sex addict who’s having a passionate affair with Karen, a small time pot dealer. The tensions sharpen on the day when Denzel, Nola’s super protective brother starts sinking into the compulsive jealousy, the day when three Ku Klux Klan members show up at Will’s place to kidnap him.
Best Animated Feature – BATTLEDREAM CHRONICLE (Martinique 2015)- Dir. Alain Bidard
Meta Slider - YouTube - 54wNXI_7qiQIn 2100, the empire of Mortemonde colonized almost all the nations of the Earth and reduced their populations to slavery. Every slave is forced to collect 1000XP every month in Battledream, a video game where they can die for real. Only those who succeed are granted the right to live until the following month. Syanna, a young Martinican slave, refuses to keep living in this condition and decides to fight for her freedom…

The GIBFF humbly thanks our partners,  Indiana University Northwest and the Urban League of NWI. We are also grateful for our 2015 sponsors.

Legacy iu-northwest-v  URBAN LEAGUE LOGO LARGE IAC_Logo_Vertical_Tag_4cR1_SouthShoreArts     NHBW LOGO.jpg

Photo courtesy of Stephen Shames

Stanley Nelson’s The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution Opens 5th Annual GIBFF

Photo courtesy of Stephen Shames

Photo courtesy of Stephen Shames

Gary, IN – The Gary International Black Film Festival, Gary’s original independent Black film festival opens its 5th Annual festival with the powerful film,  THE BLACK PANTHERS:VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION, director Stanley Nelson’s riveting documentary about the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party for Self Defense.  The festival, which runs October 9, 10 and 11 at the Indiana University Northwest Bergland Auditorium in Savannah Hall, features three jam-packed days of narrative and documentary feature films, short films and films made by youth.

“Mr Nelson’s film is the right film at the right time for this festival.” Festival Director Karen Toering notes. “Recent acts of state-sanctioned violence against unarmed Black people and the resultant cry “Black Lives Matter” makes this film and its revolutionary subject matter incredibly relevant in these times.”

Change was coming to America and the fault lines could no longer be ignored—cities were burning, Vietnam was exploding, and disputes raged over equality and civil rights. A new revolutionary culture was emerging and it sought to drastically transform the system. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense would, for a short time, put itself at the vanguard of that change.

THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION is the first feature length documentary to explore the Black Panther Party, its significance to the broader American culture, its cultural and political awakening for black people, and the painful lessons wrought when a movement derails. Master documentarian Stanley Nelson goes straight to the source, weaving a treasure trove of rare archival footage with the voices of the people who were there: police, FBI informants, journalists, white supporters and detractors, and Black Panthers who remained loyal to the party and those who left it. Featuring Kathleen Cleaver, Jamal Joseph, and many others, THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION is an essential history and a vibrant chronicle of this pivotal movement that birthed a new revolutionary culture in America.

“It is essential to me as a filmmaker to try and give the viewer a sense of what it has meant to be black in America and consider this within our contemporary context. The legacy of the Black Panther Party had a lasting impact on the way black people think and see ourselves, and it is important that we look at and understand that. As a great lover of music, I wanted to capture this sentiment in the music we used to give audiences a sense of the time and the undercurrents
of change and revolution.” Stanley Nelson, Director

The GIBFF Opening Night will feature a lively pre-screening reception and post-screening discussion. Tickets for Opening Night are available at

The festival will feature three days of matinee screenings, evening spotlight feature films and lively, relevant discussion with filmmakers and local community leaders. Interested in volunteering or becoming a community partner? Contact us.

About the GIBFF:

The Gary International Black Film Festival (GIBFF) is Gary’s hometown cultural event that supports community building by bringing audiences and artists together through film. Now in its 5th year, this annual, 3-day event presents films from independent filmmakers, panel discussions, matinee screenings for middle and high school youth and in-depth chats
with filmmakers, industry professionals and local community leaders.

The GIBFF uses film as a catalyst for positive cultural activity to enhance the ‘cultural capital’ of our hometown of Gary,Indiana by celebrating black culture through independent film and discussion. It is our goal to bring films of the highest quality that reflect the depth and transcendence of black people. The festival is run by a committed core of community volunteers who work year round to curate films and raise money for the annual event.

The GIBFF is proud to once again work with collaborating partners the Urban League of NWI and Indiana University Northwest. Support for the 5th Annual GIBFF is made possible by The Legacy Foundation, the Indiana Arts Commission and the South Shore Arts Alliance.

Submissions Now Open for the 5th Annual Gary International Black Film Festival


Call For Work Open – Submit Your Film Now Through July 17, 2015

The Gary International Black Film Festival has opened submissions for the 5th Annual Gary International Black Film Festival to be held on October 9-11 in Gary, IN. The weekend festival includes narrative features, documentaries, short films, spotlight screenings and conversation events.

The Gary International Black Film Festival uses film as a catalyst for positive cultural activity to enhance the ‘cultural capital’ of our hometown of Gary, IN by celebrating black culture through independent film and discussion. Come and help us build a world class cultural event.

Awards & Prizes

The Gary International Black Film Festival honors filmmakers who submit through the entry process with awards juged by the GIBFF audience.  GIBFF audiences vote for awards for the following: Audience Award Narrative Feature, Audience Award Documentary Feature, Audience Award Best Short. Winners are announced via press release. Awards are generally non-cash, unless sponsored for the festival in the current year.

A festival-appointed jury may select a Jury prize for submitted and curated films at their discretion.

Gary International Black Film Festival proudly accepts entries via, the world’s best online submissions platform. FilmFreeway offers free HD online screeners, Vimeo and YouTube integration, and more. Click to submit with FilmFreeway.


Celebrating the Life of Kelechukwu Brnfre

Kelechukwu Brnfre

On Tuesday, November 18, 2014 the light dimmed as one of our own transitioned to the next life.

Kelechukwu Brnfre – A dynamic artist and public speaker who has been performing since 1990 after leaving the US Marines as an Embassy Security Guard. Born Kelly Comer, he changed his name in 1993, choosing an African name with a derivative sound of his former name because of what he calls the encouraged global disrespect and insensitivity of Black men defining themselves. This is reflected in his writings and he uses a charismatic humor to raise the level of consciousness of the listener.

Starting Beautiful Soul with his own resources, Kelechukwu and his partner, K Sims, have created a forum for talent in Gary and surrounding areas. Kelechukwu also served as the Director of Community Engagement for the Gary International Black Film Festival. He believed in the ingenuity of people and their ability to always create regardless of the environment.

Kelechukwu has penned two books, and an anthology of his works, recording a CD entitled “Educated Fools” and has several poetry mix tapes available. He remains active in the community specializing in interaction with so-called troubled youth.

Kelechukwu’s signature poems include “Educated Fools”, a poem about degreed arrogance; “Zero”, a poem about the dynamism of women; and, “Bittersweet Memories”, a poem about Michael Jackson’s effect on Gary. Indiana. He was part of one of the first successful poetry nights in Gary and has also performed in Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Los Angeles, and Washington DC.

Where most people see apathy, Brnfre sees opportunity. He is a very serious businessman with endless ideas about the transformation of any inner city into a source of revitalization, especially through the arts.

“The poet is key into giving a voice to emotions and the businessman is key in providing revenue to afford the artists space to perform and changes in society based on the people’s needs that should be articulated by the artists.” – Kelechukwu

CLICK HERE to listen the recordings of his latest work, Night Signature Sound


2014 Gary International Black Film Festival Schedule Now Online




Gary, IN – Independent films from emerging and established filmmakers will make their Gary debut October 17, 18 and 19, 2014 at Indiana University Northwest Bergland Auditorium, Savannah Hall. The Fourth Annual Gary International Black Film Festival (GIBFF) offers a powerful lineup of drama, documentary and short films, opening with THEY DIE BY DAWN, a star-studded film based on the true life African American Cowboys of the old west.
The festival offers a packed 3-day cinema event featuring acclaimed films that are handcrafted by independent filmmakers from the US and abroad. The festival is excited to announce the World Premiere of MY NAME IS GARY. This documentary is a loving and well balanced tribute to the people of Gary, IN produced and directed by French filmmakers Frederic Cousseau and Blandine Huk. The film features reflections and interviews with current and former Gary residents on the rise, decline and hope for the future of this once-proud steel town. Interviews with former Gary Mayor Richard Gordon Hatcher, and others provide unique history of the city where black people rose to power.

Opening Night will feature a red carpet reception with music, food and beverage prior to the Opening Night film, THEY DIE BY DAWN. Directed by Jeymes Samuel (aka The Bullits), THEY DIE BY DAWN features an all-star cast including Giancarlo Esposito, Michael K Williams, Nate Parker, Jesse Williams, Rosario Dawson, Isaiah Washington, Erykah Badu, Bokeem Woodbine and Harry Lennix, the film sets out to tell the story of a showdown between the real life characters in the Wild Black West.
The festival is proud to announce our Saturday Night Spotlight film, the Midwest Premiere of Christmas Wedding Baby directed by Kiara Jones along with the stunning drama, Stay Cold: Stay Hungry, directed by award winning cinematographer Eric Branco. As part of our annual celebration that shines a light on our hometown, Gary Wirt alumni Antwon Tanner will be on hand to discuss and share his work in the provocative drama, CRU. A youth film showcase with films by young people and for young people will open the Saturday menu of films.
The Urban League of Northwest Indiana Young Professionals celebrate film festival weekend with actor, producer and director, Rockmond Dunbar as special guest to “At the table with Rockmond Dunbar” – a mix and mingle event Saturday, October 18 at the IUN Northwest Moraine Student Center , Savannah Center.

Partnering with Indiana University Northwest, the IUN Office of Diversity, Equity, and Multicultural Affairs, the Urban League of Northwest Indiana, and The Urban League of Northwest Indiana Young Professionals, the festival also offers Community Partnership opportunities for organizations and community groups. Interested groups can contact us to find out how you can use the festival as a fundraiser for your organization.
With no film theaters in the Gary city limits, residents must travel to adjacent cities and towns to see first-run major Hollywood motion pictures, and for independent film lovers, the choices are even slimmer. The Gary International Black Film Festival seeks to bring fresh independent film and filmmakers directly to Gary audiences to help build the city’s “cultural collateral.” The Gary International Black Film Festival is a community led, hometown event that seeks to facilitate genuine dialogue and build community across the aisles and across neighborhoods in Gary.

The festival is run by a small core of community, cultural and civic-minded volunteers who work year round to research, raise funds and produce this annual cultural event. Support for the festival is provided through box office revenues, grant awards, sponsorships and individual donations. Contributions to the festival are received through the project’s fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas a designated 501(c)3 charitable organization.

For schedule and tickets, click here