This outdoor film festival needed a screen.
At first, Ryan Stopera tried projecting onto the Northrup King Building's old grain elevators. "It looked cool," he said, but their dips distorted the image. Then he spotted a walkway between warehouses. So he rented a truck with a lift and duct-taped a white screen across it.
On Saturday night, people will gather to watch on it 10 new works by local filmmakers of color, including Stopera. It's rare to have all the films on a lineup made by BIPOC artists, he said. Rarer still to see new works screened in person during this pandemic.
"It took a lot to get to this point," he said of Saturday's Hothouse Film Festival.
Five of the short films will have been created in the past week during a filmmaking challenge by an organization called Motionpoems, which pairs local filmmakers with local poets. Stopera is premiering his hip-hop and sci-fi-infused film, "The Return." Filmmaker D.A. Bullock will show new work, too — a six-minute film featuring conversations with young Black men about identity and masculinity.
In recent weeks, Bullock added to that piece an interview that delves into COVID-19 and George Floyd, who died in May after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for nine minutes. By adding that conversation, the film became "a rumination about how we exist right now," he said. "About life and death and isolation."
Getting together to tell and to hear those stories is important at this moment, said Bullock, who is also a panelist for this year's Hothouse challenge. A movie theater might not be an option. But an outdoor screening is. Artists are finding ways.
"It's something we need to do to take care of each other," Bullock said. "My hope is ... we're not losing that ability to be social around storytelling like this."
The premiere of Stopera's film was pushed back once, then twice.
First, the pandemic hit. Then, plans to project the film in a park were scuttled when the Minneapolis Park Board told Stopera he would have to staff the event with police officers.
"Well, the film itself is about an uprising against an oppressive police force," Stopera said. "So I didn't want to have a bunch of cops surrounding us."
"The Return" was born out of conversations with a friend of African, Chinese and British descent about mixed-race identity, "about Asian and Black solidarity or the lack of," about Wu-Tang Clan and Bruce Lee. In the year 2040, Black, Indigenous and other artists of color rebel against a police force intent on quashing music, art and other forms of communication.
Stopera started filming last fall, wrapping up a few scenes earlier this year.
"The artists speak of this revolution as an uprising," Stopera said. "I finished the film and then the uprising happened here. The language, everything — it feels a bit too true to real life."
Stopera is co-hosting the film fest with Motionpoems. The nonprofit gave five teams $1,200 each and a week to create short films using poetry as their scripts.
Spoken word artist Fatima Camara got paired with filmmaker Kobi. Before last week, they had never met.
"We're both first-generation West Africans," she said. "We clicked off the things that are important to us."
Camara, who grew up performing with the Twin Cities spoken-word nonprofit TruArtSpeaks, had never worked with film or video. Never done a voice-over. So she was anticipating every part of the process.
The challenge, too, is helping pull her from a creative slump. "I'm excited just for something that feels good in light of everything."
She had expected to use a Next Step Fund grant from the Metropolitan Regional Arts Council to travel to Gambia and research a massacre there in 2000, when Gambian police shot at protesting students, killing 14 people. She wants to delve into those events for a historical fiction novel.
But coronavirus paused those plans. Then there were the protests after Floyd's death.
Some artists "felt like, oh wow, this is the time to create," said Camara. "But I also felt like a lot of profiting was happening. I just couldn't relate to that."
When she first met with Kobi, she suggested two poems, one that grapples with grief and another the fear of motherhood. But then, going through her writing, she came across a third.
She called Kobi: "Can I read you this one?"
"We were the kids/ not allowed to go/ near the water," the poem begins. It goes on to describe a memory — her mother standing in the water, waist deep, among the waves.
On Tuesday, they drove north to Silver Bay, where they filmed her friend stepping into Lake Superior.