During the Spring 2020 semester, students in Anna Drozdowski's Project Management course got the opportunity to meet and chat with Maori Karmael Holmes, founder and artistic director of the Black Star Film Festival. As students are now using the summer to unwind after finishing such an unusual semester, Socially Engaged Studio Art MFA candidates Qiaira Riley and Ashley Gunter reflect on some impactful moments from this class visit.

Riley: Was there anything you found particularly shocking or interesting about the origins of the Black Star Film Festival?

Gunter: I was surprised by how long Maori kept her full-time job while building up Black Star, especially considering how big the festival has become. It’s really impressive when folks are able to sustain multiple projects and endeavors because it artistically and spiritually fulfills them but doesn’t fiscally pay them.

Riley: Yeah, that was also something that struck me about Maori in particular. She was super transparent about how she arrived to being the artistic director to Black Star and how she got the festival to where it is now. I liked when she shared her sort of anti-resume with us in a similar vein. How did you respond to that kind of transparency and openness?

Gunter: I loved it! I like when people are humble and honest about their career trajectory. There weren’t any airs about her. She worked hard to get where she is and she credits that work ethic as well as acknowledging how her strengths got her to where she is now. That’s a lot more useful than a dismissive “hard work” and “dream big” attitude that skips over privileges and the power of a network.

Riley: I thought it was both interesting and funny that Maori mentioned how her birth chart, and her being a Taurus, played a large role in her career trajectory and work style. You are sort of similarly interested in the role of astrology in your studio practice. How do you think your birth chart plays a role in your career decisions and practice so far?

Gunter: My mother, Melissa Morris-Gunter, didn’t get my birth chart done, and she doesn’t remember her own birth time, so the fact that Maori had her mother do that for her, and had that familial influence, and let that be a factor in her career choice blew my mind. Or it seems important enough that she kept referencing it. I’ve worked with various hard-working Tauruses, so that was amusing to me. I don’t know if my birth chart can speak to my career decisions. What I can say is that I don’t have any fire in my chart, so I’m not an impulsive person unless I’m indifferent about the consequences or my impulsivity can lead to a great story later.

Riley: I know you planned on attending the Black Star Film Festival this summer. After such a chaotic past few months, what are you excited to experience at the festival this year?

Gunter: Sounds like a great Black experience. If I’m going to be around a bunch of people, I want them to be other Black folks celebrating, viewing and affirming Black life.

The 9th annual Black Star Film Festival is scheduled to happen in Philadelphia August 20-26. For more details, visit If you want to learn more about Ashley Gunter and her work, check out her website,

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