Alumnus Zach Gallagher ’12, a secondary education and English double major who also earned a master’s degree in film from the California College of the Arts in 2017, is one of 10 film school graduates raising the profile of Black filmmakers through the inaugural Black X Film Festival, a three-day online event to be held Sept. 25-27.
As explained on the festival website, “We intentionally named the film festival, Black X, to play into the multiplicity of meanings of ‘X’; where X may be seen as an abbreviation of eXperience, a celebration of Black eXistence, and an homage to Malcolm X. ‘X’ is a crossroads offering the opportunity to choose to employ Black success as a revolution of social order, over the violent complacency that has shaped and characterized contemporary society.”
“We want to create awareness and support for groups on the ground that don’t get the kind of attention that they should and the kind of support that they should,” says Gallagher.
After freelancing in post-production film work for a few years, the Amherst, Massachusetts, native took a job in IT with MasterClass, an online platform for classes taught by celebrated artists, scientists and other public figure. Although he enjoys his work, Gallagher felt disconnected from the film industry. When, in the aftershock of protests over George Floyd’s death, film school friends asked him to help plan the festival, he saw it as a way to be a more active ally for Black artists and to reconnect with the film industry in a meaningful way.
Gallagher says it’s always been natural for him to support anti-racism work, and recent national events have had him on the streets protesting in support of Black lives, but he wasn’t sure what else he could do to help given coronavirus restrictions.
“I was definitely feeling, especially in the last few months, a little lost in terms of direct action that I could be doing,” he says. “This was the perfect opportunity to put something into action and get something out there.”
Head west, young man
Gallagher did not consider filmmaking until he took a screenwriting course with Lesley Associate Professor Liv Cummins as an undergraduate.
“I just really fell in love with the form and the way that you got to express,” he says. “I always felt like, as an English major, I never had a creative outlet, (and) it unlocked a realization that education had perhaps been a placeholder for me.”
Following stints in education and IT, Gallagher applied to film school in San Francisco, an area where he’d always wanted to live.
“I typed in ‘schools with film programs in the Bay Area.’ That was one of two that popped up, and I could only afford the application for one,” Gallagher says.
Five years later, he’s still in San Francisco, and eager to elevate the work of Black filmmakers through the festival.
Black films matter
The Black X Film Festival has received around 100 submissions from American and international emerging and mid-career filmmakers that range in content from expressions of “Black joy” to issues related to current events, such as police brutality.
In addition to sponsorship by Reflective Image, a nonprofit founded by Academy and Emmy award-winning directors Rob Epstein and Geoff Friedman, the festival is seeking financial support to compensate filmmakers, to contribute to nonprofits working to support Black lives and to offset the cost of hosting the festival.
As the event approaches, the leadership team will narrow down the submissions to around 20 films and also fill out the schedule to include Q&As with filmmakers and sessions with Black film professionals.
“There are a lot of groups doing work that should be amplified, not just because of the time we find ourselves in but because it’s the work that needs to be done,” says Gallagher. “We want to make sure that those are the voices that are being heard.”