When the Detroit Black Film Festival started in 2020, it consisted of 30 short and feature-length movies that were presented virtually in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That was challenging then, but this is now a celebration. The fourth annual event, which runs Wednesday through Sunday, features 74 independent movies, along with special events designed to bring together current and aspiring filmmakers.

This year’s theme, “Cinema + Cuisine + Cocktails,” sounds upbeat because it is, according to its co-founder.

“It absolutely feels like a celebratory time, especially when we get to not only be in the theater tougher, but be able to talk to one another, celebrate the films, celebrate the filmmakers in a space and a place where we can have dialogue about community and culture and very specific issues within the African American community. It feels really great,” says Marshalle Favors, who started the festival with her husband, Lazar Favors.

The couple (who also are the team behind Detroit’s Trinity International Film Festival) say the inaugural Detroit Black Film Festival was a success in terms of generating exposure for Black filmmakers, even though it was held online.

“Because we had an opportunity for people to meet filmmakers and hear their stories and connect with the stories, people gained a greater interest in the festival. We are so grateful for that,” says Marshalle Favors.

The current edition of the festival will focus on Black narratives through an array of documentaries, dramas, comedies and animated stories, with a mix of short subjects and full-length movies.

There are three key venues, all in Detroit, for this year’s crowded schedule. Screenings will take place at the Carr Center at 15 E. Kirby and the Marlene Boll Theatre inside the Boll Family YMCA at 1401 Broadway, while some events will be held at the DoubleTree Hotel at 525 W. Lafayette Ave.

Among the festival’s most notable short films is “Unexpected,” a documentary from director Zeberiah Newman that was produced by Sheryl Lee Ralph, the Emmy-winning star of the ABC hit “Abbott Elementary.” It tells the stories of women of color living with newly diagnosed HIV and two activists, Masonia Traylor and Cici Covin, who help provide them with a network of support.

Emmy-winning actress Sheryl Lee Ralph of

‘I am honored to amplify Masonia and Cici’s story and put a spotlight on HIV in the South, what’s happening there needs our attention and it needs it now,” Ralph, a longtime advocate herself for HIV/AIDS awareness and education, told Variety in October.

Another highlight is the feature-length psychological thriller “Reunion,” which is described as concerning a newlywed who meets an older stranger with possible information on her husband’s secret past, an encounter that will force her to confront an unimaginable terror. It’s written, directed by and co-stars Gregory Alan Williams, who played a police officer on “Baywatch” and has appeared more recently on OWN’s “Greenleaf” and HBO’s “The Righteous Gemstones.” Williams is expected to attend the festival.

Sunday’s closing night movie, “The SixTripleEight,” is a documentary about the only all-Black, all-women World War II battalion, a group tasked with handling a huge backlog of undelivered mail involving soldiers on the European front.

Its director, James William Theres, and someone who was part of the original battalion are both scheduled to be at the screening, according to Favors, who notes that same battalion will be the subject of an upcoming Netflix drama by Tyler Perry starring Kerry Washington and Oprah Winfrey.

In addition to cinematic events, there also will be a roundtable dialogue on Saturday morning with producer Bryan Smiley, who is the president and chief content officer of Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat production company. In his role there, he oversees the company’s TV and film ventures. Smiley will be talking about his journey in the entertainment industry.

Ronald Isley of the Isley Brothers will be appearing at an event at the Detroit Black Film Festival, which runs Sept. 27-Oct.1, 2023.

On Friday night, a “Taste of Black Spirits: The Cocktail Concierge” event will feature 80 Black-owned spirit brands and 10 mobile bar entrepreneurs from Detroit. Ronald Isley, a founding member of the Isley Brothers, is set to attend to promote “Contagious,” his new Liquid Gold XO Brandy. So will Vanessa Braxton, a pioneering Black woman master distiller and the CEO of Gravesande Braxton Distillers, which crafted the brandy.

More:Lights, camera, action? Michigan’s film incentive program could return with key changes

The festival is happening as efforts are underway to bring back the revamped version of the state-backed incentives for film and video production that were ended in 2015. But according to Favors, even the lack of film incentives in Michigan couldn’t stop the flow of cinematic creativity in Detroit.

Says Favors: “Independent filmmaking has soared and there’s really an independent film movement that’s happening right now in Detroit and is very exciting. And film incentives would just be the cherry on top.”

Tickets to the Detroit Black Film Festival range from $15 for a feature film to $200 for an all-access festival pass. To purchase tickets and find a complete schedule, go to Eventbrite.