BHFF ’16: Kate Benzchawel

By Senior Contributor Stephanie A. Taylor

The 22nd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival (BHFF), which takes place at the Gene Siskel Film Center in Chicago, Illinois, celebrates the history and heritage of black people, worldwide, through indie films and shorts.  

While the focus is Black culture, there are several female directors and screenwriters at the festival this year, including Jerico 2016, Walk All Night: A Drum Beat Journey 2016, Compensation 1999 and Agents of Change.


I recently reviewed Walk All Night: A Drum Beat Journey 2016, a documentary shown at the Black Harvest Film Festival (BHFF) and interviewed one of the directors, Kate Benzchawel. We discussed the film and how women are treated as the minority in the film industry.

The concept of the film came when from social worker Elilta Tewelde when she became intrigued with Chicago bucket drummers. Elilta always saw one of the drummers on her way from work and became intrigued with his diligence and talent. She wanted him and his cousins – also bucket drummers – to hone their craft by taking them to Africa and have them learn from an African percussionist.  

She went to Benzchawel and fellow director of the documentary, Mallory Sohmer, to film a crowdfunding video in order to take them to Africa. Although Kate and Mallory had the initial project of the fundraising video, Elilta told them they were a part of this, as a whole, and wanted them to film on location.

“When I was younger I didn’t say ‘hey I want to grow up and be a filmmaker.’ I’ll tell you that. But I love telling people stories. And I think that giving people a platform to tell their own story is what I love which is why I do the work I do,” Tewelde said.

Although Benzchawel loves what she does, she originally majored in Psychology at Loyola University. Her life took a different turn and she began taking digital media classes at Northwestern University while working on a plethora of small projects.  

She believes that women are the minority in the industry but also progress is being made – slowly but surely. “I think with any industry that people are under represented it does take time. But it’s happening.” She also believes in women uplifting each other, “We have to support each other and we have to work a lot harder to be heard.”  

Benzchawel wants women filmmakers to walk away with these words, “It just takes time, a lot of dedication and persistence.”

© 08/10/16

Top Photo: Co-directors/producers Kate Benzschawel and Mallory Sohmer.

Photo Credit: Gene Siskel Film Center


About StephanieFB_IMG_1469350787942

Stephanie A. Taylor is a Chicago blogger and consultant. She has written for several local publications and, has also written on topics such as women’s issues, health and domestic violence. Her blog is called satwrites and can be found on here site, Follow Stephanie on Twitter @satwrites
Tags: A Drumbeat Journey, BHFF '16, Black Harvest Film Festival, Elilta Tewelde, FF2 Media, Kate Benzchawel, Mallory Sohmer, Stephanie Taylor, Walk All Night

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Brigid Presecky began her career in journalism at Chicago's Goodman Theatre. In 2008, she joined FF2 Media as a part-time film critic and multimedia editor. Receiving her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications from Bradley University, she moved to Los Angeles where she worked in development, production and publicity for Berlanti Productions, Entertainment Tonight and Warner Bros. Studios, respectively. Returning to her journalistic roots in Chicago, she is now a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and certified Rotten Tomatoes Film Critic.
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