Read my A to Z Reflections:

The Madlab Post is Home to the weekly Monday Movie Meme: Signup!

Are you ready for the best blog hop on the net? #atozchallenge

*All 31 "Prompts" might not be featured on this blog; I have my own schedule and topics to adhere to.

Your ad could be here, right now.

Search

Bring The Madlab Post to You!

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

More Recent Posts:

*The Madlab Post is an Official 2015 A-to-Z Challenge Hosting Blog!

 

Follow on Bloglovin

Large Association of Movie Blogs

Friday
Sep292017

AMC Stubs, Four Women and Mosquitoes, oh my! The Films (and Folks) that Rocked Urbanworld 2017

'Mosquito: The Bite of Passage' starring Alisa Reyes, Eileen Galindo and Philip Anthony Traylor.2017 is a good year for short films, evident by the crowds that packed each shorts program screening at AMC Theater in Times Square during the Urbanworld Film Festival, which just wrapped up its 21st installment.

The year is also shaping up nicely for Shaz Bennett, whose directorial debut Alaska is a Drag received an Honorable Mention for Urbanworld’s “Best Narrative Feature (U.S. Cinema)” Award over the weekend. Still, I’ve found that learning about interesting details filmmakers in attendance share about their movies, as well as witnessing spontaneous audience responses at the screenings, are some of the biggest and most valuable takeaways in terms of overall experience.

I missed out on the Shorts Program 3 showing but later ran into Tesia J. Walker, director of the short film Search Party, about a mother who goes to great lengths to plan her son’s high school graduation party, only to have things fall apart when uninvited guests show up. Walker informed me that the screening was sold out. This appeared to be a recurring theme, as most seats were filled at other short film screenings I attended and Naiyah Scaife, the lead actress in Damon L. Smith’s short film Atone, also mentioned their Shorts Program 2 screening selling out as well.

Although the domestic shorts were what I most wanted to watch, taking a second look at films I initially passed over in the program guide was key to finding hidden treasures in storytelling at Urbanworld. Silence Radio wasn’t exactly on my must-see list, yet, ended up being one of the best short films I’ve seen this year. The movie contains minimal dialogue, emphasizing visual cues and sound design instead, to convey what’s happening in the story.

(l-r) Mahipal Singh and Shahana Goswami in "Silence Radio," a short film made in France.Directed by Kartik Singh, Silence Radio is a suspenseful film about a girl named Nayla who hosts a jazz radio program at her university. One day, a man asks to come on her show to talk politics. If she refuses him, there will be consequences.

I consider myself to be quite lucky to have caught this film because Shorts Program 4 was already underway by the time I made it to the screening, but the lineup was playing out of order from its original listing in the Urbanworld program guide. Otherwise, I would have missed Silence Radio. The theater, though crowded, was very quiet up until a certain point in this 15-minute film.

No one in the audience made a peep and all of a sudden, during a scene where Nayla comes to the radio station and sees a door creaking open, a child in the audience said “ohhhh noooo!” out loud and everyone else burst into laughter. I was surprised to find out children were in the audience, given the content in films such as Shalini Adnani’s dark comedy Something More Banal, about employees that find a dead co-worker hanging in their office, and the explicit language in Nelson George’s comedy Dayton Jones, about a former private investigator drawn back into the world he left behind when people from his past come back into his life.

Then I remembered Brian Vincent Rhodes’ animated short Mosquito: The Bite of Passage was also in the lineup; obviously children were present for this cute 7-minute film that is suitable for all ages. Mosquito: The Bite of Passage is about a mosquito on her first hunting trip with her mother. In the film, she desperately tries to confess that she doesn’t like blood. I liked how the animated characters were placed in a live-action environment, creating a nice hybrid effect that made Mosquito: The Bite of Passage appear more realistic and similar to that of a narrative film.

A woman sitting in a nearby seat soon asked me if The Tale of Four played yet. She arrived later than I did and that was the film she came to see. Since Shorts Program 4 was playing out of order, I didn’t know but she arrived just in time because Urbanworld staff saved that film for last. Based on cheers from the crowd, I sensed that a lot of people came out to see Gabourey Sidibe’s 24-minute directorial debut.

Inspired by Nina Simone’s “Four Women,” Sidibe’s The Tale of Four is a multi-layered story that spans one day in the lives of four different women connected by their quest for love, agency and redemption.

Although I did like The Tale of Four and understand why it is a highly anticipated short film, I find its recent winning of Urbanworld’s Audience Award for Best Short to be a bit misleading when compared to others films from this year’s lineup. Aside from good editing and standout performances by actresses such as Aisha Hinds, Phyllis Yvonne Stickney and Ledisi Young, there isn’t much I remember about this movie. In fact, there are only three stories that stuck with me after the screening and it took some time and effort to recall the fourth while writing this recap. That said, some of the stories in The Tale of Four could stand on their own and possibly even be developed into a feature length film.

I tip my hat to Sidibe for essentially making four films in one; that is no easy feat – especially in situations like the day when a man in the building where she was shooting her last scenes called the police on her film crew, claiming that 40 people are breaking into the building. During the post-screening Q&A session, learning about how she used that run-in with the cops during production as material for her movie was among the most interesting things that came from watching The Tale of Four; it helped me look at the film from a different perspective in terms of what it means to her wanting to honor Nina Simone’s legacy “the right way” and those who support it.

Actress/Director Victoria Mahoney at Urbanworld to support 'The Tale of Four,' a short film directed by Gabourey Sidibe.“Black women are seen and strong and we’re always being put upon. You're supposed to care for everyone else but yourself. You come last,” says Gabourey Sidibe while telling the audience that she wanted to show that hey….we're human too.

After working on this project as a director, Sidibe also says she now takes rejection less personally when she goes on auditions for an acting role.

I like the inspiration behind The Tale of Four and the valuable impact that making this project had on the way Sidibe approaches her acting career, more than I like the film.

Speaking of actresses who also direct their own films, Victoria Mahoney was in the audience, sporting fierce metallic nail polish as she pointed toward the front row of seats, shouting “GET THE KID! GET THE KID!” during the Q&A panel discussion. Mahoney directed the Urbanworld moderator’s attention to an adorable young boy named Amir Mausi whose hand was raised high to ask filmmaker Brian Vincent Rhodes “Did you research the behavior of mosquitoes?” followed by much applause from the audience.

Amir "THE KID!" Mausi and his mother attend the screening of 'Mosquito: The Bite of Passage' during the Urbanworld Film Festival at AMC Theater in Times Square.Rhodes, a USC grad who made Mosquito: The Bite of Passage as his thesis film, gladly spoke about the preparation that went into the storyline and character development stages. The director also credits his mother as being part of the inspiration behind Mosquito: The Bite of Passage, while being clear that he “wanted to make a movie where a woman's appeal to a man isn't her strength; in this movie, the women are the hunters.”

The 2 years that Rhodes spent making this film continues to pay off; he is currently developing a feature length version, at Twentieth Century Fox Animation. While waiting in line to see Alaska is a Drag, I met Derrick, an avid movie goer who has faithfully attended the Urbanworld Film Festival over the last several years. “Now I’m glad that it’s more worldwide; with films from China, Taiwan, and so on. Some you can’t even understand them but you understand the concept and I really like it,” he says. Derrick goes to the movies a few times per week and first learned about the festival during one of those trips to the AMC Theater on 34th Street. Since then, he has joined the festival’s mailing list and used to flip through the program guide upon arriving at the theater, to figure out what movie he’s going to see.

Derrick attends the screening for 'Alaska is a Drag' during the Urbanworld Film Festival at AMC Theater in Times Square.Now, Derrick is strategic about his Urbanworld experience, usually spending 2-3 days to decide on which screening to attend.

Knowing the festival takes place around the same time every year, he pulls up the online program a week before the event and then starts planning his visit.

By the time of our conversation, Derrick had already come by the theater to attend the screening for Atone in Shorts Program 2 and looked forward to seeing a few more films including The Jump Off, a short film about one gay man’s struggles to legitimize his DL relationship, and Behind the Curtain: Eclipsed, a documentary profiling the historic Broadway run of a play written, directed and performed by women of African descent. “I saw the play and I want to know how they put it together because it was a deep and really good, and I don’t like plays. I like musicals but I don’t like plays and this one kept me riveted the whole time,” he says.

As an AMC Stubs member, Derrick also explained to me how the rewards program works and showed me a $5 reward he received from accumulating points during his frequent trips to the movies. He wanted to see Marshall but it was sold out and when I told him Urbanworld added a second screening to this soon-to-be-released biopic chronicling one of Thurgood Marshall’s career-defining cases, he left as the Alaska is a Drag Q&A session wrapped up, to go grab a ticket.

Director Shaz Bennett and Actor Kevin Daniels at the screening for their film 'Alaska is a Drag' at Urbanworld.Kudos to Alaska is a Drag director Shaz Bennett for showing up to champion her film and discuss with the Urbanworld audience how she shot the movie for 15-17 days in a cute little Detroit town. Alaska is a Drag was such a fun movie to watch and contains such colorful characters – a boxing champion who also moonlights as a drag queen, c’mon! – that I’m glad Bennett persevered with her cast and crew to finish this film despite losing funding while they were shooting.

Even though Bennett could no longer pay people, she had a small team of dedicated men and women who stayed because they believed in the story. “It was like ‘look, we’re here, let’s just make the movie,’” says actor Kevin Daniels who plays the main character’s father. Half of the crew members were dressed in drag for the competition scene where Margaret Cho also performed as a drag king.

After I jokingly asked Bennett how many fish were killed during the making of Alaska is a Drag, she informed the audience that the man seen slicing the fish in the movie is actually the Mayor of that small Detroit town where they filmed. There was also a big fishing competition that took place in that town right before production began and the Mayor is “like this massive fisherman, so he just saved all of them; most of those were dead fish,” says Bennett.

'Selma' director Ava DuVernay is ecstatic to see the festival's Executive Producer, Gabrielle Glore on her way to the 'Queen Sugar' screening.By the end of the weekend, I attended screenings for one dozen short films and three feature films.

Many of these films including Emergency directed by Carey Williams and the Venezuelan kidnapping movie Child for Child directed by Juan Aveila, exceeded my expectations.

The Q&A panels and meeting filmmakers were what I enjoyed most.

While appearances by well-known figures such as Girls Trip actor Kofi Siriboe, Academy Award nominated director Ava DuVernay and Marshall star Kate Hudson were exciting to witness, audience engagement provided a chance to experience the kind of unpredictable activities and insightful discussions that make for an unforgettable night (and day) out at the movies.

 

 

What movie theater rewards programs do YOU participate in?

How well do YOU think Marshall will do at the box office?

What did YOU like most about this year's Urbanworld Film Festival?

Friday
Sep222017

Urbanworld Film Festival Shorts Offer Hope amidst Grim Outlook on Black America

'Covered' directed by Desha DauchanKnown for highlighting diversity in film, the Urbanworld Film Festival kicked off its 2017 run last night with with appearances by music producer Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo, Blackout director Jerry LaMothe and a slate rich in foreign selections from 18 countries.

Together these foreign titles boast a range of stories, from human smuggling in Kareem J. Mortimer’s Cargo (Bahamas) to Japanese women negotiating love across generations in Mayumi Yoshida’s Akashi (Canada). The common thread among domestic films, however, appears to be an unbalanced reflection of the Black American experience.

This year’s program paints a bleak picture of life as an African-American man or woman living in the United States. Issues involving mass incarceration, or trouble with the law, are present in several films such as Keith McQuirter’s documentary Milwaukee 53206, Tesia J. Walker’s narrative short Search Party, Garrett Bradley’s narrative short Alone and John Sinclair’s docu-series Released (presented by OWN: The Oprah Winfrey Network). The center of attention is also placed on matters of police brutality, race riots, substance abuse and family dysfunction in films including Sonja Sohn’s documentary Baltimore Rising, Jeff Ray’s Misso – Can I Exist, and Kristen Hester’s The Middlegame, respectively.

While social justice themes are important, being bombarded with film after film about the troubles of our community is a depressing way to spend one’s weekend. For every film playing at Urbanworld that depicts people in foreign lands in difficult situations, there is another movie at the festival to counteract its subject matter. Where are the stories of promise for African-Americans?

Film director and actor Eden Marryshow at the 2017 Urbanworld Film Festival. Photo by Brown Eyes Photos.“We’re either on top of the world like the Huxtables or we’re slinging rocks like in The Wire,” says director Eden Marryshow whose highly anticipated comedy film Bruce received a warm welcome by the AMC Theater crowd on opening night.

Marryshow pointed out a need for middle ground in how African-American lives are represented in film.

His movie Bruce “is extremely diverse in its story. There’s laughing and a bunch of regular people. No one is incarcerated. He’s (Bruce) an asshole and just a regular guy, which we don’t [usually] see.”

Luckily for moviegoers, Urbanworld’s Short Film Program #3 – the only shorts program at the festival exclusively featuring films made in the United States -- and its slice-of-life stories may be the answer to that need for middle ground Marryshow speaks to, while balancing out such a grim domestic lineup. Caralene Robinson’s comedy short The Bill is about eleven women celebrating a birthday party that dissolves into drama when an unexpectedly huge bill arrives. Cierra Glaude’s short Last Looks tells the story of an aesthetician who does her brother's makeup for his final showcase.

The LGBT community gets some love with Rochee Jeffrey’s short Suitable about a tom boy who comes to terms with her sexuality when she decides what to wear for prom. Also in Robin Cloud’s comedy short Out Again, a lesbian visits her parents and is confronted with her mother’s inability to remember one key detail. Then Desha Dauchan’s dramatic short Covered, about a married muslim woman who is obsessed with finding out what might be buried in her backyard, highlights black love and family.

Actor Jermele Howard attends the 2017 Urbanworld Film Festival. Photo by Brown Eyes Photos.Actor Jermele Howard, who came to Urbanworld for the screening of music producer Irv “Gotti” Lorenzo’s Tales: Trap Queen, prefers diverse stories but also sees the importance of films that put issues that are going on front and center.

“I’m not a person who is big on slavery films, so I think everything should be diverse but if there’s an issue going on, by all means, us as black people should always use our platform to shed light on what’s happening. What’s more important is to move forward as a people. That trumps everything,” says Howard, who can be seen in the fourth installment of the horror film franchise The Purge.

For those of us who are looking for a diverse selection of stories in a well-balanced lineup, Urbanworld’s Short Film Program #3 is the program that more closely fits that bill.

Shorts Program 3 is showting 5:00pm Friday, September 22nd at AMC Empire 25 in Times Square during the 2017 Urbanworld Film Festival.

In what ways would YOU like to see film festivals strike a good balance in the types of stories they showcase?

Monday
Sep112017

‘Alaska is a Drag’ Movie Brings Shameless Maya Full Circle at Urbanworld

(l-r): Martin L. Washington Jr. and Maya Washington filming a scene in 'Alaska is a Drag.' Photo © Shameless Maya. All rights reserved.When the Urbanworld Film Festival revealed its 2017 slate, the queer drama Alaska is a Drag stood out as the most familiar title among all 80 official selections. I immediately recalled the days when Maya Washington, a Canadian actress also known as Shameless Maya on YouTube, was vlogging about her experiences working on this movie.

It's nice to see her hard work and dedication finally paying off as Alaska is a Drag makes its East Coast Premiere at AMC Theatres.

Originally a short film directed by Shaz Bennett, the movie is about a fish cannery worker named Leo who lives in a small Alaskan town where he dreams of becoming a drag superstar. When a boxing coach offers to train him for an upcoming match, Leo must face the real reason he is stuck in Alaska. Washington plays Leo’s tough-as-nails twin sister Tristen who teaches him how to fight back against bullies.

The Shameless Maya brand was also instrumental in helping secure production funds on Kickstarter to turn Alaska is a Drag into a feature film. Before the screenplay landed in Washington's lap, however, she struggled to find acting jobs while living in New York City. In addition to spending years receiving numerous rejections from casting directors while auditioning for roles in film and television, the devout Christian was also kicked out of acting school.

Maya Washington as GAMORA in Marvel's 'Guardians of the Galaxy.' Photo © Shameless Maya. All Rights Reserved.Not wanting to give up on her dreams, Washington landed gigs as a voice actor and later took matters into her own hands by starting a YouTube channel where she made videos transforming herself into well-known pop culture figures such as Storm from X-Men, GAMORA from Guardians of the Galaxy and Beyonce in "Flawless."

In five years and counting that her Shameless Maya channel has been active, Washington relocated to Los Angeles and now produces original content for national brands such as TOMS shoes and the beauty care line Alaffia.

Being among Shameless Maya's million "boos" – and one who watched the actress' work since she was crashing NY Fashion Week, releasing hip-hop music, and making curly hair tutorials – it’s nice to see her latest return to New York City by way of the big screen. Maya Washington went from repeatedly being told she wasn't good enough for this part and that part, to being offered a major role in a film without having to audition for it. Congratulations to Shameless Maya on how far you’ve come -- from New York to L.A. and back again!

Maya Washington performing a stunt scene while on set for 'Alaska is a Drag.' Photo © Shameless Maya. All Rights Reserved.This time, the woman who once boldly shaved all her hair off LIVE on YouTube to send a message about combating fear, returns with a movie where she gets to flex her acting muscles in front of the Urbanworld crowd.

Alaska is a Drag, starring Martin L. Washington Jr., Maya Washington, Matt Dallas, Christopher O’Shea, Jason Scott Lee, Margaret Cho and Kevin Daniels is screening 12:00 PM on Saturday, September 23, 2017 at AMC Empire Theater 9 in the Urbanworld Film Festival's U.S Narrative Features competition.