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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.

Tuesday
Sep052017

New Film Studio on the Horizon

Do you remember that scene in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) where Yen asks “Where the fuck you been?” after Danny and Linus took a mighty long time to open the casino vault? That summarizes my thoughts every time I stopped by here in the last few months.

For the Yen's among us, here’s a summary of what’s been happening around the Madlab universe this summer.

I moved into a workspace where I’m building a film studio that will operate as an exhibition space for short films, production house to produce television programming for city dwellers and overall headquarters to support my work in the arts as well as works by other independent media creators. The short film Abyss: The Greatest Proposal Ever was also entered for consideration for two cable television awards, recognizing programs that resonate with a mission of promoting civic engagement on a local level, and democratic values through collaboration.

An attempt to see the Tupac Shakur biopic All Eyez on Me led to me watching Transformers: The Last Knight instead (more details on that to follow) and I ended up going to see Girls Trip despite my lack of interest in this movie. Also, I plan to explain why STEP is a prime example of the best and worst aspects of modern-day cinema for young black girls.

What movies have YOU seen this summer?