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Urbanworld’s Best Feature Documentary of 2014 is a ‘Lucky’ Win for Laura Checkoway 

Lucky Torres stars in "LUCKY" directed by Laura Checkoway.When the 18th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks with founding sponsor HBO, announced the 2014 festival winners this week, I was glad to find out that “Lucky” directed by Laura Checkoway won an award for Best Feature Documentary.

Having recently sat in a packed theater watching “Lucky” amidst a bunch of strangers, I must say it is one of the most unforgettable films to come out of Urbanworld this year. Forget what you know about wearing your heart on your sleeve. This movie is about a woman who, after growing up in foster homes, wears her pain on her face and body.

The documentary serves up a clear reminder of the fact that regardless of our surroundings, we know very little about what the person next to us is going through. Life is a struggle – for some more-so than others, so it helps to keep that in mind when facing people or circumstances that make us uncomfortable. Chances are that many of us know nothing about what it’s like to live on the streets. Some of us are unfamiliar with the experiences of child abuse, rape or gang life. We do, however, know what it’s like to experience struggle, at least in one capacity or another.

(l-r): Fantasy with her children, director Laura Checkoway and Lucky's fiancé at the 2014 Urbanworld Film Festival.Checkoway, a career journalist who spent five years and her own money making “Lucky,” does a great job making this heart wrenching story relatable to the average viewer who may not know someone like Waleska Torres Ruiz – a Hispanic runaway from the Bronx, NY whose parents died when she was a child. A well-known figure in New York’s LGBT community, Ruiz was nicknamed Lucky after having survived being hit by a yellow cab when she was thirteen.

I honestly didn’t know what I was expecting when going in to watch this film but it certainly made me more aware of the hardships that children of the foster care system face when our country’s social services fail them. The long-term effects that these failures have on one person’s life have a trickle effect on those around him or her and that extends outward to our nation’s communities.

Despite not having any formal film training, Checkoway forged ahead, learning about the process as she embarked on what has become her first feature length documentary. Lucky for us, she came out of the corner swinging with a bold movie that could easily make some viewers want to look away and run back to their secure (and convenient) bubbles. No matter how hard you try, however, you can’t bear to turn from such an intimate view of one woman whose days are filled with the kind of uncertainties that most of us hope to never have to encounter. That’s just the thing about movies; when you’re in the theater and the lights go down, all you’re left with are the images on the screen.

Lucky Torres with her son in the documentary "LUCKY, directed by Laura Checkoway.Checkoway forces viewers to look beyond Lucky’s tattoos, stylish outfits and ever-changing hairstyles to understand the inner turmoil of the person underneath all that armor; a homeless mother who wants to provide a sense of stability for her son while working on her own personal growth, including self-love.

It’s raw and sometimes even wicked, but it’s real. This is somebody’s life and I wouldn’t be surprised that if, by watching it, you take a closer look at your own – particularly the areas that you take for granted, because I know they exist. We all have them.

“Lucky” is one of those movies that have you thinking “this person has it worse….so what’s MY excuse???” and you would be right. If there is one thing to learn from this movie, it’s to live out loud while remaining conscious of what, if anything, you want to leave behind. My congratulations go out to Laura Checkoway (and Lucky Torres) for winning Best Feature Documentary at the Urbanworld Film Festival 2014!


Beyond the Lights – Everyday Heroes Unite at Urbanworld 

(l-r): Actor Nate Parker and English actress attend the opening night screening of "Beyond the Lights," directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, at the 18th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival.While introducing her opening night film at the Urbanworld Film Festival this week, director Gina Prince-Bythewood says it has been a fight getting her latest movie, “Beyond the Lights” made.

The narrative feature, about a superstar singer who is on the edge until she meets an aspiring politician who encourages her to find herself, received a standing ovation last night – hopefully validating the struggle to breathe life into a project formerly titled “Blackbird” that she penned in 2007.

When learning about the movies I want to watch over the next few days, it appears that Urbanworld’s 2014 lineup demonstrates that the fighting spirit is very well alive, on the screen and behind it.

In almost every premise I read and every trailer I watch on this festival’s schedule, it seems like men and women all over the world are fighting – either for themselves or someone else. The festival’s short film program is among the most interesting and must-see screenings along these lines, such as Indian American filmmaker Puja Maewai’s “Jaya.” Shortlisted for a Student Academy Award, this narrative drama follows a young girl’s path to reclaim her identity after posing as a boy to survive gruesome gang life in Mumbai.

Like many film festivals, there are good movies in the lineup that either share a showtime or overlap one another by 30 minutes to an hour. This means attendees have to pick and choose since being in multiple theaters at once is impossible. The choice, however, is clear when a movie such as Charysse Tia Harper’s “12 Months” is on the schedule. Her documentary is about a Los Angeles man who rented his 3-bedroom home to a family of four who never met, at the price of $1 per month, giving them a chance to get back on their feet. My interest in Harper’s feature stems from it being one of those stories of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

It ceases to surprise me that documentaries with strong lessons of bravery and hope for a brighter future -- or better yet – a promising now, are in full force at Urbanworld this weekend, considering that Laura Checkoway’s “Lucky” stands out among them. The movie’s synopsis piqued my interest but it’s the trailer that won me over, in high anticipation of this screening at AMC Theatres. “Lucky” follows a homeless mother who masks her pain in tattoos while yearning to overcome darkness. I’m especially drawn to Checkoway’s documentary because this is one of those movies where you're like “woah! I HAVE to see that shit!” All films should be like that.

(l-r): WBO lightweight champion Terence Crawford attends the opening night screening of "Beyond the Lights" at the 18th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival. The overall message I’m getting from the movies playing in this year’s Urbanworld lineup is that all hope is not lost if you believe in yourself enough to fight through hardships and seek out the possibility of something different; something greater than the unfortunate nature of the predicaments in which you find yourself, or others. We not only have the power to save ourselves from falling off of the edge, we possess an ability to show our communities that they can do the same. That is, without a doubt, the type of message I can get behind.



What mark do YOU want to leave on the world?


Monday Movie Meme – Sunflowers for Tina #LifeisGood

“Turn your face toward the sun and the shadows will fall behind you.” - Maori Proverb

Today, the A-to-Z Team is hosting Sunflowers for Tina, a tribute of sunflowers posted in memory of our late Co-Host Tina Downey at Life is Good.

To honor her love of sunflowers, we are splashing the blogging community with photos of a sunflower that we’ve either purchased or planted to remember the woman who, in many ways, embodied the true meaning of what it means to be a great friend.

This week’s Monday Movie Meme is also centered on this tribute: Sunflowers for Tina. Share on your blog or in the comments section, movies featuring scenes where someone offers flowers to another person.

My selections for this week’s theme are pretty slim as only a few come to mind such as the scene where Carrie smashed her bridal bouquet of roses and gardenia during a heated confrontation with Big in “Sex and the City: The Movie,” the scene where Marisa puts a bundle of lavender on Caroline’s bed in “Maid in Manhattan” and of course, the famous scene where a businessman brings roses to his, um, lady friend while professing his love for her in “Pretty Woman.” That’s all I have at the moment.

Today is the day that bloggers around the world are joining us as we brighten the internet with sunflowers the way Tina brightened the lives of so many people. You are welcome to participate by sharing this post on your social media channels or posting a photo of a sunflower on your blog or Instagram page with the hashtag #LifeisGood – right now!

What movies have YOU watched featuring people offering flowers to one another?

Besides flowers, what reminders in YOUR life convey the message that Life is Good?


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