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Jed Williams Gallery on First Fridays in Philly, Traveling Europe by Train and shnit Film Festival Picks 

Made in Belgium, the shnit International Short Film Festival selection 'Drôle D'oiseau (Strange Bird)' is a portrait of a man with bipolar disorder, told through the eyes of his 11 year-old daughter. In keeping with Couch Fest’s long-standing tradition of bringing movie lovers together, I am proud to be presenting the 14th Annual shnit Short Film Festival next weekend. It is an exceptional twelve-day event taking place simultaneously in eight cities across five continents worldwide. As part of the shnit family, I have the pleasure to give the Philadelphia community further access to a selection of award-nominated films in the shnit CINEMAS lineup.

The 2016 programming block showcases films from countries such as Switzerland, Germany, Spain, Russia, Belgium and the United States. Knowing the birthplace of America offers many fun activities to keep film fans occupied in the meantime, I welcomed several locals on the Philly arts scene to let you know what’s happening in and around town; while also sharing their transnational experiences, interests and…of course…most anticipated films playing at the shnit International Short Film Festival.

Damon McCloskey's work in the 'Here We Are Now' exhibition is on display at Jed Williams Gallery.Jed Williams Gallery (at 615 Bainbridge Street) is hosting a First Friday reception on October 7th from 4pm-7pm for HERE WE ARE NOW, an exhibition exploring themes of contemporary abstraction through paintings by Damon McCloskey, TJ Walsh and Ethan Dahl. Philly locals and visitors alike are invited to come over and mingle with new friends over free wine and refreshments – right in time for the unveiling of an official, limited edition, HERE WE ARE NOW t-shirt.

Having attended grade school and high school in France (part of his family is French), Gallery owner and artist Jed Williams’ exploration of the world around him began early on.

Though Williams has since been to Israel, Italy, studied abroad in Germany and spent most of his time in Edinburgh -- a place he considers “a really cool city” -- during a visit to Scotland, he still “would like to travel somewhere, maybe in the East, like Russia.” Continuing below is a sneak peek into the shnit CINEMAS lineup during my Q&A with the man behind one of the top art galleries in Bella Vista.

Madlab Post: What kind of adventures did you experience during your time abroad?

Jed Williams: I was traveling around Europe by train, and, while going from Germany, there was a man sitting across from me who looked like a straight-laced businessman, but then somehow we started talking and had this incredible conversation about life in general, psychedelic drugs, our families, the important things in life and so on. It was really a great traveling encounter. All the more because I never saw him again.

MP: Is film a universal language?

JW: That is a really fascinating question, because it almost suggests another question -- that of whether or not there actually is a universal language at all. I would say film is a universal language in that people of all countries/cultures/spoken languages can enjoy it and be inspired by the dramatic conjunctions of moving images and sounds the best films offer; however I would also say that, one can go even further by thinking that when speech/spoken language is added to a movie, movies featuring particular languages become dialects of the universal language.

So film is such a powerful experience because there is so much being expressed, on so many levels simultaneously; and in ways that make us use different parts of our consciousness.

Made in Russia, the shnit International Short Film Festival selection 'The Very Lonely Cock' is about a charmingly stupid, very timid and very lonely rooster and his encounter with a rope.MP: Which film in the shnit Cinemas lineup for Philly interests you the most?

JW: It's a tie between ОЧЕНЬ ОДИНОКИЙ ПЕТУХ (Very Lonely Cock) and Drôle D'oiseau (Strange Bird). Very Lonely Cock has an interesting visual look and it deals with the theme of loneliness, to which I can relate.  

Drôle D'oiseau, on the other hand, seems like it would be a fascinating psychological dialogue/portrayal and the story line appeals to me; I used to be a counselor as well.

MP: How many languages do you speak?

JW: I speak 3 languages. English, fluent French and pretty good/intermediate German (I learned German all through high school and college, and I guess it stuck with me!). I would like to learn Russian. In fact, I'm trying to teach myself Russian right now, as a kind of hobby, with books, internet sites and a Russian-learning app!

MP:  What is one of your favorite foods from another country or culture?

JW: I like Chicken Biriani; it's Indian. I have no idea how to make it myself!

MP: Can you describe one of your favorite foreign movies?

JW: I loved Woman in the Dunes by Hiroshi Teshigahara. I liked the psychological depth with which it portrays the different characters, like the main character, a Butterfly catcher. The atmosphere of the film is very seductive, and particular, somewhat hushed and dream-like but at the same time dealing with intense, sometimes violent feelings. The black and white photography is also amazing.

MP: What can Jed Williams Gallery visitors expect during the Here We Are Now exhibition and t-shirt unveiling?

JW: The Here We Are Now t-shirt is a way to promote the show while also offering some cool merch for people. I am indebted to Brian Spies, the curator of Here We Are Now, for designing the t-shirt. I love the stark simplicity of it.

When visitors come to the show they can expect a wealth of different types of art, from TJ Walsh's colorful, complex abstract mixed media/oil paintings to Ethan Dahl's giclees (a type of printing process) mounted on panels that have a kind of brilliant, pop-like color and over-all design sensibility; and also not to forget Damon McCloskey's more tonal mixed media works on paper in which one can get lost in omni present, labyrinthine details and a rich color sense.

The First Friday reception for HERE WE ARE NOW at Jed Williams Gallery is October 7 from 4-7pm.I think it is an exceptional show and represents a collaboration between the gallery and Brian Spies, the curator, as well as the gallery reaching out beyond artists from Philadelphia (as 2 of the artists are from central PA.)



Much thanks to Jed Williams Gallery for spending time with me to discuss film, art and culture; all in preparation for when shnit International Short Film Festival hits Philly!

World cinema buffs can now GET MOVIE PASSES to see some of the world’s best films.

Things to Do in Philly Right Now: If you’re in town, be sure to visit First Fridays at Jed Williams Gallery’s reception for for HERE ARE WE NOW, October 7th 4pm-6pm at 615 Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia, PA.

What is the last foreign film YOU watched?

How do YOU celebrate First Fridays?


7 Best Moments from the Urbanworld Film Festival

The Urbanworld Film Festival wrapped up its 20th Anniversary this weekend with Blurred Lines: Artistry and Activism, a conversation with women whose work connects art, culture and community. Keeping up with as many movies playing at AMC Empire in Times Square as lobby chats, Q&A sessions and panels – not to mention all of the red carpet action -- is quite an adventure. Here is a roundup of the best moments that happened at this star-studded event.

'Destined' star Cory Hardict on the red carpet at the 20th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival. Photo by Deb MarcanoMooz-lum director Quasim Basir returned with a new film called Destined, about the alternate paths that exist for one man who grew up in Detroit’s housing projects. I almost skipped this movie and am glad to have changed my mind because it’s a great piece of work that depicts some harsh realities about the way life is shaped by the choices you make.

Cory Hardict gives a stellar performance in two roles, as men who are faced with dilemmas that affect whether they will build up their family and community or destroy them. “Rasheed” is an architect rising through the ranks at his firm. “Sheed” runs a drug empire while under investigation for murder. After a little confusion with Basir’s interweaving of multiple storylines early on, I was eventually drawn to the journey of his characters. Urbanworld alum R. Malcolm Jones even walked out of the teenage love drama Honeytrap – what he considers to be an equally captivating and well-constructed film – to enjoy a second viewing of Destined.

I ran into The Same Difference director Nneka Onuorah on my way to see the World Premiere of Gina Prince-Bythewood’s new FOX series Shots Fired. She came to support a documentary called The Revival: Women and the Word about queer women poets and singers who embark on a road tour, paying homage to the Harlem Renaissance. The Nwas surprised to learn about another lesbian film in the festival lineup – Loved Like This. It’s the one film that convinced me to attend the Young Filmmakers Showcase, presented by Revolt. Yet, my favorite shorts in this programming block ended up being Madaran, Hush and The Bench.

Clocking in at ten minutes, Hush features a clever blend of art, fiction and real-life monsters in this disturbing tale about a young ballerina who performs as Little Red Riding Hood. The Bench, a heartfelt film about a random encounter, restores a bit of my faith in humanity. Jones made it to the theater in time to share in the glory of watching Madaran, an emotionally heavy tale about an Iranian mother who must decide whether to end or spare the life of her son’s killer. When the end-credits rolled, he leaned over and happily whispered “now THAT’S how you make a film!” which I endorsed with a good ol’ fashioned high-five.

'The Magic City' director R. Malcolm Jones heading to the 'Honeytrap' film screening at Urbanworld 2016.The premise for Madaran is dark, yes, but it brings together the right fusion of talent, technical chops and musical score that brings significance to each passing second. Since the only other mini-flicks I heard people raving about were Mast Qalandar, Samaria and The Suit, it seems that Revolt’s Young Filmmakers Showcase was the strongest program of shorts at Urbanworld this year.

The Urbanworld crew member who served as MC for the post-screening activities of Revolt’s Young Filmmakers Showcase did a great job instructing audience members on how to vote for these films via text messaging. Between quick jokes and karaoke-style singing, he added some fun to a tedious task, as attendees had to vote for each film separately, using a scale from 1-5.

One audience member had difficulty voting due to cell phone signal complications, and yelled “Don’t go with Sprint!” out loud. It was the most engaged crowd of moviegoers (who took the time to participate in Urbanworld’s audience voting process) that I’ve ever seen at a film festival. Let’s just hope Sprint didn’t cost any of the filmmakers the Audience Award.

Dar Noir director Hamadi Mwapachu flew from Tanzania to New York, whipped out a laptop and showed clips of his film to anyone within reach. Having attended screenings in previous years where there were between 9-15 people at AMC theater (in Times Square!), I’ve seen firsthand how Urbanworld filmmakers can learn a lot from his tenacity in making sure Dar Noir was on everyone’s radar. Photographer Deb Marcano, who supports independently produced work made in Africa, missed much of Queen of Katwe to check out Mwapachu’s film.

After emphasizing the production value of a key scene, Mwapachu also described New York as a “beautiful city” full of nice people; while informing me of Tanzanians’ reservations about traveling to the U.S. due to the way the media portrays people and places here.

'She's Got a Plan' Director Fatima Washington attends the Urbanworld Film Festival 2016. Photo by Deb MarcanoThe World Premiere of Fatima Washington’s dramedy She’s Got a Plan reignited the drive in Marcano, who is producing an Ethiopian documentary.

Starring Faizon Love, Paula Jai Parker and Golden Brooks, She’s Got a Plan examines class and culture in Hollywood through an aspiring writer-director who has given herself 30 days to make her dreams come true. Marcano cites the film as being just what she needed to watch for motivation in doing work that she loves as an photographer and filmmaker.

Executive producers Gina Prince-Bythewood and Reggie Rock Bythwood gave up their seats to fellow attendees at the highly anticipated screening of their upcoming series Shots Fired.

It was a standing-room only event, as AMC reached capacity for festivalgoers eager to get a first-look at this prime time drama that examines racially charged shootings in a small southern town. Those who weren’t positioned along the walls of the theater found a spot to sit on the stairs. The program, starring Sanaa Lathan, Helen Hunt, Stephan James, Tristan Wilds and Will Patton, is presented by FOX.

What (traditional) medium do YOU think best represents the world we live in – Film or Television?

What are YOUR favorite movie moments from the month of September?


Disney's 'Queen of Katwe' is Key Player in Lineup of African Films at Urbanworld 

The Urbanworld Film Festival, which celebrates its 20th Anniversary this month, is known for showcasing hearty stories about communities of color in all corners of the world including the Caribbean and Latin America. This year is no different with its centerpiece screening of Queen of Katwe starring Oscar winning actress Lupita Nyong’o and Golden Globe® nominee David Oyelowo.

Presented by Disney, this sports drama is based on the true story of a young girl named Phiona who sold vegetables on the streets of an impoverished slum in Uganda.

Phiona's world changes when she meets a mentor and pursues her dream of becoming a world chess champion.

Festivalgoers who plan to attend the Queen of Katwe screening are in for a treat. Not only because you get to see this movie before it hits theaters; in the company of the filmmakers and industry creatives like Selma director Ava DuVernay, Awkward Black Girl creator Issa Rae, Love & Basketball star Sanaa Lathan and The Secret Life of Bees director Gina Prince-Bythewood. You can make a day of it, as 'Queen of Katwe' sits among an assorted group of narrative feature films from Africa playing at Urbanworld, which runs September 21-25, 2016.

In Leila Djansi's Like Cotton Twines, an English teacher in Ghana named Micah learns that one of his 13 year-old female students is being forced to drop out of school to become a Trokosi – the practice of religious sexual slavery. Micah must battle church and state to help her get away from this practice. The U.S. Premiere of Hamadi Mwapachu's Dar Noir, from Tanzania, brings audiences the story of a narcotics cop who is addicted to heroin. He finds redemption and a future in a working girl who sees in him the potential of a a gentle, loving man.

Urbanworld is also the place to catch the U.S. Premiere for Gidi Blues, a Nigerian film about an affluent playboy named Akin whose world is unraveled when he meets an unusual lady who devotes her time to volunteering in a city slum.

The trailer of Gidi Blues plays like a romantic comedy, which adds a nice contrast to serious tones of Dar Noir and Like Cotton Twines. When added to the hopeful and triumphant tale of Queen of Katwe, it looks like Urbanworld has wrapped up a nice little package of African Cinema in what is shaping up to be a momentous occasion for the festival and moviegoers hungry for quality and substance in their entertainment.

Showtimes, Tickets and Movie Trailers:

Like Cotton Twines - AMC Empire Theater 10 - Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 - 5:00 PM

Queen of Katwe - AMC Empire Theater 13 - Thursday, Sept. 22, 2016 - 7:45 PM

Dar Noir - AMC Empire Theater 10 - Thursday - Sept. 22, 2016 - 9:45 PM

Gidi Blues - AMC Empire Theater 12 - Saturday - Sept. 24, 2016 - 2:15 PM

How well do YOU know how to play chess?

Have YOU read Tim Crothers book about Phiona Mutesi?

Which region would YOU say has the most anticipated films....East Africa (Uganda & Tanzania) or West Africa (Ghana & Nigeria)?

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