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Entries in Film Festivals (75)

Monday
Nov202017

What the Best Short Films in the World Can Teach Us about Building Community

Locals attend the closing night screening of the 2017 shnit International Short Film Festival in PhiladelphiaEvery time I host the shnit International Short Film Festival in Philadelphia, something amazing happens. Strangers from different parts of the city start talking to each other, dissecting their favorite selections from a lineup of (mostly) foreign films. During these discussions, audience members learn that they share similar viewpoints on certain films and in circumstances where people disagree, they still show consideration for perspectives unlike their own.

There always seems to be a film that stands out like a sore thumb, for better or worse. In 2015, it was Beauty, an Italian film exploring the cycle of life through classical paintings. Attendees collectively deemed this animated short “inappropriate" because of its nudity and related graphic imagery. In 2016, men and women in the audience realized that the one thing they had in common was their struggle in figuring out the meaning behind Drôle d'oiseau (Strange Bird) -- a Belgian film that tells the story of a man with Bipolar disorder.

So many different interpretations of Strange Bird led to an interesting debate about what really went down in that film. It’s a level of audience engagement that you won’t find on a typical day at your local movie theater. This year, the Austrian flick Oxytocin and Colombian drama Madre sparked the most audience discussion, particularly revolving around motherhood. Why such an of pairing of films would elicit similar responses still baffles my mind; Oxytocin is about a woman who lives with a lifelike doll whereas Madre tells the story of a 16 year-old girl who attends a casting call for an adult pornographic movie.

L'odeur après la pluie (The Smell after the Rain)Screening shnit has also become a learning experience for me, having realized over the years that there is no way to predict what someone else will enjoy watching. Moonkup, a French comedy fared better than I expected; audience members were into the story, despite the film being about women giving menstrual blood to maintain peace between vampires and humans.

 Die Badewanne (The Bathtub), a German comedy about three brothers trying to recreate a childhood photo, was hit-or-miss and I thought it would be well received. Then there is L'odeur après la pluie (The Smell after the Rain), a slow paced, uneventful Canadian film that I was sure would put people to sleep. This love story, about a widow and her old cowboy flame, turned out to be among the audience favorites.

It seems a program of foreign films can have a larger impact than one originally anticipated as well. I set out to bring communities together through the shared love of watching movies while helping filmmakers gain an audience for their work. During the festival, people from various walks of life ended up exploring parts of Philadelphia and its inhabitants in ways that they may not otherwise have the opportunity or interest to do so.

Suzi Nash and David Gana at Opening Night for the 2017 shnit International Short Film Festival in PhiladelphiaSome attendees this year were not familiar with the revitalization of the Bok building in South Philly nor Taller Puertorriqueño's newly constructed El Corazón Cultural Center in North Philly where I hosted the shnit Opening and Closing night screenings, respectively. A few fashion and accessories aficionados who attended the show at Bok expressed interest in shopping for wares at the upcoming Small Business Saturday event in the building.

A few women at the closing night screening inquired about art programs at Taller Puertorriqueño and renting the space for a private party. These experiences have taught me that the best thing about shnit goes far beyond providing locals with access to award-winning short films from around the world. It offers the ability to spark meaningful connections between ourselves and the places in which we live, work and socialize. Audience members weren't on their phones at these screenings in Philadelphia. They were completely engrossed in the stories, people and places playing out on the screen in front of them.

This year I met women who do not normally go to film festivals and also young men who do not watch foreign films. At the end of each screening, however, everyone could name a film they favored most. That goes to show how we may not speak the same language but we have the ability to understand and even relate to a vast spectrum of human emotions, experiences and behavior. As I gear up to expand the shnit experience on the east coast, I hope these mini movies can continue to become a springboard for building community amidst a diverse cultural landscape.


 

Thursday
Nov022017

3 Reasons Women in Film Must Take Part in the Open Night of Competition at Franky Bradley's this Weekend 

Is your Film best served with roasted Nordic Cod over risotto with melted leeks & lump crabmeat, finished with a lobster bordelaise at Franky Bradley's?Filmmakers are invited to show their films made for, by or about women, during a special night of competition Friday, November 3rd at Franky Bradley's restaurant in Philadelphia.

Films with a running time of 10 minutes or less will be selected (and screened) at random from those in attendance. It's like an open-mic night but for filmmakers, which sounds like fun. When I found out about the competition, I thought of the one-minute romantic comedy flick I wrote and directed a while ago.

It would be perfect for this event, except for the fact that I accidently sat on the DVD and the sole remaining copy of that short film is only compatible for mobile devices. For everyone else -- the producers, directors and actresses out there who have a film that is still intact and will play well in front of attendees at Franky Bradley's this weekend -- your chance to win the competition remains.

The winner will be featured in the upcoming Women's Film Festival (in March 2018). While that is the main reason to participate in this open night of competition, here are additional benefits that filmmakers may gain by taking part in this event:

(l-r): Robin McDonald and Blaire Baron star in the comedy film 'The Candidate,' an official selection at the 2017 Women's Film Festival screening series, presented in partnership with qFLIX.Participating Filmmakers Face Less Competition 

On average, The Women's Film Festival receives several hundred submissions each year, from filmmakers hoping their work gets accepted to screen in one of the programs. Bringing your film this Friday means you may only have to compete with whoever shows up that evening.

So, local filmmakers have a better shot at solidifying a place for their work in the 2018 Women's Film Festival program. The chance to get accepted into any festival without having to put your film through the selection process -- an anxiety-inducing waiting game that could take up to a few months to complete -- is one worth taking.

Proceeds from a Cash Bar Benefit the Women's Film Festival

Aside from after-parties, the festival hosts a Filmmaker's Brunch that provides opportunities for filmmakers in attendance to network and get new projects off of the ground. Fundraisers such as the one at Franky Bradley's on Friday help offset the costs involved in putting these events on. You might be surprised at what great things can happen while chatting about film over food and cocktails. The festival itself was born out of a conversation between two women at a restaurant, so there's that to consider.

(l-r): Mela Hudson and Tori Hall star in the road trip film 'Split Costs,' an official selection in the 2017 Women's Film Festival screening series.Filmmakers Can Leverage their Franky Bradley's Screening and Make It Count

Are you're in the post-production stage? Use this special night of competition as an opportunity to test the latest version of your film in front of an audience.

Even if you don't win a spot to screen your film at the Women's Film Festival in 2018, the feedback alone can be worth your participation in the lottery-style event at Franky Bradley's. Did you recently finish the final sound mix, color correction, etc. on a short that is now ready for its close-up? Use the open night of competition as an opportunity to host a cast & crew screening of your film.

The Women's Film Festival presents "Who's Got Short Shorts?" -- a program of short films selected randomly from those in attendance on Friday, November 3, 2017 at Franky Bradley's 1320 Chancellor Street in Philly. Show runs 6pm-9pm. Films must be submitted on a flash drive in .mov or .mp4 formats.

What are YOUR plans for this Friday night?

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?