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.
Mooz-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 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.
The 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?