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Monday
Sep262016

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?

Friday
Sep092016

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)?

Sunday
Jul102016

Never Been Kissed: Inside Director Barbara Kronenberg’s qFlix Comedy ‘Ballad of Ella Plummhoff’

'The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff' writer and director Barbara KronenbergIt’s nice to be blogging again, as I interrupt the Popcorn Snobs’ (semi)regularly scheduled “Taking of A-Z” series, in favor of world cinema. If you believe laughter is the best medicine, you need to get acquainted with Barbara Kronenberg, a German writer/director whose comedy Die Ballad Von Ella Plummhoff (The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff) is among the most anticipated shorts playing at the qFLIX film festival in Philadelphia, PA this weekend.

Dr. Sheena Howard and Wafiyyah Packer of the Women’s Screening Committee even cite it as one they would highly recommend people to come watch.

“I thought the angles and intensity of some of the shots were well put together,” praises Howard on the cinematography as well as the overall technical excellence of what she describes as “a really quirky” and entertaining short film. Packer agrees adding “I love teenage awkwardness….the way they told this coming-of-age story was great.” What’s interesting, however, is that this film almost didn’t get made. There was a time when Barbara Kronenberg got fed up with filmmaking after a string of depressing projects.

Encouraged by her wife along with family and friends to not give up, she tried working on a story that was different and more humorous than her usual fare – resulting in The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff. This 29-minute short helped Kronenberg, a former software developer, rediscover her passion for filmmaking. I arranged a conversation with Kronenberg, who was up for discussing a few topics, from the challenges of shooting goldfish to the definition of beauty and why everyone needs a funny bone.

So without further ado, here’s the woman behind this wildly enjoyable film about an eighth grader who is flunking Math, getting love lessons from a grotesque ballet teacher and only cares about landing her first kiss—on another girl. Grades be damned!

Madlab Post Asks: What is your favorite scene from The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff?

Barbara Kronenberg (BK): The one where Ella is sitting in front of the aquarium after everyone else left for holiday vacation. It has very subtle humor and people usually start laughing when they realize that Ella is wearing her swimming goggles as if she has made up her own holiday setting, which is of course not satisfying. Ella is just sitting there, observing the two goldfishes through her swimming goggles and it seems to be a very easy to shoot scene because there is no big action.

As you probably wouldn't imagine, the two fishes were not that easy to handle - they behaved like little divas. I tried to give compliments about their beautiful fish scale, I praised their skills as actors and we even bought them gourmet fish food, but they preferred to stay in the tank corners. Finally I told staff to fire them and to cast turtles instead of fishes. That was the key and they started to perform the choreography, which we trained on for about 3 or 4 weeks. So this very small scene took some more time then people are expecting.

What makes a woman beautiful?

I never felt attracted only because of a “perfect“ body, face or dressing; it’s always a mixture of charisma, behavior, attitude, brainpower and appearance. To me, beauty isn’t something that you can see, it’s something that you feel.  – BK

(l-r) Actresses Lotta devil and Inga Dreger on the set of 'Die Ballad Von Ella Plummhoff' directed by Barbara Kronenberg.Would you like to share the story behind your first kiss?

The only thing I can tell you is that I had to kiss a lot of boys before I found out that I prefer kissing girls. - BK

What is the best quality everyone should have?

I’d love to say it is humor because I think it makes life much easier and of course funnier, but there are maybe one or two things which are more important and could be helpful to save the future of humanity: honesty and tolerance. It’s ok to make mistakes as far as you admit them. It’s also ok to have a different opinion as far as you don’t force someone else to share your opinion or way of living. – BK

Kudos to Barbara Kronenberg for showing the world that perseverance pays off and it’s important to have fun when following your passion. Otherwise, what’s the point?!

Die Ballad Von Ella Plummhoff /The Ballad of Ella Plummhoff is a German language film with English subtitles playing Sunday, July 10, 2016 at the Caplan Theater - University of the Arts – 211 S. Broad Street in Philadelphia, PA. Showtime is 2:30PM. It is part of the qFlix Film Festival’s  fun and fanciful “Damn Danielle” program, a collection of short films for everyone, with stories about family power struggles, revenge and the last laugh.

Share YOUR Comments!

What makes someone a good kisser? How supportive are YOUR loved ones in your chosen profession? If YOU had a pet turtle, what would you name it?

*Special thanks to Mike Nash for contributing to this piece. Images courtesy of Barbara Kronenberg.