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Entries in Urbanworld Film Festival (9)


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)?


A Taste of the Short Film Scene at Urbanworld

(l-r): Jesse Loncraine and Flannery Miller attend one of several Q&A sessions at the 19th annual Urbanworld Film Festival.AMC Theater in Times Square was among the most essential places to visit in New York City this past weekend. It’s where movie lovers gathered to enjoy live Q&A sessions, panel discussions about digital media and share a room with public figures such as lead actress Garcelle Beauvais, radio personality Charlamagne Tha God and ballet dancer Misty Copeland during the 19th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival, presented by BET Networks with Founding Sponsor HBO.

While the Pope visit and Taste of France hit the streets of NYC, feature films such as Ty Hodges’ debut A Girl like Grace, Ernest Nkosi’s South African movie The Two of Us (Thina Sobabili) had audiences gasping and in the case of Nelson George’s documentary A Ballerina’s Tale, cheering with pride. Most of the festival’s 80 titles that screened at AMC comprised of an electrifying lineup of short films. Audiences lauded filmmakers in the shorts competition for making movies with diverse storylines – no two films were the same in their tone – great soundtracks, and producing projects that represent the neighborhoods where they came from. The latter gave people in communities with at-risk youth a voice and assurance in knowing their stories are being told.

Meeting the filmmakers behind the shorts was the icing on the cake for a healthy mix of individuals, from aspiring movie makers to New Yorkers who return to Urbanworld every year to see what’s happening on the independent film circuit. Fortunately for these audiences, many filmmakers were in attendance including Tough director and producer Alfonso Johnson who cites the festival’s stellar reputation amongst the filmmaking community as the reason why he submitted his movie here. “It’s like the BET Awards – you have the old-school legends such as Loretta Devine and the new-school kids like myself, all in the same place. So, it provides the opportunity for incredible networking but also for the passing of the torch,” says Johnson.

(l-r): Director Alfonso Johnson and Writer/Actress Gillian Glasco of the short film 'Tough' at Urbanworld 2015Written by Gillian Glasco, Tough is a family drama that questions how masculinity is defined within American society and the African American community.

The narrative tale follows a complicated father and son relationship caused by years of disconnect. It confronts issues of identity, self-awareness and fatherhood.

Johnson also praises Urbanworld for providing what he calls the true “theater experience” for Tough on 42ndstreet, adding that there's "validity when people see it; it's a rite of passage, especially if you’re a filmmaker of color in New York City…[better yet]…in the United States, Urbanworld is the place you want to be.”


From an audience member’s perspective, the technical aspects of Sahim Omar Kalifa’s short film Bad Hunter was among London native Jesse Loncraine’s favorites due mostly to its fine cinematography. Made in Belgium, this movie is about a young man named Bahoz who witnesses the rape of a young woman by an older man during one of his hunting trips.

After chasing away the assailant, Bahoz helps the woman mend her clothes so she can conceal the rape from her family. That evening, Bahoz receives an unexpected visit. Loncraine also named Pete Chatmon’s Blackcard as the funniest short film he’s seen at Urbanworld this year.

Unlike Tough, matters of self-awareness and identity are dealt with using humor in Chatmon’s movie about a couple living in a culture that requires an ID and code. They find out how far the boundaries can be pushed when an organization tasked with keeping members up to snuff on their “blackness,” goes after one of them for his latest infraction. Director Pete Chatman notes that the film is shaped by the universal question that we face as individuals - Who are you?

Following the Urbanworld screening, Blackcard writer Tony Patrick pointed out that the spectrum of what it means to be black is so wide, no one skill, or area of interest that will make you more or less able to identify as such. That said, Patrick considers political affiliation to be the underlying factor that our society uses to distinguish between races. “We know there are black republicans, we just don’t know who they are….except for Ben Carson, says Patrick while referencing a Blackcard scene where the main character’s voting practices are questioned. Knowing Democrats including Hilary Clinton have been popular in the black community for decades, Patrick asks “What if Condoleeza Rice ran for President?” – a possibility that would certainly shake up how our nation defines blackness.

'Blackcard' short film writer Tony Patrick gives advices to an aspiring filmmaker while director Pete Chatmon chats at Urbanworld.Through comedy and satire, Blackcard makes light of a complex subject matter; all of the laughs were surely welcome after Erica A. Watson’s heavy family drama Roubado. After his parent’s breakup, a teen photographer in the south of France develops a tense relationship with his mother’s new boyfriend, in Watson’s movie. I like the opening of this film and it has beautiful cinematography but as the plot thickens, it gets uncomfortable to watch.

New York based Flannery Miller cited Roubado as one of the shorts that made an impression on her while fellow audience member Jesse Loncraine describes Watson’s film in one word -- “distressing.” Loncraine and Miller agree that rape seems to have been the them for Urbanworld’s Shorts Program block #1. Having watched lot of films that screened at the festival this year and heard responses from theater goers who saw the titles I mised, I think there is some truth to Loncraine’s and Miller’s theory.

On a brighter note, Miller also favors Dubois, an “intriguing and well-acted” short by British director Kaz Ové. Filmed in Trinidad, this movie is about a grieving London girl who visits family on the island while recovering from her husband’s death. There, she finds herself drawn to a mentally ill homeless man. A metaphysical, spiritual journey follows, ending in an unnerving discovery.

Stay tuned for an on the spot interview with indie film producer/director Alfonso Johnson!

How do YOU define masculinity?

Who are the screenwriters and/or film directors YOU would like to meet?

What's YOUR idea of a fun weekend in NYC?