14th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival

by Sydney Levine
September 22, 2010 11:30 AM
1 Comment
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This festival doesn't get enough ink...who outside of N.Y. and other African Diaspora Film Festivals is aware of the films showing here? Are the acquisitions executives on top of this? It seems like the only African American films we see today are by Tyler Perry. (Exception: Precious). Here is the brief blog on Urbanworld Film Festival posted today on Huffington Post by Marlynn Snyder. Read it below.

The 14th annual Urbanworld Film Festival, backed by presenting sponsor BET Networks and founding sponsor HBO, wrapped in New York City this past weekend. UWFF is widely known as the largest U.S. film festival showcasing films from around the world with a multicultural bent -- over 70 films screened in midtown Manhattan over four days.

Among the films I saw: One Night In Vegas (per SL: It's not even listed in IMDb!), directed by Reggie Rock Bythewood (as part of ESPN Film's Thirty for Thirty Series). The film uses the date September 7, 1996, to explore the friend-mentor relationship between boxer Mike Tyson (who fought Bruce Seldon for the WBA title that night) and rapper Tupac Shakur, who was fatally wounded by gunshots that same evening while being driven to an after-party. I also caught The Lottery, Madeleine Sackler's harrowing and quite emotional tale of our failing public school system, which revealed that 58 percent of African American 4th graders are functionally illiterate. She follows four Harlem and Bronx families who have entered their children (and their hopes for an exit from public schools) in a charter school lottery. The degree to which public education has become politicized in New York City, and how badly these economically challenged families want a quality education for their children, breaks your heart.

Perhaps the film with the biggest buzz was first-time writer-director Qasim 'Q' Basir's world premiere of Mooz-lum, which highlights a young African American student's struggle between his strict Islamic upbringing and more secular pursuits when he goes off to college. He tries to find where he best fits in, a decision made more difficult in the wake of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the resulting negativity toward all things and people with ties to Islam. The film is an impressive first effort, with a surprisingly strong cast of accomplished actors (Nia Long, Roger Guenveur Smith and Danny Glover among them). Young actor Evan Ross ("ATL") plays the lead character, proving again that he could very well be headed down the path to stardom (he is the son of diva Diana Ross).

The film's title is a phonetic play on the way many Americans mistakenly pronounce the word Muslim. It couldn't have come at a better time, given the intense scrutiny and constant news coverage of all things Islamic in this country. On the heels of the film's strong advance buzz (nearly 70,000 fans on Facebook), Urbanworld was forced to add another screening to the two already scheduled -- all three sold out quickly. Mooz-lum went on to win the festival's Best Narrative Feature prize.

LATE ADDITION: SEPTEMBER 29: The Film Sales Company president Andrew Herwitz has acquired worldwide sales rights to Qasim Basir’s feature directorial debut Mooz-lum.
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And from Lee Bailey's EurWeb:

This year’s winner for Best Narrative Feature was “Mooz-Lum,” written and directed by Qasim Bashir, produced by Dana Offenbach and Samad Davis. It is the riveting story of a young man who has a serious decision to make. It’s appropriate for these days and times and is also timeless, the earmark of a masterpiece.

Bouncing Cats” took home Best Documentary Feature. Directed by Nabil Elderkin, Isaac Hagy: Produced by Nyla Hassell, George Mays, Claude Merkel and Charles Spano, it tells the tale of famed breaker Crazy Legs and associates as they travel to Uganda to witness how they’re using Hip-Hop in the motherland to uplift themselves. It’s truly inspiring. Young brothers and sisters from opposing tribes that were at war not long ago are now battling with breaking, rhymes and grafting. Word!

Best Narrative Short went to “Katrina’s Son” written and directed by Ya’Ke and Ralph Lopez. It’s the story of a young man who loses his grandmother during Hurricane Katrina and travels to Houston in search of his birth mother who abandoned him years before. Touching and real raw! Best Documentary Short went to “One of these Mornings,” directed and produced by Valery Lyman. Best Screenplay went to “Gracey” and Best Teleplay went to Tracy Oliver’s “Love and Politics.” The Audience Award went to “Finding God in the City of Angels.”

Audience Award Honorable Mention went to “I Will Follow,” written, directed and produced by Ava DuVernary ♀. It’s based on a true story and tells a story of loss, recovery and closure. It’s beautifully written, wonderfully shot and stars Salli Richardson-Whitfield. A woman that’s so fine she’s almost painful to look at. Sort of like the “Lost Ark” in the Indiana Jones movie baring that name.

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1 Comment

  • missme | September 24, 2010 5:18 AMReply

    bravo to you. indiewire itself has barely covered this festival over the years. this year it did at least get an announcement of its roster which is a good thing but it is usually ignored. as are all the black films festivals around the country by the independent "white" film press.

    you may be the FIRST columnist/blogger non-black whose taken the time to point out the beauty of this fest and i - an avid black filmlover - thank you.

    there were GREAT films at urbanworld this year. mooz-lum, bouncing cats and my favorite, i will follow. i don't know when and how these films will ever see the light of day but they were xcellent. i've been to sundance and tribeca and woodstock and these stand up with those films anyway.

    in her q and a, the director of i will follow said she didn't even submit to sundance because urbanworld was home. after i asked her about that comment and she told me - i value urbanworld and the audiences here and they value me. i don't need anything else - i thought that was refreshing. her film will probably never get reviewed by indiewire or she won't be in filmmaker magazine or be at lincoln center film program because she hasn't gone through the "established" indie mechanisms. q, the director of mooz-lum, same thing. great new director too. will he ever be recognized like a barry jenkins who did the white circuit? probably not. its a sad thing.

    i'm glad to see you shine some light on the good things.

    another great blog on urbanworld is here from bet.com.
    http://ht.ly/198q1C

    people should pay attention. thank you for doing so.


    Dear missme,
    Wow! And thank you! I'll do more such coverage of such an underserved segment with an equally underserved audience! I might even see the films you mention!
    Sydney


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