Black Hollywood came out in full force at the 15th annual Urbanworld Film Festival. The opening film Brooklyn Boheme, which documents the rise of black artistic talent during the 90’s in Fort Greene, was the brainchild of director Diane Paragas and author Nelson George, who witnessed (and was a part of) this late 20th century urban renaissance. “It was this amazing community that so many artists came out of, who ended up affecting the world.”
Director Spike Lee, comedian Chris Rock, and actor John Boyega (Attack The Block), were in attendance to show support for the film. Boyega, who was recently cast as the lead in the the highly anticipated HBO drama “Da Brick” (loosely based on Mike Tyson’s early years), had just spent most of his day undergoing a grueling workout session, in order to prepare for his role as a boxer. When asked about the media dubbing him the ‘British Denzel Washington’ Boyega replied “I still have a lot of growing to do before I can be a Denzel, but he’s very inspirational.” Spike Lee, who is directing the pilot episode of “Da Brick”, immediately cast Boyega after seeing his breakout performance in Attack The Block, called him a “great young actor.”
Chris Rock, who also co-stars in Brooklyn Boheme recalled some of his favorite memories of living in Fort Greene. “I remember a lot of artists living there like Spike, Halle Berry, Wesley Snipes Mos Def, Erykah Badu—just an interesting time. It was kind of like living in Detroit during the Motown years.”
The star wattage continued to shine brightly Friday night as director Mario Van Peebles, 50 Cent and Lynn Whitfield were on hand to promote their film “All Things Fall Apart.” 50 hit the red carpet with his own entourage of eye candy, posing for pics with the cast. Van Peebles originally intended to play the lead role, but after meeting 50 “a bright, affable young brother,” he opted to take up directing reins for the project instead.
Reality star Tami Roman pulled double duty promoting two projects—as an actress in Noel Calloway’s Life, Love, Soul and as a producer in Jerry LaMothe’s film short, The Tombs which follows a young man’s experiences in the New York City central booking jail system.
Spoken word legend Sonia Sanchez was also in attendance to promote her documentary Shake Loose Memories. At the Q&A which took place after, Sanchez gave a call of action to the youth of today, by reminding them of the sacrifices of the generation before. “We didn’t live our lives just so you could be pretty.”
The HBO dramedy, “How To Make It In America” screened their second season premiere, followed by a Q&A with author/culture critic Toure and the cast, which included Victor Rasuk and Luiz Guzman.
The film festival closed out Saturday evening with the premieres of Life, Love Soul, Kinyarwanda and Yelling To The Sky. Radio host Egypt Sherrod, who makes her acting debut in Life, Love, Soul confessed she was a bundle of nerves the first day on set. Luckily her co-star Jamie Hector calmed her down her with some very simple advice, “Just breathe.”
Victoria Mahoney, director of the coming-of-age feature, Yelling To The Sky was in high spirits, as her project was recently picked up for distribution by MPI Media Group. Asked how she was able to round up some of the best and brightest young talent (Zoe Kravitz, Gabourey Sidibe, Yolonda Ross, Shareeka Epps) Mahoney replied “with a lot of begging…and persistence!” As for her advice to up and coming female directors, Mahoney had this to say “Never take no for an answer. If they close the door on you, go through the side window.”
On Sunday, the awards luncheon was hosted by model/actress Liris Crosse and Vibe Magazine’s Datwon Thomas in downtown Tribeca. There was a true sense of community amongst the directors, actors/actresses, and screenwriters, as past Urbanworld alumnae like Qasim B. (Mooz-lum) and Ava DuVernay (I Will Follow) mingling freely with this year’s new crop of talent. Jamil Walker Smith, actor and director of “Make A Movie Like Spike” (featured in this year’s festival) eloquently expressed his wish for aspiring black filmmakers: “Hopefully the more personal we make our films, the more universal our stories become.”
The list of winners is as follows:
Best Narrative Feature
Written and Directed by Nicholas Ozeki; Produced by Adam Renehan, Andrew Daniel Wells
Make a Movie Like Spike (Written and Directed by Jamil Walker Smith)
Restless City (for Cinematography – Bradford Young; Directed by Andrew Dosunmu)
Best Narrative Short
Written and Directed by Bree Newsome; Produced by Valerie Champagne, Bree Newsome
Counterfeit (Written and Directed by Geoff Bailey)
The Man in the Glass Case (Written and Directed by Maxwell Addae)
Best Documentary Feature
Written and Directed by Tom Skousen; Produced by Robert Fernandez, Tom Skousen
Best Documentary Short
Directed by Nadia Hallgren; Produced by Jamie-James Medina
Common Ground (for cinematography – Eduard Jakaj, Stephen Dwight; Directed by Hollie Fifer)
AFTER THE STORM
Written by Cole Wiley
Blackbird (Written by David Polk)
The Divide (Written by Rashmi Singh)
Written by Dawn M. Green and Aliza Pearl Kennerly
LIFE LOVE SOUL
Written and Directed by Noel Calloway; Produced by Allen J. West, Benny Pough, Dedra N. Tate
Brooklyn Boheme (Directed by Diane Paragas and Nelson George)
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