Review: ‘Motherless Brooklyn’ Edward Norton Resurges Dynamic Film Noir Storytelling

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20 years in the making and the film adaption of Motherless Brooklyn is finally here. Triple threat Ed Norton serves as writer, director, and star of this highly stylized film noir rendition of Jonathan Lethem’s 1999 novel of the same name. Unlike its printed predecessor, Norton’s film takes place in the 1950s, whereas Lethem’s crime novel describes a 1990s Big Apple. Some resistance from the author could have been expected, but according to Lethem, when Norton asked for his input, he said: “Just run with it.

And Edward Norton did just that. For two decades the artist researched the New York City of the 1950s and its place in history with politics, race, community displacement and power struggles interwoven – the major components that make up this crime drama. Edward Norton plays Lionel Esrogg, a junior detective with Tourette’s syndrome that is determined to find the truth about his mentor’s (played by Bruce Willis) murder, all while uncovering unsavory truths about New York City’s powerful and disenfranchised. Joining Norton in this dramatic ensemble are acclaimed actors: Alec Baldwin, as the powerful, money-hungry and bigoted developer, Moses Randolph intent on bamboozling anyone and any institutions that get in his way of seeing his projects through (loosely based on actual New York developer, Robert Moses). Baldwin’s casting and interpretation of Randolph is quite apropos and authentic as his portrayal of Trump has been well received by the public and condemned by the president; and well, extremely timely.

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. L to R, Alec Baldwin and Edward Norton

Gugu Mbatha-Raw as Laura Rose, a mixed-race lawyer and activist intertwined in this crime story is fantastic. Mbatha-Raw and Norton have great chemistry on-screen and there’s a beautiful connection their characters convey with an unspoken recognition of the struggle each has endured within a less-than accepting society. Rounding out the cast with electrifying performances are Willem Dafoe as Paul, Moses Randolph’s more humane, and less corrupt brother and Michael K. Williams (The Wire, Boardwalk Empire) as the trumpet man with keen situational awareness.

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Photo: Courtesy of Warner Bros. L to R, Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Edward Norton

Edward Norton has a gift for portraying dimensional characters. He can go from 0 – 100 instantaneously, from self-deprecating to exuding complete confidence without hesitation; his Academy Award nominations for Primal Fear and American History X speaks to this. It’s a given. The audience will root for underdog, Lionel Essrog, to defeat the villains in Motherless Brooklyn but what is most compelling about Norton’s brilliant portrayal of Lionel’s disability is the way he outsmarts those who believe he’s no match for them with grace, humility and humor. And as the audience, we buy it.

The cinematography (Dick Pope) and set design (Kara Zeigon) conjures ups a romanticized nostalgia moviegoers crave. Manhattan and Brooklyn streets littered with 1950s Cadillacs and Chevys in an array of models and colors is a sight to behold. At first glance, you might think you’re in a tourist attraction in present day Cuba, but no, it’s the extraordinary production team that made this era come life with beautiful visuals. The film is lengthy but worth sitting through and witnessing wonderful storytelling. Motherless Brooklyn comes out tomorrow, November 1st. Click here for showtimes.

Urbanworld Film Festival 2019 Review: More Than A Platform for Filmmakers – A Community of Content Powerhouses and Artists Breaking Barriers

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival

Urbanworld’s 23rd Film Festival has come to an end but the lasting impression their 78 official film selections made still lives on. Opening this year’s festival was Harriet, directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve’s Bayou, The Caveman’s Valentine). Harriet tells the story of Araminta Ross, born into slavery in Dorchester, Maryland as 1 out of 11 siblings in her family. She became famous for freeing over 300 slaves in the south as a conductor in the Underground Railroad and integral leader of the Civil War. Lemmons does a fantastic job of portraying Tubman, played by Tony Award-winning actress Cynthia Erivo (Color Purple on Broadway, Widows), as a crusader. This isn’t just another film about slavery depicting atrocities and pulling at your heartstrings. It’s the impossible tale of a true female warrior with incredible perseverance. When we first meet Araminta, she seems scared; she’s illiterate and a bit crass, having suffered a childhood assault, and possessing divine vision and clarity, she executes numerous and courageous efforts to lead her family and others to freedom. This is the 19th century Oscar-worthy biopic we’ve been all been waiting for – the heroine of our dreams makes her way to the big screen. Harriet comes out November 1st. Click here to learn more.

Other narrative features worth spotlighting are DC Noir, and the female-led cast, If Not Now, When?

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Photo: Urbanworld Film Festival, Actor, Gbenga Akinnagbe in DC Noir 

DC Noir is an anthology of 4 films based on writer/producer/director George Pelecanos’ (The Wire, Treme, The Deuce) critically acclaimed short stories. Each story is based in Washington D.C. and follows working class characters that in some way or other want to escape their circumstances, yet find themselves riddled with obstacles and propensity for crime. Pelecanos does a remarkable job of capturing the essence and culture of the urban communities he writes about and DC Noir is no exception. Long-time collaborating actor-turned-director, Gbenga Akinnage (The Wire, The Deuce, To Kill A Mocking Bird – currently on Broadway) directs and stars in one of the shorts. Pelecanos hires many of the same actors in his television series and now film series, to portray his three-demensional characters. During the panel discussion after the screening, I saw many familiar faces supporting Pelecanos and the cast and audience members emphasized his stellar efforts to characterize people from the places he writes about with authenticity. To learn more about DC Noir, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R, Meagan Good and Tamara Bass on set of If Not Now, When?

Next up: If Not Now, When? The predominantly black cast led by stars-turned directors, Meagan Good (Think Like A Man, Minority Report) and Tamara Bass (Krazy Actress Productions) bring a poignant film about high school friends and the ups-and-downs they’ve encountered 15 years later. The film is reminiscent of 90s film, Waiting to Exhale with Whitney Houston and Angela Basset, as it explores the complexities of female friendships and love interests. If Not Now, When? tackles addiction, love-loss, infidelity with grit and honesty. The characters aren’t always likeable and that’s okay, you still root for them. Good and Bass directed the movie by chance, after their original director dropped out. According to Good, “I feel like I’m cheating on acting by saying this, but I definitely love directing as much as acting, maybe a little bit more sometimes.” Good and Bass have been friends for over 21 years and took turns behind the camera. To learn more about, If Not Now, When? click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba Film Still

I’m always in search of documentaries that strike a nerve in me – good or bad- and leave me thinking about the subject matter for a while. This year’s Urbanworld Film Festival presented: Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba and Skin – two films that have taken up residency in my mind.

I’ve been to 7 of Cuba’s provinces. I was born there and left for the United States at the age of 4. It took my 28 years to finally return to my motherland. And I’ve always wanted to go to Oriente where my mom was from and where the movie Bakosó is based, but I’ve never quite made it there on my 4 trips to Cuba. Habaneros, or those from Havana have always thought people from Santiago were guarijos (hicks from the countryside) and spoke a weird dialect the rest of Cuba couldn’t understand. Wow, are these Habaneros wrong! After watching Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba, directed by Eli Jacobs-Fantauzzi, and seeing the energy and vibrancy Santiagueros have, I completely understood what the people from the region of my native Cuba had to say and I want to visit Santiago more than ever. The film starts off with Isnay DJ Jigüe Rodriguez’s grandmother smoking a cigar and moving to African chants. African rhythms are a central theme in this documentary. DJ Jigüe takes us through the various parts of Santiago and introduces us to artists making due with homemade speakers and equipment. It’s Cuba after all – electronics and anything for that matter, are in short supply. He also shows us neighborhoods bursting with new dances and young people celebrating their local Bakosó superstars like: Ozkaro Delga2, Maykel El Padrino and El Inka making their music and receiving recognition for their upbeat and innovative contribution to Hip Hop. To learn more about Bakosó: Afrobeats of Cuba, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Skin Film Still

The second documentary that made an impact on me was Skin, directed by Daniel Etim Effiong, starring and produced by Beverly Naya. Naya poses the question: Why do women and men bleach their skins and succumb to “supposed beauty standards” they feel they need to conform to? Naya is on a quest and travels to different regions in Africa and interviews public figures, cosmeticians, actresses, beauty entrepreneurs, local women and school children who feel compelled to feed into the beauty myth – that lighter is beautiful. Naya addresses her own insecurities growing up with her skin color and learning to accept her beauty and confidence as a grown up. Naya does a wonderful job of exploring this sensitive topic that is universal and warrants discussion amongst people of color within their communities. Skin color does not merit the worth of a person and Beverly Naya is an excellent advocate for championing this message. Please go see this movie and embrace how God made you – beautiful to the last cell of your body! To learn more about Skin, click here.

Launched in 1997 by founder Stacy Spikes, co-founder of MoviePass and former executive of October Films, for over two decades Urbanworld Film Festival is the premiere platform for emerging filmmakers and musical talent to showcase their work and partner with distributors such as HBO, BET and Warner Media for global exposure. Spikes believed people of color were underrepresented in film and there was a void to fill, and embarked on establishing, what is now known as the: Urbanworld Foundation Inc. Under the umbrella of the foundation is also Urbanworld Digital, which includes esteemed panelists in television and film holding invaluable conversations on how to get great content out there and what the process entails. Gabrielle Glore serves as Festival Director &Head of Programming. To learn more about the Urbanworld Film Festival, click here.

Harlem Stage Debuts The Mystical World of Afrofuturism – Bewildering and Charming Experience

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Movie Poster Still From Film, “ROXË15”

Before attending the Order Out of Chaos, a night of Afrofuturistic short films, music performances and a ‘Mind Share’ panel discussion recently, I had a vague understanding of the term: Afrofuturism. The phrase: Afrofuturism, was coined by Mark Dery in 1993 in his essay: “Black to the Future.” Dery, a cultural critic, essayist and journalism professor, examines the intersection of sci-fi and African pride. According to Dery, “a community of people whose past has been deliberately rubbed out, and whose energies have subsequently been consumed by the search for legible traces of its history, imagine possible futures?” The wildly successful Academy-Award winning pop culture movie: “Black Panther” is a testament to Dery’s hypothesis and focuses on black diaspora and technology – central themes in Afrofuturism.

On this night, Harlem Stage’s audience was treated to two experimental short films delving into the theories of Afrofuturism. The first: “ROXË15”, directed by Celia C. Peters, is a film about a virtual reality female programmer, living in a bleak futuristic New York City setting, searching for a better life through technology, reliving certain events she can’t escape from that prevent her from moving forward; it’s jarring and uncomfortable, but hints at the limitless possibilities technology has to shape our lives.

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Still From “Prototype” Film, From Left to Right, “Android 499” and Sol

The second short, “Prototype,” by writer-director, Christopher Ortega examines human emotions when a black female scientist tests out different android prototypes in her mother’s lab to determine if they can experience empathy. In her quest for substantiated results, she discovers family secrets about her mother and her own existence. It’s “Black Mirror” meets modern-day Telenovelas; and I’m here for it. Would love to see a full-length feature made and have the subject matter explored further.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, From L to R, Celia C. Peters, Craig T. Williams, Nona Hendryx, Craig Harris and Darian Dauchan

Post film screenings, director and moderator, Celia C. Peters led a discussion on the origins of Afrofuturism with fellow speakers: Nona Hendryx, acclaimed vocalist, record producer, songwriter of the hit song “Lady Marmalade” and former member of the group, Labelle, Craig T. Williams (filmmaker) of upcoming movie: “Hanging by a Thread,” Craig Harris (jazz-musician) and avant-garde composer, and Darian Dauchan, award-winning actor, writer, musician of the off-Broadway production of: The BroBot Johnson Experience. These talented artists discussed the past, present, and future of Afrofuturism. The role technology plays and one of the first innovators of the concept of Afrofuturism (before it was labeled a concept), Sun Ra – a jazz musician, who infused elements of space and jazz in his work. Sun Ra, in an NPR interview said: “In my music I speak of unknown things, impossible things, ancient things, potential things,” Known as recording pioneer, cosmic philosopher and poet, Sun Ra claimed to be from Saturn.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, Nona Hendryx

Following the panel discussion, the galactic sights and sounds of Nina Hendryx filled the auditorium – Hendryx is currently resident Artistic Director for Afrofuturism at Harlem Stage. With her band mate on the drums and the visual backdrop of colorful orbiting bodies, 74 year-old Hendryx confidently sashayed on stage and made her way to the audience wearing a black cat-suit and digital audio tutu with synthesizers; multifunctional fashion. Hendryx is a force. Younger musicians can take a cue from Hendryx’s sultry appeal and career longevity.

Closing the night was Darian Dauchan as his Brobot Johnson character. He raps. He beat boxes. He dances. Moving to simulated outerspace sounds, manifested on screen with shapes and figures, Brobot Johnson (dressed as a robot, complete with silver hair) got the audience pumped and made his performance interactive. It was strange, yet unexpectedly entertaining to watch as some of the loud, pulsating sounds lingered.

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Photo Credit: Marc Millman, Darian Dauchan as Brobot Johnson

For over 35 years, Harlem Stage has been one of the countries’ leading performing arts centers fostering and showcasing contemporary artists of color, bringing exciting and diverse performances daring to be provocative and engaging new audiences transcending cultural experiences. To check out more Afrofuturistic performances throughout the year and explore other phenomenal programs, click here.

3rd Annual Festival of Cinema NYC: Hosted Brave, Brash, and Beautiful Films

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Photo: Courtesy of Festival of Cinema NYC

Festival of Cinema NYC has wrapped its 3rd season – and it was a season replete with films tackling trauma, love, and hope with authenticity. Cinema fanatics from not just Queens (host location), but all over the world were treated to more than 125 films, relentlessly holding audiences’ emotions hostage and settling up well-deserved ransoms at the end of each screening with sensational works of art.

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Photo: Courtesy of Red Dress. Red Straps film

This years’ roster of indie shorts held their own and commanded as much attention as their full-length narrative features and documentary counterparts. The films that merit mention: Red Dress, Red Straps, Keylight, and Coffee and a Donut – brief in presentation, robust with long-lasting, heart-felt and controversial themes that permeated well after their screenings. Red Dress. Red Straps by director Maryam Mohajer follows the story of a young girl in her grandparents’ home in the midst of Iran-Iraq war in 1985. She’s enamored by a pretty pop star’s red dress she sees on television all the while listening to her grandfather’s favorite radio program spouting “Death to America” chants. The child is nonetheless consumed with how the dress her grandmother is making for her will turn out during this upheaval in her life. The whimsical animation touching upon war, coupled with a child’s perception of the world she lives in is bittersweet and enchanting. Red Dress. No Straps was produced in the U.K. and won the Best Animation award from the 11th annual NYC Independent Film Festival. To learn more about Red Dress. Red Straps, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Keylight film

Keylight by director Simon Kay begins with former child star Sarah, (Samantha Strelitz) about to audition when she’s suddenly confronted with what seems like stage fright but turns out to be thoughts of a traumatic incident in her past she’s incapable of letting go. Sarah finds a way to channel this experience to bring forth her best stage performance – but via dark introspective means. Winning the Festival of Cinema NYC’s Best Cinematography Award, Keylight offers a fresh perspective on how people can address past trauma to release cathartic enlightening and rise above it. To learn more about Keylight, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Coffee and a Donut film

Finally, the last narrative short that resonated with me was Coffee and a Donut by director Cary Patrick Martin. The story is about a young Spanish-speaking immigrant (Memo), whom after hearing a patron request a coffee and a donut at a local diner, perpetually asks for the same order because it’s the only English phrase he’s learned. He suffers in silence as he watches others order mouth-watering pancakes and the like – until he meets a fellow Spanish-speaking customer (Rocio Mendez) that helps him learn English, but not without some hiccups. This short film has resonated with audiences as it explores the universal immigrant experience of adapting to a new country they now call home; it’s sweet, funny and empathetic; a film so vital in today’s current political climate, particularly with the current administration’s animosity towards immigrants. Actress Rocio Mendez received this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC Best Supporting Actress Award. To learn more about Coffee and a Donut, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Over 18: A Documentary About Porn film

Documentaries must be given their spotlight too. After all they focus on topics that are rarely covered in mainstream films. This year’s standouts: Over 18: A Documentary About Porn and The Queens. Over 18 by directors Jared Brock and Michelle Brock chronicle the life of Joseph, a 13 year-old boy recovering from a porn addiction since age 9. Shocking? Absolutely. As the film progresses and shares eye-opening data, the more disturbing it becomes. The filmmakers examine the correlation between the Internet and the easy accessibility children have to porn sites with inadequate, limited restrictions; the male porn stars and companies who’ve profited and continue to make money from pornography, the female stars exploited and left to pick up the pieces – post porn work, and most importantly, the devastating effects and consequences porn addiction can have on children and adults. The directors did a fantastic job of interviewing subjects to discuss their roles in porn culture – specifically content, distribution and consumption; and what ultimately needs to change to safeguard children’s accessibility. To learn more about Over 18: A Documentary About Porn, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of The Queens film

The Queens documentary introduces audiences to a whirlwind of female impersonators and female illusionists around the country vying for the coveted title of Miss Continental. The national pageant, founded by Jim Flint in 1980, is held annually in Chicago and has preliminary qualifying Miss Continental contests around the country and the world. Forget everything you’ve heard or know about traditional pageants. The true super stars are the contestants in this documentary. Filmmaker Mark Saxenmeyer follows contestants that have invested tens of thousands in becoming Miss Continental; the dance routines they create and practice; the lavish costumes and makeup they spend money on; the perseverance they posses is immeasurable. Saxenmeyer delves into the culture of female impersonators and what’s at stake for them to follow their dreams with grace and integrity. To learn more about The Queens, click here.

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Photo: Courtesy of Quest: The Truth Always Rises film. L to R, Dash Mihok as Tim and Greg Kasyan as Mills.

In a film festival, more often than not, there’s a film that makes you stop, reflect and ponder for a while what you just saw. For me, this film was: Quest: The Truth Always Rises. Quest, written and directed by Santiago Rizzo, is autobiographical. Rizzo’s character Mills is played by Greg Kasyan. Kasyan (Netflix’s “Daybreak”) portrays a troubled teen in Los Angeles from an abusive home that seems destined for doom with tremendous grit and vulnerability. The teen is a graffiti artist and is talented in his tagging pursuits and expresses interest in school, but lashes out, as he internalizes the consistent physical and verbal abuse his stepfather (Lou Diamond Phillips) bestows on him. There’s a teacher and football coach that takes notice of his behavior and attempts to befriend the youth, albeit with resistance, but ultimately changes his life. The educator played by Dash Mihok (Showtime’s “Ray Donovan”) shows a display of compassion and lack of judgment so admirable and mirrors Rizzo’s true-life mentor, Tim Moellering. Mihok interprets the character with great stoicism and sincerity and the audience can’t help but root for both student and teacher. Receiving Best Feature Narrative at this year’s Festival of Cinema NYC, I can’t recommend this film enough. We need more stories like these to be told and raise awareness of troubled youth, the good these films can do to improve their lives and impact change. I impart Santiago Rizzo’s words from his emotional post-film Q&A: “Trust Your Struggle.” To learn more about Quest: The Truth Always Rises, click here.

Festival of Cinema NYC’s name was recently changed from Kew Gardens Film Festival to promote film submissions globally. The Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment and Governor Andrew Cuomo recently acknowledged the tremendous strides the festival is making to promote filmmakers and their work, and the free programming film panels and workshops events they sponsored in New York City. To learn more about Festival of Cinema NYC, click here.

Female Filmmakers Rule The Spotlight At The 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

If you’ve had enough of the quintessential Hollywood hyped films that have been – and will continue to be – splashed all over TV stations and streaming services with overly saturated ads (after all it’s only the beginning of June), then check out the roster of films at the 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival to embrace global innovation and creativity. I’ve seen a few films thus far, in the narrative and documentary features and shorts, and experimental and animation categories, and wow! have they made an impact on me. And, we still have 6 more days of film festival-ing to revel in and see more fascinating films.

It all began with the presentation of The Gathering on BFF’s opening night and this year’s festival theme of empowering women to tell their stories and call out Hollywood for their inaction towards predatory powerful men. The Gathering, directed by Emily Elizabeth Thomas, showcases actresses dressed in character (the nun, elf queen, spy) all sharing personal accounts of sexual assaults within the film industry. The film and director’s message: “NYC…Brooklyn is a space for the other, the weird, the disruptors. And, that a better Hollywood is possible.” Following this powerful short film was the world premiere of Above The Shadows by Claudia Myers starring Olivia Thirlby, Alan Ritchson, Jim Gaffigan, and Megan Fox.

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Olivia Thirlby and Alan Ritchson, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Above The Shadows is a supernatural action romance between a tabloid photographer (Holly) and a disgraced MMA fighter (Shayne). Holly has been invisible to her family and society for more than a decade. After discovering that one of her tabloid photos resulted in Shane’s downfall, she tracks him down to make things right and realizes he can see her and has the potential to restore her existence in the world. Director Claudia Myers brings a softer perspective to the sport of MMA and reverses the age-old boy-saves-girl paradigm with Thirlby as a believable heroine and savior of the day.

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Elephant in Africa’s Congo Basin Region, Photo: Courtesy of the Brooklyn Film Festival

Regardless if you love elephants or whether you just love all animals, the documentary, Silent Forests, is worth seeing. Taking place in Africa’s Congo Basin region, the film follows Cameroon’s first female eco-guard conversationalist, a Congolese biologist studying elephant behavior, an anti-poaching sniffer dogs team leader led by a Czech conservationist all tackling the unbelievable corruption, lack of funding and weapons, as they deal with the huge crisis of the decreasing population of forest elephants. The film is eye-opening and sentimental in the depths these activists undertake to examine the problem head-on,  from poaching to conversation and vice-versa. Check out director Mariah Wilson’s documentary feature on June 4th at 10pm at the Wythe Hotel.

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Numa Perrier as Susan (Center), Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

A recent film that had me immersed in thought long after it ended was: Una Great Movie by Director Jennifer Sharp. The story begins with an African-American woman (Susan) traveling back to Mexico to rekindle a romance with a former lover; then it cleverly switches to the film’s screenwriter second-guessing her characters and their actions in the film and the all-too-familiar producers, “screen therapists,” agents, and movie insiders injecting their formulaic and over-used anchors to drive the film to “sell” and have a mass appeal. This film will speak volumes to all, but is especially poignant for any creative who has dreamt, tried-but-failed, or succeeded in making their vision come to life. It’s funny, full of heart, and entertaining for the entirety of its 96 minutes. Check it out and buy tickets to the world premiere on June 7th at the Wythe Hotel at 8pm.

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Mollie Cowen as Casey, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The documentary short, 3 Sleeps, by painter-turned-director, Christopher Holt is based on the true story of a 9-year-old girl (Casey) left to take care of her younger siblings for a whole weekend in a tough London neighborhood. After her mother leaves young Casey with little money to watch over herself and sisters, her youngest sister, aged 5, becomes ill. While Casey is forced to make the harrowing decision to either protect her mom or save her sister’s life, the audience is at standstill – grappling and sympathizing with Casey’s predicament. Fine acting by actresses Mollie Cowen, Keira Thompson, and Emily Haigh. 3 Sleeps has its U.S. premiere tonight at the Wythe Hotel at 6pm and encore on June 7th.

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Bernard in Bristled, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

The animation short Bristled is a gem of a film that captures the idiosyncrasies of dating perceptions in the modern world. After countless failed blind dates, Bernard believes he may have found “the one,” only to find yet another fault in the person and is quickly consumed with his perceived “fault” she possesses, only to discover he’s not perfect either. The narration’s comedic dialogue and timing is superb. Bristled, by Scott Farrell has been selected by the Beverly Hills Film Festival, Chicago Comedy Film Festival, and Canadian International Comedy film Festival to name a few. Go see this quirky film on June 5th at the NY Media Center.

This year The Brooklyn Festival’s programmers are committed to advocating for filmmakers who are working in critical systems, taking risks and challenging themselves to tell stories that are breaking barriers. Please check out these amazing films and support these extraordinary and talented artists. To see Brooklyn Film Festival’s full schedule, click here. Plus, don’t miss my festival wrap-up piece next week. The Brooklyn film festival will be running through, June 9th.

Complexions Contemporary Ballet 25th Anniversary: Bittersweet and Bold!

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Left To Right: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson. Photo: Courtesy of Complexions Contemporary Ballet

Black History Month has concluded, and the month of February has been replete with exciting events that have left a lasting impression on the patrons of New York City’s cultural art scene. One worthwhile mention: Complexions Contemporary Ballet’s 25th anniversary benefit performance. The night began with host, Courtney B. Vance, veteran television and film actor and consummate supporter of dance programs around the globe, bringing enthusiasm and awareness to the fundraising efforts of the organization. The gala’s aim: To help build Complexions’ educational initiatives through scholarships, mentorship programs and the continued development of Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson’s methodology of dance training.

Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson co-founding artistic directors and executive directors of Complexions Contemporary Ballet both have incredible careers spanning decades of choreography and dance performances in some of the most prominent theater and dance companies around the world. Their passion for dance and experimentation with cutting edge performances has earned them worldwide recognition and thanks to their dedication, Complexions Contemporary Ballet celebrates their 25th anniversary this year. This marks the end of an era for Richardson. He is hanging up his dancing shoes as a full-time company member, and is passing the dance torch to a slew of new up-and-coming rising stars eager to enter the dance foray – particularly, the students from the pre-professional New Orleans Ballet Association part of Complexions Contemporary Ballet Educational program. They performed the world premiere of Nostalgia. These students’ focus and commitment to dance is admirable and witnessing the various body types and statures dancing in the company was refreshing. Long gone are the conventional rigid body type requirements of the past; progression and inclusivity is prevalent for the future of dance. Dwight Richardson performed Moonlight as his farewell number. His grace and flexibility are still in tact – as evidenced by his coordination with a chair prop – his dance moves melted seamlessly into the music score.

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Desmond Richardson, Photo: Gene Schiavone

Star Dust, a ballet tribute to David Bowie – conceptualized, staged and choreographed by Dwight Rhoden was thrillingly captivating since its premiere in Detroit, MI 2016 and continues to be present day. With new company members debuting their rendition, of this now signature Complexions performance; their dance moves and lip-syncing capabilities were in perfect unison to David Bowie’s haunting and melodious voice. Songs like Lazarus, Changes, Life On Mars, and Modern Love transport you to a time in place where anything is possible and dreams if big enough, manifest. The elaborate costumes, makeup and set design is a sight to behold. The iconic singer would’ve been proud.

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Complexions Contemporary Ballet Dance Company Performing Star Dust, Photo: Sharen Bradford

Complexion’s educational initiatives were offered in six cities this past year, allowing the company the ability to mentor and train hundreds of dancers. Although their season at the New York Joyce Theater has ceased, these dazzling superstars of contemporary ballet are traveling throughout the country to entertain and enchant audiences. Check out their upcoming performances and get tickets here!

“Nostalgia”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Staged by: Clifford Williams, Music by: Ryuichi Sakamoto, Lighting & Design by: Michael Korsch, Performed by: students from NORD/New Orleans Ballet Center for Dance: Angelle Brown, Kaleb Clausell, A’briel Mitchell, Scarlett Mitchell-Yang, Amari Patterson, Chloe Roberts, Manon Scialfa, Violette Stonebreaker, Marguerite Valadi, Amaya Williams, Special thanks to the staff and faculty of the New Orleans Ballet Association.

“Moonlight”

Choreography by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: Kemp Harris, Lyric Composer: Dwight Rhoden, Lighting and Design by: Michael Korsch, Costume Design by: DR Squared, Performed by: Desmond Richardson

“Star Dust”

I. LAZARUS (Blackstar album 2016), II. CHANGES (Hunky Dory album 1971), III. LIFE ON MARS (Hunky Dory album 1971), IV. SPACE ODDITY (Space Oddity album 1969), V. 1984 (Diamond Dogs album 1974), VI. HEROES (Heroes album 1977) Sung by Peter Gabriel, VII. MODERN LOVE (Let’s Dance album 1983), VIII. ROCK AND ROLL SUICIDE (The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and The Spiders from Mars album 1972), IX. YOUNG AMERICANS (Young Americans album 1975), Performed by: The Company, Choreographed by: Dwight Rhoden, Music by: David Bowie, Staged by: Dwight Rhoden and Desmond Richardson, Costume Design and Construction: Christine Darch, Lighting and Set Design by: Michael Korsch

Review: ‘What Is Democracy?’-Thought-Provoking And Essential

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What Is Democracy? Film Poster, Photo: Courtesy Of Zeitgeist Films

While half of the population is debating whether to see Netflix’s BirdBox, here’s an option you won’t regret: What Is Democracy? by filmmaker Astra Taylor. Not only will it get you thinking, as most documentaries set out to do, but long after it’s over the ideas will linger in your brain for the better good. The film forces the viewer to examine what this concept of democracy means to them personally, which makes the film that much more compelling and timely in our current chaotic political state. Taylor begins the film with a roundtable discussion in Greece with political theorists and activists discussing the origins of the democracy: the rule by the people. The term is derived from the Greek word dēmokratiā; the combined words dēmos (“people”) and kratos (“rule”) in the middle of the 5th century, notably Athens

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Cornel West, Photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

One of the most refreshing elements about What Is Democracy; is the diverse opinions Astra Taylor interjects throughout the film. We hear from Cornel West – a prominent and provocative democratic intellectual and Professor of the Practice of Public Philosophy at Harvard University describing and citing historical moments with democracy and the African-American experience to first-hand accounts of factory workers forming a collective to work for themselves to a student activist coming face-to-face with gun violence during a peaceful protest to spending time with Silvia Federici, a researcher, activist, and educator and Emerita Professor at Hofstra University in Siena, Italy as she dissects the rise of capitalism, financial institutions and the inequality that emerged – illustrated by a medieval painting: The Allegory of Good and Bad Government; Siena is considered to be one of the first centers where banking originated.

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L to R, Silvia Federici and Astra Taylor in Siena, Italy, Photo: Courtesy of Zeitgeist Films

The film weaves each subject’s viewpoint without the expectation to take a side; it presents ideas for analysis that beget a slew of questions for a democracy to be successful. Taylor is careful to let each subject tell their story organically and allows the audience to form their own opinions on the continued existence or demise of a democracy. Taylor is no stranger to filmmaking – her filmography includes Examined Life (Toronto International Film Festival Premiere, 2008) and Zizek! (Toronto International Film Festival Premiere, 2005). Her political and activism engagement is still prevalent. Her new book by Metropolitan Books: Democracy May Not Exist, but We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, will be released in early 2019. What Is Democracy?: A Zeitgeist Films Release in association with Kino Lorber theatrical release begins January 16, 2019 at IFC Center in New York followed by theatrical engagements nationwide. To learn more about What Is Democracy?, click here.