Review: ‘A Christmas Carol in Harlem’ – Modern Twist of a Favorite Classic: Delightfully Uplifting

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L to R: Emery Jones as Tiny Timothia and Charles Bernard Murray as Ebenezer Scrooge, Photo: Jill Jones

The holiday season is upon us and as you plan the rest of your entertainment activities with friends and family for the month of December look no further than A Christmas Carol in Harlem to fill you with glee. The Classical Theatre of Harlem brings to the stage a new adaptation of the beloved Charles Dickens novel. Its main character Ebenezer Scrooge, is a real estate mogul and community curmudgeon, who’s acquired his wealth at the expense of others and lacks empathy towards the less fortunate. He refuses to part with his money to help the needy without getting something in return. Scrooges’ lonely existence – and world – is turned upside down by the visit of Jacob Marley, Scrooge’s former business partner, the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future. And, is forced to contend with the error of his ways. Almost two centuries old, this famous tale is as timely as ever with income disparity becoming increasingly prevalent throughout the country and citizens being displaced from their neighborhoods.

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L to R: Kaden Jones as Young Ebenezer, Charles Bernard Murray as Scrooge, Eryn Barnes as Ghost of Christmas Past, Photo: Jill Jones

Set in present day Harlem, this dynamic cast’s interpretation is replete with magical strobes; hip-hop, lively dance numbers and singers with impressive vocal range. The festive and wintry backdrop sets the tone and Charles Bernard Murray (Honkey Tonk Nights) portrays the miserly Scrooge with conviction and wit. The most memorable ghost in the production: Christmas Past, as she sashays across the stage with interpretive dance to transition between Scrooge’s past memories – a wonderful creative touch as only the Classical Theatre of Harlem group can conceive.

Celebrating its 20th anniversary season, The Classical Theatre of Harlem brings A Christmas Carol in Harlem production, with a 90-minute runtime, to the City College Center for the Arts’ Aaron Davis Hall from now through December 21, 2019. Don’t miss this spectacular holiday show for children and adult of all ages. To learn more about A Christmas Carol in Harlem and buy tickets, click here.

CREDITS:
The company of “A Christmas Carol in Harlem” includes: Eryn Barnes (as The Ghost of Christmas Past), Reed HarrisButts (as Bennie),  Kahlil X Daniel (as The Ghost of Christmas Future), Gabrielle Djenné (as Fan and Belle; The Bacchae), Daniel Echevarria (as Fezz; In The Heights, Something like a Fairytale, The Open Gate), Ure Egbuho (as Sierra Jones; Good Friday, Locked Up Bitches; SCRAPS), Paula Galloway (as Claudette; The Colored Museum, Ain’t Misbehavin’), Steve Greenstein (as Jacob Marley; Flashdance the Musical), Emery Jones (as Tiny Timothia), Kaden Jones (as Child Scrooge and Bennie), Charles Bernard Murray (as Scrooge; The Bacchae), Andrei Pierre (as The Ghost of Christmas Present), Angela Polite (as Clock Shop Lady; MARY SPEAKS, Flambeaux), Jeffrey Rashad (as Bob Cratchit and Young Scrooge), and Kenzie Ross (as Mrs. Cratchit; Blood at the Root, When We Left). The ensemble features dancers from Elisa Monte Dance includingTracy Dunbar, Kat Files, Daniela Funicello, Ashley LaRosa and Sai Rodboon.
Based on the Charles Dickens Novella; Adapted by Shawn René Graham; Director: Carl Cofield; Choreographer: Tiffany Rea-Fisher; Costume Design: Lex Liang and Margaret Goldrainer; Lighting Design: Alan C. Edwards; Music Director: Kahlil X Daniel: Scenic Design: Izmir Ickbal; Sound Design: Kathy Ruvuna; Production Stage Manager: William V. Carlton; Projections Designer: Shawn Boyle; Props: Samantha Shoffner.

 

Film Review: ‘People of the Wasteland’ – Frenzied, Raw Storytelling

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Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

Anxiety levels are sure to soar after watching, People of a Wasteland, mine sure did! Heba Khaled’s experimental documentary short; shot on a Go-Pro for two years, chronicles Jihadist fighters, working under the command of Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on the frontlines of war in Syrian-occupied territories against the Kurds and the Syrian army. This film isn’t an US vs. Them type of war genre. We don’t know whom we’re rooting for, since the audience is limited to the Go-Pro’s footage and essentially, it’s point-of-view, and we depend on the sights and sounds captured. We see what the soldier(s) sees.

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Director Heba Khaled, Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

And, first-time Syrian-born female filmmaker, Heba Khaled, weaves and edits different moments where the audience witnesses brutal warfare, fighters interacting with each other and performing basic acts like drinking water and taking pictures of one another drawing empathy from the audience. Her time spent with CNN and Reuters allowed Khaled access to cameramen and the fighters because there’s absolutely no way she would have survived as a female in the trenches and she knows it. According to Khaled: “As a female filmmaker, it was impossible for me to be there to film this. It was very urgent to learn how men and masculinity controls radicalism, and this experience at the moment of killing in a war, and to transfer it in a cinematic way through my own eyes, mind and heart.” War and devastation: a familiar theme in Heba Khaled’s life has been ingrained in her; she’s lost 20 relatives to bombings throughout the years.

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Courtesy of Jouzour Film Production

People of the Wasteland’s experimental nature and powerful composition exposing fighters from both sides, even if it’s vague on identifying who’s who – done intentionally by the filmmaker, poses the question: What is the point of war when ultimately, everyone loses? Judge for yourself. Produced by Talal Derki, winner of Sundance’s Sundance Film Festival’s World Cinema Grand Jury Prize in 2018 for directing Of Fathers and Sons, and the Oscar® nomination for “Best Documentary Feature” in 2019. People of the Wasteland has fared well in the festival circuit, winning The Grand Prix for Best Short in the Berlin Liberi Film Festival, where Khaled now resides. The 21-minute short is under consideration for “Best Documentary Short”, and rightfully so. It merits all the accolades it has received thus far, and I would love for it to be expanded into a full-length feature. To learn more about People of the Wasteland, click here.

Broadway Review: ‘Tina’ – Riveting, Heartfelt, and A Testament To Tina Turner’s Indelible Star Power

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Photo: Manuel Harlan

Upon hearing that the Tina Tuner musical was coming to town, I had trepidation and a bit of skepticism. As a theatre and musical lover, I had no choice but to succumb to a new rendition of one of my childhood idol’s life portrayed on the Broadway stage. Would the actress playing Tina measure up? Would she be able to convey this powerhouse of a woman justly? Would the music move me? The answer to all my resounding questions: Absolutely! Tony-nominated actress, Adrienne Warren (Shuffle Along, Bring It On: The Musical) reprises her role of rock legend, Tina Turner; Warren had performed ‘Tina’ in London’s West End this past spring with rave reviews. And, now she’s traveled to New York to shatter all expectations of fans and critics alike. Warren’s portrayal of Tina Turner is sensational. The octaves in her similarly raspy voice to Turner’s are spectacular. Warren interprets Tina’s signature moves with grace, sans mimicry.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan, Steven Booth as Phil Spector, Adrienne Warren as Tina

The musical begins with Warren seated on the stage floor wearing Turner’s iconic red leather dress reciting a Buddhist chant. Turner, a Buddhist since 1973, credits the religion for helping her endure life’s hardships. Then the audience is introduced to a young Tina (given name: Anna-Mae Bullock) played by Skye Dakota Turner masterfully, belting out church songs with fervor in her hometown of Nutbush, Tennessee, where her mother, Zelma, played by the talented Dawnn Lewis (A Different World, This Is Us) isn’t too pleased and constantly scolds her for being to loud and boisterous. At the behest of her grandmother, played by Myra Lucretia Taylor (Macbeth, A Streetcar Named Desire), she pursues her talents as a singer, and moves to St. Louis to be with her mother and sister.

The pacing of the musical is perfection. There are no lulls. We transition through the different phases of Tina’s life with Tina’s hit songs and sets so visually stimulating the rest of your senses have to play catch up! The scenes between Tina and Ike are electrifying. Their chronicled relationship is replete with success and abuse at the hands of Ike Turner played by Daniel J. Watts (Hamilton, The Color Purple). Ike Turner is undoubtedly the villain from what is known about his persona and documented past relationship with Turner. Watts does an excellent job of balancing the complexities of Ike, as the abusive husband, yet talented musician that discovered Anna-Mae Bullock’s talents at 17 years-old, Watts is able to convey this atrocious man, with comedic flair at times, while showcasing his singing and dancing abilities. After all, this is a musical and the tone shouldn’t be too gloomy.

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Photo: Manuel Harlan, Adrienne Warren as Tina, Daniel J. Watts as Ike Turner

Executive produced by Tina Turner, directed by Phyllida Lloyd (Mamma Mia, The Taming of the Shrew), and choreographed by Anthony Van Laast (Mamma Mia!, Sister Act) ‘Tina’ is a true gem for biopic and musical aficionados. Run! Don’t walk to see this fantastic production of the Queen of Rock n’ Roll. Tina, The Tina Turner Musical will be on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre through September 2020, for upcoming performances, click here.

 

PRODUCTION: A presentation by Stage Entertainment, James L. Nederlander, Tali Pelman, Feste Investments B.V., David Mirvish, Nattering Way, Teg Dainty, Katori Hall, Mark Rubinstein Ltd., Warner Chappell, Peter May, Eva Price, No Guarantees, Caiola Productions, Jamie DeRoy, Wendy Federman, Roy Furman, Independent Presenters Network, John Gore Organization, Marc Levine, Carl Moellenberg, Al Nocciolino, Catherine Adler, Tom Perakos, Daryl Roth, Iris Smith, Candy Spelling, and Anita Waxman, in association with Tina Turner, of a musical in two acts, with book by Katori Hall (with Frank Ketelaar and Kees Prins), originally produced at the Aldwych Theater in London, by Stage Entertainment, Joop van den Ende and Tali Pelman.
CREATIVE: Directed by Phyllida Lloyd. Choreography, Anthony Van Laast. Sets & costumes, Mark Thompson; lighting, Bruno Poet; sound, Nevin Steinberg; projections, Jeff Sugg; hair & wigs, Campbell Young Associates; orchestrations, Ethan Popp; musical supervision, arrangements, additional music & conductor, Nicholas Skilbeck; production stage manager, Kristen Harris.
CAST: Adrienne Warren, Dawnn Lewis, Nkeki Obi-Melekwe, Myra Lucretia Taylor, Daniel J. Watts, Steven Booth, Nick Rashad Burroughs, Gerald Caesar, Holli’ Conway, Kayla Davion, Charlie Franklin, Judith Franklin, Matthew Griffin, David Jennings, Ross Lekites, Robert Lenzi, Gloria Manning, Jhardon Dishon Milton, Destinée Rea, Mars Rucker, Jessica Rush, Carla Stewart, Jayden Theophile, Skye Dakota Turner, Antonio J. Watson, Katie Webber.

 

‘Hurdle’ Review: Palestinian Youth Combat Political Strife With Inspiring Creative Outlets

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film

The world is in political turmoil domestically and internationally as evidenced by the ongoing deadly protests in Hong Kong, Venezuela, Chile and Bolivia. Reaching its 50th year of Israeli military occupation, Palestinians have mastered the virtue of resiliency in fighting for their rights to exist and living with the oppression that brings social injustice; they’ve taken to the streets for half a century, and attempting to reclaim their land is nothing new. But what has emerged, and shed light on this age-old Middle Eastern conflict, is a fresh perspective by documentary filmmaker, editor, cinematographer, producer: Michael Rowley. In his film Hurdle, audiences can judge for themselves what Palestinians are fighting for.

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film, Mohammed by Wall In Occupied Palestine

Hurdle begins with Mohammed, a Palestinian photographer examining a wall built to confine Palestinians to their “territory” by the Israeli military. Mohammed is clearly anxious and frustrated by his and his family’s current situation, but uses his photography business to enlist the youth in his community to find what’s beautiful and intriguing in the midst of all the violent attacks on their people. It’s gut-wrenching yet hopeful to see this community persevere and strive for a better life and brighter future.

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Photo: Courtesy of Hurdle Film, Parkour Team Member Jumping

The film then follows Sami, a parkour instructor who teaches young men to jump and flip over rooftops and structures with measured form. Apart from the mental and physical demands the sport requires – it invokes the spirit of these young men to persevere, to attain the unattainable and overcome obstacles in currently occupied Palestine, even with all the violence and bloodshed simultaneously consuming their daily lives.

Rowley’s Hurdle film is candid. It shows daily Palestinian life: the celebrations, familial moments, triumphs and tribulations that connect us on human level. There are devastating violent attacks that can strike at a moment’s notice. On one side, we see people (Palestinians) fighting for their very existence, and on the other, Jews waving their flags rejoicing as they claim victory over their enemies. It’s an eye-opening experience to see basic freedoms we are all entitled to, squashed, but in succession, witness a movement of self-preservation and determination. Rowley documents the breathtaking landscapes and energy of Jerusalem with captivating cinematography and music. Winner of the Best Documentary Feature Film from the 2019 Tulsa American Film Festival, Hurdle is destined for more accolades and world-wide recognition. To learn more and check out future screenings of the Hurdle documentary, 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.

Rawness and Unconventionality Captured The Essence of The 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

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Opening Night, 22nd Annual Brooklyn Film Festival

This year’s Brooklyn Film Festival broke new ground with superb storytelling. And, we couldn’t get enough of it. According to the festival’s Executive Director, Marco Ursino, “BFF featured the largest presence of female directors within a single festival edition to date. I’m also proud to say that four out of our six festival programmers are women and the festival is run mostly by women.” What a refreshing and revitalizing statement from a male festival organizer. Time will tell if other male festival directors will follow suit with domestic and international film festivals in the future. Brooklyn Film Festival’s (BFF) roster of films included 133 features and shorts from over 30 countries spread over six continents. The lineup included 37 world premieres, 29 east coast debuts and 34 first-time screenings in NY.  In addition to the 13 narrative features and 10 documentary features, the festival presented 39 short narrative films, 23 short documentaries, 28 animated films and 20 experimental projects.

Documentaries at their core are meant to raise awareness and provide a candid journalistic perspective on subjects completely devoid of mainstream coverage. The documentaries that rose to the occasion in this year’s festival are: Clean Hands and RocKabul.

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The Lopez Children At La Chureca, Photo: Courtesy of Clean Hands Press Site

Clean Hands, directed by Michael Dominic, follows a family in Nicaragua over the span of seven years (2011-2018) living in extreme poverty and relying on a garbage dump, La Chureca (Central America’s largest garbage dump) for food and everyday necessities. When we first meet the 4 children in the Lopez family, they are aged 6 – 10, unable to read and write and depend on each other for companionship and engage in sibling rivalry. They are unaware of a better life, unlike their parents. When they receive an opportunity from a foundation to move into a new home on the condition that the kids go to school, the family seems destined for a bright future until other underlying problems set in. Dominic’s storytelling is raw, and depicts his subjects as they are. The director captures moments that are heart-wrenching in its portrayal of this family and lets audiences experience the highs and lows with them. In the end: you’re rooting for the Lopez family instead of pitying them.

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L to R: Qais (Guitarist), Pedram (Drums), Yousef (Vocals), Qasem (Bass), Lemar (Vocals/Guitar) Photo: Courtesy of Rockabul Press Site

In RocKabul, Australian director/journalist, Travis Beard goes on a journey with the first metal band in Afghanistan: District Unknown. What’s so interesting and compelling about this movie is the universal love for music these subjects exhibit. Whether you love metal or not, you will be immediately drawn in by these subject’s relentless pursuit of their passion for music – a passion that is frowned upon by the conservative and extremist government of Afghanistan. Beard, having lived in Kabul for seven years, and a metal musician as well, injects himself in the documentary as an advocate and mentor for the group. District Uknown’s story is bittersweet as Beard chronicles the band’s discovery of rock music, playing an international festival in India, and capturing Kabul’s underground party scene. The band members face insurmountable threats by the Afghani system and ultimately must make a decision on the future of the band.

Two narrative features that boldly address unconventional themes in their films and were awarded Certificates of Achievement by the Brooklyn Film Festival this year are: #LIKE for Best Producer Award and Only Good Things for Best Original Score Award. Both directed by female filmmakers. These films are true standouts in their own right.

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Actress Sarah Rich As Rosie, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

In #LIKE, director Sarah Pirozek begins the story with the aftermath of suicide brought on by cyberbullying and the family members left to pick up the pieces, one year later. In this instance, it’s Rosie’s point-of-view, a teen from Woodstock New York confronted with the harsh reality that the anonymous man whom bullied her younger sister into committing suicide is back on the prowl trolling for new victims online. After getting nowhere with the local police and realizing their lack of interest to prosecute her sister’s assailant, Rosie decides to seek retribution. This is more than a vengeance-thriller film. Pirozek is smart to keep Rosie’s teenage perspective with every action and decision she makes – even if detrimental. We empathize with her situation and revel in the psychological exploration of captor vs. captee.

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Cast of Only Good Things, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Only Good Things (Solo cose Belle) by director Kristian Gianfreda is delightful all around. The premise: a popular 16-year old teen starts to question her loyalties and character when a bizarre family moves into her small town of Rimini, Italy. Unwanted and stigmatized by town regulars and her own mother, father, who’s the mayor of the village; Benedetta can’t – in good conscience – follow the pack and mistreat her new neighbors that are quite odd, but familial and loving nonetheless. As Benedetta’s moral compass keeps getting tested, the surprise ending will leave you feeling warm and fuzzy. No wonder this film won the festival’s Achievement of Certificate for Best Original Score Award for composer, Bevano Est.

Two shorts in the documentary and narrative categories that left me smiling and hopeful are One Leg In, One Leg Out and Dunya’s Day.

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One Leg In, One Leg Out, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

One Leg In, One Leg Out, won Best Documentary Short at the Brooklyn Film Festival this year. The film is about a transgender female (Iman) sex worker who dreams about becoming a social worker to help her fellow transgender community. Canadian Director Lisa Rideout follows Iman as she seeks out johns on the street and interacts with them on the phone. Iman is skilled at her job, but knows her profession has a limited shelf life. In pursuit of bigger things, she seeks information about a social work program and seriously considers the career change. Rideout aptly lets the audience get to know Iman with no preconceived notions. The film paints the transgender subject in a positive light – especially in the era we are living in, where LGTBQ rights are being stripped away by the U.S. government and attacks against the group have increased exponentially.

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Sara Balghonaim as Dunya, Photo: Courtesy of Brooklyn Film Festival

Dunya’s Day, a narrative short by writer/director Raed Alsemari pokes fun at Dunya, a well-to-do Saudi Arabian woman who is in the midst of having her college graduation party and is abandoned by her help staff. Who doesn’t want to see entitled people struggle? I suspect just the entitled. Even through her desperate attempts to save her soiree, Dunya still wants to be perceived as “having it together” and a gracious host by her rival affluent friends. It’s comedic timing is spot on. Dunya’s Day is the winner of Sundance’s Short Film Jury Award for International Fiction at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival.

The Brooklyn Film Festival has been supporting competitive film events since 1998 to drive worldwide attention to Brooklyn as a purveyor of stellar cinema and independent filmmaking. This year the 22nd Brooklyn Film Festival collaborated with several South American film organizations: Proimagenes (Colombia), ChileDocs, IMCINE (Mexico), Universidad del Cine (Buenos Aires, Argentina), Festival Internacional del Cine Buenos Aires (FIDBA), Cinema Tropical and Proyector Film Series to increase Latin American film submissions. I’ll be waiting with bated breath to see what’s in store for 2020. To learn more about the Brooklyn Film Festival, click here.

 

 

 

Unleash Your Self Expression With Ailey Extension’s New Summer Program

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Photo: Mercedes Vizcaino

Memorial Day weekend is upon us and with summer just around the corner, I’ve become inspired to search for more meaningful experiences rather than my usual, yet beloved, fitness-goals-saboteurs: BBQs and happy-hours. What’s a New York City libations and foodie adventurer to do?  Explore Ailey Extension’s upcoming dance schedule to not just stay in shape – mentally and physically – but also have a blast in the process.

I recently participated in Ailey Extension’s dynamic fitness class event catering to all fitness levels. First, I took Hip-Hop Cardio, a class designed for beginners with no former dance experience. It’s goal: to up your cardio game by at least 100, challenge your coordination, and assault your sweat glands into submission. Sound extreme? Not really. The class will make you feel energized and emboldened. Thoughts of joining Beyoncé’s dance troupe will cross your mind. It doesn’t hurt that the instructor, Matthew Johnson Harris, is a big fan of the acclaimed pop star and features her music throughout his classes. DSMC chatted with Matthew to learn more about his love of dance.

Matthew Johnson Harris Dance

Matthew Johnson Harris, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What inspired you to become a dance instructor? 

Matthew Johnson Harris: I have struggled with anxiety and depression in the past. Moving activates endorphins that can literally make you feel happier. Dance and fitness are a natural antidepressant and I love to share that joy with the world.

DSMC: You are a multi-hyphenated force. What are you most passionate about, dancing, teaching or activism?

Matthew Johnson Harris: Activism is at the center of everything I do. Outside of volunteering and fundraising for multiple organizations – I’ve been teaching a free class every Friday in Harlem to promote health and fitness. We should use all of our gifts to inspire change.

Check out the Harlem hospital class here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=QwTwTBOmq_0

DSMC: What’s the one piece of advice you offer novices to dance? And, when did you start collaborating with the Ailey Extension?

Matthew Johnson Harris: There is no way you can mess up. Give whatever your best effort is and just keep moving.  I created the Hip-Hop Cardio Class for Ailey Extension in March and it’s been the greatest experience.

My second favorite class of the day to exceed my expectations: Beginner Hip-Hop with Jonathan Lee. While Mathew’s interpretation of Hip-Hop was a little more relaxed and liberal with the movements, Jonathan was very precise with his dance steps. We’re talking focused choreography here! He had a Bob Fosse-esque quality to him that the class gravitated to and obediently mimicked his instructions. At the end of the class, I felt as if I really mastered some modern Hip-Hop moves and was ready for a dance-off . Okay, perhaps I was getting ahead of myself, but Jonathan has the capacity to get his students to push themselves and reach choreographic bliss. DSMC chatted with Jonathan to get the scoop on his motivation for dance.

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Jonathan Lee, Photo: Courtesy of Ailey Extension

DSMC: What are your earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer and what inspired you

Jonathan Lee: My earliest memories of wanting to become a choreographer began early in my training. Whenever my teachers allowed me to freestyle, I was able to put my stamp of movement into the piece. Also working with some great choreographers that inspired me as well.

DSMC: Where do you see the evolution of dance going in the next few years?

Jonathan Lee: In my opinion, dance will evolve to become more of a fusion of various styles. I believe a dancer will need to be more versatile in many styles rather than just proficient in just one style.

DSMC: What piece of advice would you give students new to dance and or choreography?

Jonathan Lee: My advice to young dancers would be to really hone your craft. Always be open to new things because dance is evolving. To train in various styles and techniques, learn from many teachers. To young choreographers, I would say: what do you have to say with your movement? Make sure your choreography makes a statement.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension dance instructor?

Jonathan Lee: I am one of the original instructors at the Extension. I’ve been there since the Extension began 14 years ago.

What was next on my dance agenda? Afro’Dance with instructor Angel Kaba. When Angel turned on the music everyone in the class was instantly transported to the electric and carefree sounds from The Congo, Ivory Coast, and Angola. With a mixture of African influences and street dance, this class challenges students to loosen their hips and move the rest of their bodies to the flow of the thumping beats. The cultural, social and free-spirited vibes of the class is contagious and dance students at any level will enjoy it tremendously. DSMC spoke to Angel, who now calls New York home, about her dance career.

Angel Kaba 1

Angel Kaba, Photo: Courtesy of Angel Kaba

DSMC: What or whom inspired you to become a dance instructor?

Angel Kaba: My mother was a traditional Caribbean dancer from Martinique (French West Indies). She moved to Europe, Luxembourg specifically to be a professional dancer. When she had me, she brought me to concerts with her. My first concert was “KASSAV.” I ended up going on stage and dancing with the band. I was 4 years old. So my mother decided to find a dance class for me and I started dancing ballet at the age of 6. Teaching came pretty early in my life. At 16 I was teaching Hip-Hop for kids in my neighborhood. I love helping people feel happy and good about themselves. Music is also a big part of my inspiration. I always say: I don’t do choreography, I make people dance!

DSMC: You mentioned growing up in Belgium, what influences did you grow up with there?

Angel Kaba: Belgium colonized Congo (formerly Zaire). There is a lot of Congolese in Belgium. Even though I didn’t grow up with my father, who is Congolese, I was still surrounded by my culture a lot, music, food, hairstyle, fashion and gossip. Belgium is a small country with a lot of talent, very interesting! We speak basically 4 languages: French, Dutch, English and German. Brussels, where I was born, is very well situated in Europe, so I had access to a lot of cities like Paris, Amsterdam, London, Madrid, Prague…. I traveled a lot and that opened my mind and heart.

Belgium is my country, but my roots are from Africa. I learned everything I know from Belgium especially dance, theater and music. Belgium taught me and New York made me. In Belgium I was able to understand who I was. In the U.S. I learned how to be free by being myself.

DSMC: How long have you been an Ailey Extension instructor and what piece of advice do you give aspiring dance students?

Angel Kaba: Very interesting question. I knew of Alvin Ailey since I was I child, my mother told me about him and his legacy. It was in 2012, when I met my mentor Robin Dunn, and got the experience – taking classes and performing with the Ailey Extension community. I became an official Ailey Extension instructor as of May 2019! I started to teach my Afro’ Dance class, just a few weeks ago!

To my students, I would say something like: Hello, and welcome to my world. I’m Angel Kaba, and I help you express yourself through movement and music. Yes, that’s right; I teach you dance moves through rhythmic and afro-dance choreographies but most importantly, I help you express your deepest self without using a word. I help you go deep into your soul to find the light that only you have. I strongly believe that everybody is great at something and I also believe that dancing is a vehicle to tap into that gift. And I would add, beginners are more than welcome with my French accent, Let’s dance!! Voilà!

I’ve been going to the Ailey Extension for a over a year now, and every time I try their new roster of classes I become more motivated to stick to my fitness goals – and guess what, I suspect you will to if you sign up. Each of these instructors have different teaching methods, yet will inspire you to dance like you’re up for your next audition. Check them out!

This summer Ailey Extension promises to get New Yorkers moving with the return of NYC Dance Week, June 13 – June 22, not to be left behind, The Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Lincoln Center engagement will run from June 12 – June 16. The annual citywide festival offers over 25 free dance and fitness classes for adults of all experience levels. To view Ailey Extension’s complete NYC Dance schedule, visit www.aileyextension.com/nycdanceweek. New students must present a downloadable NYC Dance Week voucher for all classes at The Ailey Studios, available here.