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.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Review: ‘Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story’ – Captivating and Heartfelt

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Photo Credit: Courtesy of Common Pictures, Film Poster of Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story

Documentaries, if the subject matter is compelling enough, are meant to educate, stir up emotions, challenge perceptions, and shed light on topics otherwise nonexistent in mainstream films. Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story exemplifies all these attributes. Whether you’re a baseball fanatic or not, this documentary is a must-see to learn about the sport’s historical and cultural significance – not just within a sports context, but as it relates to the progression of race relations in America. The film, about the first racially integrated Little League Baseball game played in the South in Orando between the Orlando Kiwanis and the Pensacola Jaycees, by first-time feature documentary filmmaker, Jon Strong, interviews the players from both teams, 60 years after playing in this monumentally historic game, and documenting their unexpected reunion.

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Photo: Courtesy of Common Pictures, Film Still (L to R) of Stewart Hall of the Orlando Kiwanis revisits Florida’s 1955 Little League Tournament with Will Preyer of the Pensacola Jaycees

We first meet, Will Preyer, once team captain of the all-black Pensacola Jaycees, as he describes playing baseball in the South in the mid 1950s during segregation and his experiences as a 12-year-old black youth. Will proceeds to meet up with Stewart Hall, the team captain of the rival team: the all-white Orlando Kiwanis, whom Preyer hadn’t seen since that fateful day in August 1955 as the two teams, one black, one white competed against each other, breaking color barriers and cultural stigmas. Director, Jon Strong, does a fantastic job of juxtaposing these men’s stories with their love of baseball and perspectives on race with candor. The limitations placed on one group based on their skin color versus the other. It’s poignant, revealing of peoples’ past and present prejudices, which the director was unapologetic about depicting. According to Strong, “I wanted to dig into the uncomfortable, real stories that many find difficult to share.” And that he did. He shares sports milestones and also features interviews from prominent figures in Major League Baseball such as Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr. and Davey Johnson and Civil Rights Leader, Andrew Young to give contextual background into pivotal movements in sports and cultural history that changed society – for the better.

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Photo: Courtesy of Common Pictures, The 1955 Pensacola Jaycees All-Stars and the Orlando Kiwanis All-Stars reunite in 2016 during the filming of Long Time Coming

Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story doesn’t portray victims or villains with heroes and protagonists and subscribe to a tidy, happy resolution. Instead it tells a story of a vehicle, in this case: baseball, as a unifier of people with a shared love for a sport that transcends race and economic status. It presents opposing views and aims to continue the conversation of race relations in present day America. Released nationwide, Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story can be seen just in time for the World Series. The Hank Aaron Chasing The Dream Foundation, Derek Jeter’s Turn 1 Foundation, and the Global Peace Film Festival have screened the documentary and acknowledge the power of its historical significance to affect change. To learn more about Long Time Coming: A 1955 Baseball Story, click here. 

Review: ‘Skin In The Game’ – Electrifying and Entertaining

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R: Christian Monzon and Erica Ash

An unlikely vigilante duo team up to track the abduction of a 15-year girl destined for human trafficking from a seemingly safe suburb of Los Angeles, California. This is the premise behind new film, Skin in the Game. First-time director, Adisa, tackles this subject of human trafficking and the lure traffickers use to find their victims. Leading actress, Lena (Erica Ash), a former prostitute-turned advocate for young women that have fallen into the sex trade has her hands full providing a safe house for girls looking to start anew and break free from the clutches of their pimps.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, L to R: Elisabeth Harnois and Erica Ash

Lena, played by Erica Ash (Survivor’s Remorse, Uncle Drew), is stoic and resilient. Conflicted with her own past trauma doesn’t deter her from helping others and convincing them there is a way out. When a former high school classmate, Sharon, (Elisabeth Harnois) contacts Lena in a desperate attempt to find her missing daughter Dani (Sammi Hanratty), Lena resists, as the two women are estranged and have a rocky past. We don’t know exactly what transpired between these two women and as the viewer you want to know their history– to understand their motivation to join forces and risk their lives. Skin in the Game’s plot is reminiscent of the Liam Neeson Taken trilogy, minus the CIA training, but with captivating female characters with their own set of survivor skills.

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Photo: Courtesy of Urbanworld Film Festival, Sammi Hanratty

Written by Adisa and Steven Palmer Peterson, produced by Oscar-nominated producer, Howard Barish, and founder of Kandoo Films, Skin in the Game explores the dark underworld of human trafficking. The threat it poses – to not just poverty-stricken and drug-addicted individuals with little resources– but also to young, misguided vulnerable girls in American neighborhoods. It’s no longer an international problem – it’s become a domestic problem. Human trafficking is a modern form of slavery with illegal smuggling and trading of people into forced labor and sexual exploitation. The human trafficking business is currently estimated at 150 billion up from $44 billion in 2005, according to The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes’ 2016 Global Report.

Urbanworld Film Festival recently Selected Skin in the Game for their narrative features’ category. To learn more about this suspenseful indie thriller, its’ female-led cast, and their upcoming national release date, click here.