2011 Urban World Film Festival: Two Films That Make A Difference

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The schedule was jam packed with incredible work from shorts to narrative features to documentaries. There were many notable shorts that showcased the tremendous talent of up and coming filmmakers

[The Film Festival]

The 2011 Urban World Film Festival took place last weekend September 16-18th, and featured a stellar lineup of films. As someone who has regularly attended Urbanworld the past couple years, this year it was markedly difficult to choose what films to see in the festival's whirlwind schedule.

The schedule was jam packed with incredible work from shorts to narrative features to documentaries. There were many notable shorts that showcased the tremendous talent of up and coming filmmakers including: Nikyatu Jusu’s “Black Swan Theory,” a stylized flick about a female veteran turned hitwoman and “Wake”, winner of Best Short, a southern gothic tale set in 1930's North Carolina by Bree Newsome.

In the features category: Yelling to the Sky” offered a raw portrayal of the abuse faced by a light skinned girl named Sweetness O'Hara, played convincingly by Zoe Kravitz, inside and outside of her home. There were also screenings of Andrew Dosunmu’s breathtakingly beautiful directorial debut “Restless City,” which followed the life of a young Senegalese immigrant as he grapples with his desire to be a musician and woo the woman he loves, all while navigating the chaos of New York City.

From the wide array of well executed films, a few stood out and resonated deeply with audiences because of their capacity to “make a difference” as they dealt with themes of redemption, forgiveness, or just created empathy for characters rarely humanized on screen. The following two films: one short and one feature film, both based on true events, are a great reminder of the power of storytelling.

"Reform," is a short film by Jamal Caesar, a graduate of Yale University who is currently an MFA candidate in Thesis Review at New York University's Tisch School of the Arts. The film alluded to incidents that took place in Crown Heights in 1991 when riots broke out after a young African American boy named Gavin Cato, was accidentally killed by two Hasidic men; and violence escalated in the neighborhood as a result.

Rather than rehash the inciting incident exactly as it happened, "Reform" forces you to empathize with a young Hasidic man, Yosef, who is beleaguered with guilt, when his father accidentally kills a young African American boy and he is the only one privy to the secret. Directorially, Caesar does a brilliant job of putting the audience in Yosef's fragile emotional state as he grapples his obligations to family and tradition and his obligations to morality. The film makes a powerful statement that is open for interpretation; but one could be left with the sentiments that change or "reform" can begin with the courage of one individual, and also that art has the power to heal through re-imagining events.

Q: What was the impetus behind the creation of your film?
A: As a Brooklyn native, raised during the turbulent 80's and 90's, I experienced firsthand the ramifications of the Crown Heights riots. As a 10 year old, living just blocks from the location of the riot's inciting accident, being privy to such violence and senseless behavior on both sides of what became a notorious race riot fueled me with the desire to shape a future that allowed people to communicate more openly before something of this magnitude could rear its ugly head again. Attending Dalton, a school populated with a predominantly Jewish students, imbued me with a sense of what "the other side" experiences. I discovered that the other side, isn't necessarily as much of an "other" as the moniker suggests. Subsequently, "Reform" was born.

Q: Did you hope that it would make a difference in some way and if so how?
A: Certainly. I always hope to make a difference with my work. I don't know the meaning of life for anyone else, but for me,  it's to share a typically unspoken or unheard voice, because every voice is valuable. That's my meaning, my purpose, and I share this through film. I want my audiences to consider something they may never have before. That perhaps a Black man can do justice to a non-Black story, that any family (regardless of race or religion) may behave the way my characters do in Reform, or that justice can come at any moment and for any reason, whether it's catalyzed by an individual or community. All I can hope for is that Reform sends out a message that there's always more under the surface of things. Every person, family, or community has it's issues, but it is not recognizing our common ground that allows differences to become destructive divisions.

Q: Why do you choose  to make movies?
A: My favorite film is The Shining. I saw it at an age many would deem inappropriate, but I fell in love with it immediately. Danny the main young character in the film, had audacious and compelling telepathic powers. So I like to think that being a filmmaker gives me the same powers. I can communicate with people near or far, similar or different with merely the flick of a camera.

Q: How can we support the film going forward and what are your next steps?
A: I've begun sending it out to festivals and hope that there is a continued positive responses. I just implore people to tell others about it. Inspire and pass the word on to festivals, networks, whoever and whatever will help this story reach the masses. If this story gets out there, hopefully it will open many doors for many more artists to come!

To contact Jamal visit: www.blackashblue.com

"Kinyarwanda",
is the debut feature film by Alrick Brown, a graduate of NYU's MFA Film program, and chronicles unique stories of ordinary Rwandans living through the 1994 genocide. If you've already seen "Hotel Rwanda," or other films on this subject, this film is still very much worth seeing. The film does not depict the gory details of the violence that occurred, but still manages to create the atmosphere of fear and anger that was present.

As violence escalated, Christians and Muslims were able to take refuge together in Mosques and stay protected. The story, which was based on real survivor accounts who took refuge at the Grande Mosque of Kigali and the madrass of Nyanza, is a series of  six vignettes beautifully weaved together that points to the fact that life must still go on, even amidst the violent crisis.

The vignettes include touching stories of love, hope, and dreams we can all relate to set against the extraordinary backdrop of the genocide.

A teenage girl sneaks out to see her crush, a Tutsi wife confronts her Hutu husband about his affair, a young African boy day dreams, and a priest bonds with an Imam. The film also highlights freedom fighter Rose Kabuye and the Rwandan Patriotic Front, who surface throughout as heroes.

Through these different stories the common theme that surfaces is the power of forgiveness. In a talk back after the screening, the director, Alrick Brown discussed the typical Hollywood model of vengeance, which he called an "easy out" for storytelling. Through telling this story he became interested in exposing how other cultures use the power of forgiveness to heal and find and end to horrific conflicts. This is a film that makes a difference because it not only creates empathy and connection with an important part of history; through the character's willingness to heal and move on, it champions the power of forgiveness.

Q: What was the process of writing the script and choosing the stories included in the film?
A: The film was inspired by real events and true stories of survivors of the 1994 Rwandan Genocide. The film's executive producer Ishmael Nithabose traveled to the Rwanda and conducted extensive interviews with survivors. I used a few stores from his subjects, people who I met there researching, as well as individuals represented in the Genocide Museum in Kigali. Many of the nuances of our story also came from our cast and crew members. These stories were so bizarre, intense, beautiful, touching, inspiring and painful that I had to write. I knew immediately what was going into the script.

Q: Did you hope to make a difference in some way by telling this story and if so how?
A: Our audience should walk away with a feeling of hope knowing that in the midst of such tragic events something beautiful can still be found. Because forgiveness, truth and reconciliation are such a huge part of Rwanda's journey, it is also an important part of this film. We hope that audiences can bring some of that "power of forgiveness" into their own journey.

Q: Why do you choose to make movies?
A: I am a teacher at heart and movies are a way for me to have a larger classroom. I can entertain and educate. Those seeking an adventure can sit in my classroom, and with the stories I choose to portray on screen, I can take them on a journey they may normally not take.

Q: How can we support your film going forward and what are your next steps?
A: Getting a film like this seen is going to be a challenge but we want to make history. With our theatrical release beginning in November 2011, we would love for people, organizations, and churches of all faiths to spread the word. Tweet, blog, post on Facebook and yell it in the street. Most importantly, go to the theaters and support this AFFRM (African American Film Releasing Movement) release, and bring your friends!

You can support the film on the web at:

http://www.affrm.com/

http://www.kinyarwandamovie.com/

http://www.facebook.com/KinyarwandaMovie

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