We are family
Urban Mediamakers Film Festival
Atlanta, Ga.—In an 8th floor suite of the Sheraton Buckhead Hotel a TV is on, but no one's
watching. Drinks, fruit and appetizers sit beautifully arranged on a table,
yet they've gone untouched. For the men and women in the room, they're
too busy debating the differences between acting for film and acting for
the stage to notice the amenities.
It's a debate that Philadelphia native Ken Cooper is intently soaking
up. Having caught the acting bug when he was younger his resume includes
a Wrigley's Spearmint commercial, a walk on role for an episode
of CBS's Hack and, of course, a lot of theater. But, he's
not here so much as an actor as he's here to network and to learn
more about being behind the camera.
Los Angeles based director Adleane Hunter and his writing and producing
partner Tony Bracy have just entered the room. Although they're
here with several films, they've only recently made the move from
young peoples' theater into film. So the current topic instantly
captures their attention.
|Urban Mediamakers founder Cheryle R. Reynolds (right) mingles at the festival. (photo: Morrell Gray)|
Hunter, water bottle in hand, slides into the only available seat left
and immediately jumps into the conversation. Soon he's recounting
how he and Bracy were casting for Matthew 26:17, a narrative short about
the Last Supper that will be playing the next day. As Black filmmakers,
they felt obligated to make their Jesus black and they were going to stick
to their convictions.
After auditioning nearly 300 potential Jesuses, in walks a scraggly looking
white boy. He sits down, does his audition, thanks the director and producer
and quietly walks out. Hunter and Bracey turn to each other and eagerly
agree that whatever they had planned their Jesus is going to be white.
The entire suite responds with uproarious laughter and understanding nods.
These are independent filmmakers, filming on shoe string budgets and they
know that sometimes the strongest card they can play is the casting.
The 4th Annual Urban Mediamakers Film Festival (UMFF) has barely begun
and these directors and producers who have just met are already laughing
and telling stories as if they've known each other for years. And Urban
Mediamaker's founder and president, Cheryle R. Reynolds, couldn't be prouder.
Cheryle, whose blonde dreads and combination of youthful enthusiasm and
maternal make her instantly stand out, started Urban Mediamakers to support,
encourage and empower Urban filmmaking. But, if you're thinking
Urban equals Black, then you would be wrong. Cheryle's ambitions
for UMM are more far reaching than that.
Using the broader definition of urban—of, relating to, or located
in a city; characteristic of the city or city life—UMM's mission
cuts across race, ethnicity and nationality. These aren't arenas
for Black filmmakers to showcase their talents, the festival and UMM are
for filmmakers of all backgrounds. No where is this more evident than
during the Music Video competition that opened the UMFF.
There's the grainy black and white "Refrain" with Pete
Kill Pete and directed by David Spak, that's classic 80's
MTV meets early 90's Seattle grunge. It's a video that's
a throwback to when MTV was more music and less reality TV.
|Co-director Jay Williams discusses his short film, The 31st.|
(photo: Morrell Gray)
Then there's the experimental "Last Songs" directed
by Saul Levitz that's a series of trains moving parallel to the
frame. Hypnotic, it's a vibrant piece that finds rhythm in the ordinary.
Hailing from Japan was a nod your head video "Still Shinin"
from the hip hop group Nitro Microphone Underground. Surrounded by computer
generated buildings and helicopters, they instantly bring to mind a visually
more eclectic WuTang Clan. And didn't matter if the audience knew
Japanese or not, they and Microphone were in sync. Directed by Sam Cole
and Gary Breslin, "Still Shinnin" is a video that reconfirms
that hip hop isn't an American force, it's a global one.
Yet, the one video that most represents how true to the mission UMM is,
was "I Pray." Using various clips from CNN and C-SPAN of soldiers,
families and the war on terror, director G-Wade has created a gospel hip
hop video that walks a controversial—controversial even for gospel
hip hop—tightrope. Showing no fear of being fiercely patriotic,
it's a video that waves a flag in support of the war and ends with
a call for people to pray for President Bush.
It's this willingness to embrace voices that would rarely be recognized
in the pages of the Source or Vibe that is the best evidence that Cheryle
and UMM are backing their words with action.
UMM is several years young, so it's too early to tell what kind
of impact it and the festival itself will eventually make. However, if
UMM manages to maintain only half of Cheryle's energy and ambition,
we should be hearing from UMM and the festival far into the future. And
for an industry that is notoriously unkind to those thin of skin, Cheryle's
all are welcome, all are family vibe is much needed.
Charles Judson is a local screen & comic book writer and a regular contributor and film critic for cinemATL
Urban Mediamakers Film Festival:
October 14-16, 2005
A packed audience laughs during a panel discussion. (photo: Morrell Gray)
Director Victor Jones screened his feature Promise Me This. (photo: Morrell Gray)
Another interesting conversation at the UMFF. (photo: Morrell Gray)
More News & Notes:
Film Festival Coverage
Dixie Film Festival
Latin American and Caribbean Fest
Out On Film: Duncan Tucker
Urban Mediamakers Film Festival
LA Screenwriter's Expo
National Film Challenge Diary
King Kong Benefit Screening
Two Independent Theaters Open