Digital Media, African American Drama Highlight The Urbanworld Film Festival 2012

The Sixteenth Annual Urbanworld Film Festival 2012 (UWFF) gave the spotlight to an inspirational line-up of panels in conjunction with its screenings of independent film and screenplay readings September 19-23 in Manhattan, New York. As expected, the festival attracted an energetic audience eager to learn more about the business side of filmmaking and the advances made in digital media; producers within film and visual culture generated insight on their productions during spirited post-screening question and answer sessions.

Sponsored by Bet.com, and HBO & HBO GO, UWFF commenced as a high-spirited, well-attended event at the HBO Theater and the AMC 34th Street Theater. Gabrielle Glore, Executive Producer and Head of Programming, welcomed participants, and expressed the mission of the UWFF:

Our festival is driven by a cross-cultural sensibility that … reflects a diversity that is invisible because it is organic. We seek out the untold, the unexpected, and the unflinching accounts of our experiences, which often ring universally true for audiences. What started as a subculture under the bold leadership of Stacy Spikes, [the festival] has grown into an independent film movement with power beyond measure — the power to expose, elevate, and inspire a filmmaking community.

The corporate and artistic talents slated for the event tapped into that power and, in return, opened a well-spring of knowledge and expertise for attendees. Pre-festival events featured dialogues on the fast-emerging culture of digital media, and two panels served as the festival’s tailgate: Kickstarting Creativity, Community & Possibility: Crowdfunding Your Content and The New Now: Rewriting Opportunity in Content Distribution. Former President of Digital Media for BET, Denmark West, moderated Kickstarting Creativity, an informative conversation on crowdfunding for creative projects via Kickstarter.com. This fundraising vehicle allows aspiring creative artists to independently fund an imaginative venture and to generate fan-allegiance to that project. “Filmmakers used to spend years pushing their product into the marketplace,” said producer Bill Warrell (Crazy Like a Fox 2004). “If the Jobs Act 2012 passes, alternative funding platforms will allow every small investor to actually own a piece of the project he funds. For the filmmaker, he cuts a deal with himself because of the control over the project he will have from the beginning to the end,” Warrell explained.

The New Now panel, a commendable follow-up moderated by Rachel Watanabe-Batton, Producer/Vice Chair, Producers Guild of America-East, included corporate executives who outlined how to disseminate product content to a wider audience. Alvin V. Williams, Executive Vice President-Alchemy Networks, emphasized that no matter the aesthetics of a product, if the creative artist is a good solid storyteller, she will find interest in her content. He also firmly urged creative artists to utilize websites and youtube.com to circulate their projects:

There is no excuse not to have a youtube.com page or a website,” he said, continuing, “youtube.com is so forgiving. People [in the business] scour websites for new and original content all the time; and, you really don’t need all the bells and whistles. If you have 15 minutes of product content but it is not a great production, if your content is a great story, that is sufficient.

Urbanworld hosted a cornucopia of impressive stories, and the festival treated audiences to remarkable dramatizations that center on a host of subjects that are of concern to the African American community. Power couple Salim Akil and Mara Brock Akil (Sparkle; Girlfriends) officially opened the festival with the world premiere of Being Mary Jane. Gabrielle Union stars as Mary Jane Paul, a news anchor managing her life as a mature single black female. Ava DuVernay (This is the Life 2010), the first African-American woman to win the Best
Director Prize at Sundance 2012, closed the festival with the New York premiere of her outstanding second feature Middle of Nowhere, a story of Ruby (Emayatzy Corinealdi) and Dexter (Omari Hardwick), a couple whose marriage is compromised when Dexter is incarcerated for gun running. DuVernay’s film cannot help but draw comparisons to Marc Forster’s Monster’s Ball (2006).

Watch for more in-depth coverage of this festival in the following weeks when you will be taken behind the scenes and on the red carpet in the review of select films featured during this event, such as those mentioned here. For more information on Urbanworld, visit http://www.Urbanworld.org.

In the meantime, Catch a film … Share the Popcorn … Feed Your Soul!

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