Issue #15: Tribeca & Digital Divide
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Feisty and Fifteen. Blast off!
Folks, starting 4-25 check in on us daily for your Tribeca Film Festival fix. We will be reporting a roundup of news at the end of each fest day.
TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL LOG
ROUNDUP#3: DECONSTRUCTING BERLUSCONI ON FILM, THE VANITY FAIR PARTY!, CHATTING WITH BETH JANSON OF TRIBECA ALL ACCESS
Welcome back, Kidz, to another round-up on our whirlwind adventures at TFF.
Now, I'm gonna stick with the weather predicting the vibe of my day because, you know what? It's working. So let me start of by saying that yesterday (and yes, this is a little late due to a semi-late night hang out) was chilly but vividly bright and sunny. So too, was my personal day, it would turn out.
Kicked off my prowl by hitting a documentary entitled Viva Zapatero. There is a growing buzz on this film, so I was intrigued. But even more so once I discovered that it deals with ex-Italian Prime Minister Berlusconi. Being fortunate enough to live and work between L.A. and Paris now, I have become much more savvy to international politics and at least some of their major players. This particular one is a trip! Imagine a Sumner Redstone or Rupert Murdoch type of character, but one who owns even more media outlets, who becomes the President of the United States and you've got Berlusconi. This story, however, is a look at one woman's fight against censorship of a television series she created that brought attention to the grave situation of a gagged Italian media in objective reporting and exercising of freedom of speech. The documentary is so powerful because it makes one question the true meaning and importance of satire, the importance and power of the media, the perception of the current state of political heads, and so much more. If this were a formal critique, it would bring to mind words like witty, compelling, clever. You can't help but cheer for this woman in her courageousness, unrelenting pursuit of expression mixed with the sass and charm that some Italian women are just blessed to have. I left that theater knowing a change had been made somewhere in my psyche though.
The stars Wednesday must have been aligned for me to somehow begin to question and look at the state of media here in the U.S. and more specifically Black media. Now, I digress from the festival for a moment. But bear with me. It will tie in, I promise. I began to think about just how powerful media really is. It's like something you know is there like a big truck, but until you would actually be hit by it, have no idea of how its weight and mass would impact you. Media colors everything. It provides power by defining. So its wielding should never be taken lightly. It is used to disseminate and analyze important information. Therefore if you do not have access to information to put into a media outlet or even have a media outlet, basically you are in trouble. Which now brings me back to the festival. Now, maybe I'm missing something, but I still have not run into any media outlets of color representing here! And it makes my heart heavy, and it makes me think about how this Italian chick is fighting for expression and it seems to be disinterest here. Yes, it's only a film festival, but still. And what's worse is, when you think about who should be here, you realize: There is no urban version of Newsweek, Premiere, Access Hollywood. How crazy is this in 2006? I began to think that John Johnson did more for Black journalism in the '60s than we've even got going today. Pause. Breathe in and breathe out and think about what this truly means, folks. So, not to pat ourselves on the back, but...yes, maybe to pat ourselves on the back, thank God for The A-List.
As I moved throughout the city. I made a decision. Now, I didn't want to tell you earlier dear readers, that earlier this day, I got bumped yet again, and this time from the Vanity Fair party. Shoot. But you know what. After all this, something said. Just go. So later, I did. I showed up way early, chatted with a gang of fellow print and TV journalists, looked the part and got in. This proves something--90% of things in life, as a friend used to say, is just showing up. And it's true. So fast forward to the Vanity Fair party (yes, the media theme maneuvered its way back into my day again!) held at one of Manhattan's downtown courthouses but a nicer looking one, thank goodness. Guests had to majestically ascend tons of steps dotted with delicate candles, pass through bright block lettering spelling out the magazine's name, and then enter. And it was a mini-glam fest. Personally, Iman and David Bowie were my picks for looking fabulous that night. (One young journalist asked me, "But who is that man Iman is with?" I go, "You mean, David Bowie!?" Ah, youth) But you know, a VF New York party and a VF LA party are different. You get the writer royalty coming out here (Dominick Dunne--loving him) and old school icons (Kitty Carlisle). Walter Kronkite was in the house (regarding the film Toots and yes, I will let you know all about it in my next notebook), Paramount demi-god Tom Freston, TFF Juror Gayle King (who one reporter noted: "How can you become famous just because you are someone famous' best friend?"), John McEnroe, and of course, Russell Simmons (promoting his documentary Lockdown and yes, I will certainly tell you all about that later as well). This is the guest list rather than Lindsay Lohan and the like, in Hollywood. Still, cool. The amazing thing here is that I ended up meeting a little black crew of two who was shooting for NYC 25 (not an urban outlet, but what can you do) and the host is a no-holds barred red carpet interviewer for her show "Kela on the Karpet." This is one who I will support until the end. So, all in all, a fabulous event with not bad music.
BUT, let me back up a moment from the fluff. Just before Viva Zapatero, one of the cool VP's from Rubenstein arranged for an interview for The A-List for a very important talk. It was with Beth Janson, Director of Tribeca All Access (TAA), an absolutely wonderful arm of the Tribeca Film Institute which I really just happened to stumble upon. It turns out that this gem was actually installed to assist filmmakers and screenwriters of color.
According to Ms. Janson, it was launched just three years ago and was started by the festival programmers since they believed submissions lacked diversity from U.S. directors. "We wanted the submissions to reflect the city and wondered how to get the word out to them to let them know the Festival is for them too," explains Janson. So they developed an entity that would not only do this but also truly help in terms of creating co-productions. It's really quite simple, actually: Hopefuls can even apply with even just a completed script (however, for documentaries, it is required that is shooting has at least begun). Hundreds of submission come in during the acceptance period in the fall and 30 are selected from that grouping. Those which are selected are then paired with established industry notables so that new connections can be made. Janson stresses, however, that TAA's mission--at least for the moment--is more about preparation and assistance for the business side of projects, not so much the creative. "This is, for example," she states, "about how to pitch in order to get one's project completed. And we pair the filmmakers with industry reps who are really actually looking for new material so there are real opportunities created here! The idea is actually to give traction to current films."
TAA also provides some grant awards as well. Janson noted that the organization's biggest success story to date is Antoine Fuqua's agreement to sign on as executive producer of a soccer story recently submitted. But when asked about the biggest hurdle TAA faces, Janson added: "I think the biggest current challenge for the program is the one our filmmakers face when trying to make their films--getting them to be considered as storytellers FIRST and foremost without having to deal with pre-conceptions that some members of the industry may have because of the communities they are coming from. This will continue to change though as the financiers and development side becomes more diverse. And don't get me started on audience demographics and how that determines which films get made (as long as we continue to use race and ethnicity as a factor in demographics, it will be a factor in what the industry invests in)." This woman obviously gets it!
TAA works with such organizations as DV Republic, the Hip Hop Association, and the Black Documentary Collective as well as Asian and Latino sources in order to get the word out about its existence. These organizations also give feedback to the TAA on its endeavors, films, etc. as well. If you miss any of this outreach, interested filmmakers should also visit www.tribecafilminstitute.org for more information on sessions held in NY and L.A. to attend question and answer sessions about the program.
Tribeca All Access is aptly titled so because the organization's mission is to open doors to decision makers in the industry. "I hope we do a good job at that," adds Janson.The A-List would say just the mere attempt is even already a magnificent start. Shout out to TAA.
Okay, I'm out!
Roundup #2: SHOWERS, SCREENINGS & SLIGHT SETBACKSFirst official Festival day for The A-List s and just as bright sunshine turned to thunderstorms, dark clouds moved in a bit on our agenda, darn it! Of course, all the talk is about the premiere of United 93, which yours truly was on the list but somehow got mysteriously was notified by a bump-off earlier this afternoon. Seems like the main issue is that the film organizers wants to accommodate the families of the victims. So, basically, no room at the inn unless you're say, The New York Times (and let's face it, what urban media outlets have achieved that status just yet? Unfortunately).
Anyway, we're all for the families being invited, but hey--when it's something so monumental, would it be utterly ridiculous to show it twice back-to-back and mix up attendees or even premiere the film simultaneously to create even more hype and accommodate more people since it is, after all, being shoved into our awareness? Ah well, it's the gripe of journalists I'm sure before and much certainly after us. Even today a sprite of a German radio journalist (who I couldn't help but think had the face of one of those happy little Kringles in Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, which was actually an uplifting sight for me to see since I was beginning to get a bit disgusted as my new designer platforms were getting wet from all the rain on top of everythiing else) said that he, too, had difficulty in getting into the "big ticket" screenings such as Akleelah and the Bee earlier today. And Lord only knows what will happen with Poseidon and M.I. III. From what I hear, these films are not handled by the festival, but rather, directly by the studio so some journalists are in and some are not. We'll let you know how our maneuvering goes. (Hey, no one ever said it's easy being the new kid on the block, but someone's gotta do it!)
Anyway, not one to let the weather or being outside of a major screening dampen our spirit, we headed further downtown to catch a press screening of a thriller produced by Vincent Cassel (major French cutie--you know the one from Derailed and another called Sheitan.) And wouldn't you know, the print is not yet in so we ended up catching a Swedish flick called New York Waiting instead after waiting, ourselves, for at least 25 minutes. It was actually a kinda well-done love story set in New York. But let me say this, Tribeca Cinemas is no joke and I can see why Jane Rosenthal was boasting about its multimillion-dollar renovation and how great it is to have a theater in the Tribeca area now. Each screening room is pleasantly intimate.
There is even a bar/hang out area in the rear and each night at 10pm during the Festival there is "Lower Lounge" downstairs at the Cinema where different DJs will be featured. We'll probably hit there tomorrow night after the Vanity Fair party (which is actually kinda early) and let you know how hot it really is. But no matter whether people are huddled trying to figure out which flick to pick or discussing which celeb has been spotted, there seems to be a general positive vibe surrounding this year's festival and that's nice. The volunteers are helpful, and people seem pretty excited. I will say though, and maybe it's because we're new, that there seems to be a bit of a feeling of disconnectedness perhaps because there seems to be no main "hub" for the festival or general meeting/hang out spot/hotel lobby/bar. Yet from time to time, you get the distinct feeling that you are part of something special. Maybe it's the American Express "My Life, My Card" ads streaming through the subway cards featuring Martin Scorsese and M. Night Shyamalan. The American Express Vans in support of the Festival and the Budweiser ads. De Niro on the cover of Time Out, De Niro again on the cover of the free Metro paper. Yes, I'd say some momentum is building or maybe it's all just great advertising and PR? Only time will tell. Oh, and I even spotted a fellow brown skin journalist while waiting for the Swedish flick. Will have to get closer and find out who this person actually is. (I'm pondering if the Black press, such as it is, simply don't request admittance to these types of events or if they simply weren't reached out to, or some combination thereof.)
Well, that's the end of the night here folks, and yes, if you are wondering: the Empire State Building is in fact lit in the Festival colors.
Roundup #1: Going It Alone At The Press Conference
Day 1 or pre-Day 1: It was actually a crisp start to an otherwise soggy early afternoon in New York City with the Opening Press Conference of the Tribeca Film Festival. And if the first impression is any indication of the future, this should be a pretty dope festival. While the site for the power-packed event was a bit tricky to find, the flanks of staff resembling that of a mini-army, Rubenstein PR (the festival's official PR firm), made up for the slight hunt by being available and helpful at a press conference that kicked-off more or less on time.
Though I believe my face was the only Black one in a sea of print and television journalists, I settled in nicely right on the front row and got all the scoop for ya.
All the players were there: sponsor heads, fest gurus, even government reps and of course, DeNiro himself! Jane Rosenthal, who I believe is both DeNiro's often times partner production in crime and certainly the driving force behind the festival, spoke eloquently and gave a nice retrospective on how the five-year-old fest was actually born out of desire to create an something that would begin to bring people back into the downtown area of Manhattan after 9-11. In fact, the first festival (for those who don't know) debuted just after 9-11 and the organizers pulled it all together in only 120 days.
The festival has now become a love fest between film goers, filmmakers, the community, American Express, New York City--and dare I say--New York State with many achievements already made, distribution deals secured and community outreach milestones achieved.
There were actually 4,100 submissions this year, Rosenthal noted, from 40 countries. Yet there seems to be much focus on the films that somehow depict or analyze the events surrounding September 11th. When a fellow journalist asked why now seemed to be the time for this intense look, Rosenthal simply exclaimed "why not" and said that since we've had the media take, that it was time for the artistic interpretation.
She also spoke about the various jury members for this year's festival which included such diverse names as Melvin Van Peebles, Whoopi Goldberg, Wyclef Jean, Rosie O'Donnell, Laurence Fishburne and Gail King. Where any of these brown faces were though during a very Caucasian-only conference (both on the stage and in the audience), is anyone's guess, however!
But all in all, it's seems like it's going to be "on" here in the Big Apple. Heck, even the Empire State Building will be lit in the festival's colors of pink and green to mark the event.
Rest assured, that even if you are not here, we'll help you feel as if you are.
The only thing I couldn't help wondering as I walked out of that building and into the drying streets is: how wonderful it is to have access, partners, funding and creativity. You can do whatever you want. Even in just 120 days.
Look what the Black creativity community has been missing.
We've got some catching up to do folks! And for those who have the above, it's time to do more to reach out and spread the wealth and connects.
Anyway, stay tuned, kidz.
Reporting from the front lines--Tribeca, that is.
OVERSEEN & OVERHEARD
CBS EEOC SHOWDOWN...According to the National Association of Black Journalists, veteran journalist and former CBS producer Raylena Fields has filed a complaint with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission charging that she was fired in retaliation for voicing her complaints about racial bias within the CBS news department. In the complaint, she claims "Evening News" anchor Bob Schieffer wanted her to answer phones, which she says is “something a similarly situated [white] staff producer would have never been asked to do." She also states, "There is not one single African-American person holding a rank above producer on any of CBS' eight separate broadcasts." And that's not all; she also claims Schieffer, who took over for Dan Rather and who will step down when Katie Couric joins the program, frequently referred to a newsroom assistant as "Brownie" because of his complexion and called an African-American correspondent "Boy." Fields, 52, earned $185,000 in her CBS post. CBS has denied Fields' allegations. We'll keep you posted on the developments.
SLAVERY'S FRENCH CONNECTION...There is always a silver lining in a cloud, so they say, and France's riots are no exception; for out of that has come an actual "green light" for a tele-series that will resemble the American TV epic "Roots." That's right, for one of the first times on French television, the touchy subject of slavery and French colonialism will be hung out for all to see in 6 48-minute episodes on France 3. Produced by Lizland Film, the not-yet-titled piece follows the lives of slaves and masters on a plantation in Martinique over a period of 25 years. While there are sure to be many interesting developments that will come from this project, one of particular note is the rise of what may soon be France's most prominent Black actress--Thiam Aissatou. With the supporting parts in films by such lauded directors as Claude Lelouch and a breakout role as the coroner in "Homicide" (the French version of "CSI), the bilingual Thiam is set to stir things up in this new production as "Rosalie," a mistress of one of the slave masters. Remember A-List readers, you heard it hear first.
BISHOP CHECKMATES...Bishop T.D. Jakes and his TDJ Enterprises have inked a three-year production deal with Sony Pictures Entertainment. He also landed a distribution deal for theatrical releases and DVD exclusives. Creative Artists Agency, who reps Jakes and TDJ, negotiated the deal with Sony. Out first will be Not Easily Broken, based on a novel by Bishop Jakes and set for a late 2006 release. TDJ Enterprises's Woman, Thou Art Loosed, which was produced by Reuben Cannon, took in more than $7 million at the box-office and sold more than 1 million units on DVD. No need to pass the basket.
PREACHING TO THE CHOIR...Speaking of religious figures, we hear BET is debuting a new show called titled "Meet the Faith," hosted by Carlos Watson. The new weekly talk show airs April 23. Stay tuned for the initial guest lineup.
DISCOVERING MECCA...It seems to be getting lost in all the hype about the upcoming Tribeca Film Festival, but the folks behind the Alwan Film Festival (www.alwanforthearts.org/film), also in NYC, hope people check out the 30-plus movies from well-known Arab and Muslim filmmakers with entries from such countries as Syria, the U.S., the UK, Iran, Egypt. The films run until April 23 (the fest opened April 14). The festival was developed by a nonprofit group of the same name and features films that address such timely subjects as the war in Iraq.
CINEMA FROM THE CONTINENT...The New York African Film Festival (www.africanfilmny.org) kicked off April 20th with a special panel discussion titled "Africa in Transition--Today!" at Harlem's historic Apollo Theater addressing Africa's role in the 21st century. Films from Africa and the Diaspora start rolling April 26 through May 29. Why not indulge in some cultural celluloid?
TV ONE TAKES ON BET FOR AD DOLLARS
According to Ad Week, the dissolution of the WB and UPN and the creation of CW network in their place is expected to cut in half the number of ethnic sitcoms that currently air on UPN, in the process "tossing up for grabs about $100 million in ad dollars targeting African-American viewers in the upfront marketplace." The most likely outlets for these floating funds to wind up, concludes Ad Week, are Viacom’s BET and Comcast-owned TV One--though according to the article, BET hasn't been aggressively going after the ads. Anthony Crupi and John Consoli write in Ad Week's April 10th issue, "...most media agencies say BET has done little so far to pitch them on the attributes of the network, its demos and its programming. Media buyers said BET is clearly missing an opportunity and that if it does not step up, TV One, MTV and even Fox will land those ad dollars up for grabs...[one] buyer also said BET’s sales pitch is less business-oriented than many other nets. Another media buyer noted that TV One, which also targets black audiences, shows more hustle in the marketplace because it is smaller and hungrier." TV One has also stated that it is willing to pick up any of the African-American shows UPN decides to drop. BET's president of media sales, Louis Carr, responded in the piece, explaining that the network’s upfront strategy will be more focused on selling against its multiple distribution platforms than simply targeting a specific demographic.
AT&T AND AKIMBO SEAL VIDEO-ON-DEMAND DEAL
AT&T has announced a deal with Akimbo Systems to provide video-on-demand through a combined DSL and satellite TV service. The carrier is planning a "fiber-to-the-node" service to go head-to-head with rival Verizon Communications' Fios TV "fiber-to-home" network. According to a press statement from AT&T, it is testing a combination of voice, video, and data in trials with Homezone, a TV service combining AT&T Yahoo High Speed Internet and AT&T Dish Network TV programming. Through a special set-top box, users can access video on demand, digital video recording and digital photos and music, live TV show all broadcast over Dish Network's satellite service while video-on-demand is delivered via DSL. The San Mateo, California-based Akimbo has more than 10,000 movies and TV shows from more than 165 content partners worldwide. Subscribers to Homezone will be able to access the entertainment through an online guide with a video search function. The database can also accessed remotely from any Internet-connected computer, from which users will be able to browse and download programs for home viewing at a later date.
"Minorities still lag behind whites when it comes to at-home Internet access," he points out. "The data is also lacking in some areas--the recent research by Pew saying that 80% of English-speaking Latinos go online totally ignores Spanish-only communities, which are often at the bottom of the list when it comes to Internet access." (According to the U.S. Census Bureau, there are some 14 million Latinos in the U.S. who don't speak English well or at all.) Many Spanish-speaking only minorities aren't finding the Internet as helpful for their local needs, so they just don't make use of the service. "There's a lot of Spanish-language content available at the national and international level, but there isn't enough at the local level," explains. "If a Latino family in southern California is forced to rely on online news services based in Miami or Puerto Rico, they're not going to gain access to locally relevant content."
Carvin isn't only one questioning such survey findings. According to research by the University of Washington (UW), there isn't just a digital divide in this country, but people of color worldwide are not keeping up with the wired rich. Philip Howard, UW assistant professor of communications, and his students studied 10 years worth of data from the World Bank and other sources. The result is the World Information Access 2006 Report, which found that the supply of computers, Internet hosts and secure servers are more distributed among a small group of countries, leaving out the less developed nations. And that the Internet is overpriced in poorer counties. According to the report, an hour of Internet access at a NY cybercafe costs about 6 percent of a person's average daily income; in Lagos, Nigeria, it equals about 75 percent. Plus, it is harder for users in other countries to find content generated from their own country and in their own language.
Carvin is worried that the current data being touted will lead to a relaxation in the battle to close the digital gap. "It's vital we collect better statistics about this community; otherwise, policymakers and philanthropists might hear a soundbyte..[and] assume the problem is solved."
THE A-LIST SOUP
AWESOME Blog! I love it like a fat kid loves cake. Very impressive!!
I'm glad The A-List is back. It keeps you updated each week on the latest news in Urban entertainment.
Chelsye J. Burrows