Friday, November 03, 2006

43:BFI Film Fest 2

Causing more heads to turn than TomKat, it's Issue #43


DIGITAL DRAMA...We knew something like this was coming. But for some reason when an 18-year-old New Jersey native who goes only by the name Tyrone launched a site called, it was definitely time for a reality check. Seems the budding entrepreneur thought it would be cool to launch a competitor to but exclusively for young Black and Urban culture lovers to share ideas and experiences. Funny enough, he didn't think it would cause a stir. But it has created a kind of polemic between those who are pro and those who are against the idea. It will be interesting to see who actually visits it and takes up residence there. One thing is for sure, within the advertiser gold rush to hit the on-line world, we doubt this offering will be in the media mix.

TAGGERS TALES...If you are hip hop culture head, you may want to head to the video store to check out a new title. Infamy (, by filmmaker Doug Pray (Hype!, Scratch), focuses on six of America's most prolific graffiti artists, has just been released in DVD ($19.99). The folks behind the DVD--Image Entertainment and Paladin Entertainment in association with QD3 entertainment--tell us the 91 film features 35 extra minutes of bonus features and music by Z-Trip. Featured scrawlers are SABER (L.A.), TOOMER (L.A.), JASE (Baltimore), CLAW (NYC), EARSNOT (NYC) and ENEM (Philadelphia)--taking viewers on a road trip and giving a voyeuristic look into the lives of these graffiti artists. We look forward to an art film spin off along the likes of Pollock in the future.

CRUISE CONTROL...Word just came in that Tom Cruise and his producing partner, Paula Wagner, will take over United Artists, according to parent company MGM. Under the deal, Wagner will be chief executive and Cruise will control over UA's film slate. The company is expected to be about four films a year. Together, they will be part owners. Founded by Charlie Chaplin, Mary Pickford, D.W. Griffith and Douglas Fairbanks, UA was built with the intention of being actor-friendly. It'll be interesting to see if Cruise hooks up some of his Urban Hollywood friends--and better yet, if any of Black Hollywood's megastars follow suit.

INSIDE DEAL...According to our friends over at Variety, Spike Lee will direct a sequel to his hit 2006 film Inside Man, which racked in $90 million domestically, for Universal Pictures and Imagine Entertainment. The film's original writer, Russell Gewirtz, is also on board. No word yet if the stars--Denzel Washington, Clive Owen, and Jodie Foster--will return. If it ain't broke...
LUDA TV...Chalk up another one for hip hop TV. This time it's Ludacris with the small screen deal. Word is out that he will exec produce a weekly high-school drama called "Halls of Fame" for Nickelodeon's teen network, the N. Ludacris is developing the series with executive producer Dallas Jackson and producer Amani Walker. It was only last week that we announced Nickelodeon was seeking more diversity in its programming--Boy do they work fast!


MTV has appointed Marva Smalls as the company's first Executive Vice P
resident of Global Inclusion Strategy. Smalls will oversee MTVN's efforts to create a diverse, multicultural and inclusive workforce across its worldwide brands. According to MTV, Smalls will continue to retain her current responsibilities as Executive Vice President of Public Affairs and Chief of Staff for the Nickelodeon/MTVN Kids & Family Group. Smalls will expand MTVN's partnerships with leading outside organizations. "Our culture at MTVN is a rare thing. Our employees share ideas, take creative risks and, most importantly, reflect the audiences they serve and what's important to them," said Smalls in a press statement. "Diversity and inclusion are as essential as creativity and innovation for success in a global marketplace, and I am excited to build on these core values, particularly as we extend our brands -- and acquire new ones -- across all platforms."

MTVN has also announced a restructuring of its day-to-day approach to diversity leadership by implementing a new internal advisory team. This team will have direct impact on diversity, multicultural and inclusion issues, including domestic and international Channel Management, Operations, Programming, Ad Sales, Corporate Responsibility, Creative, Communications, Human Resources and Learning & Development.


Politics, Culture, Africa: The Films of The BFI 50th London Film Festival

The London Film Festival has finally come to a close and I've definitely viewed a lot of good films at what seemed like a break-neck pace!

The tempe
rature here has begun to drop and London is beginning its transformation from comfortably cool with ample hours of sun to the dark, damp and dismal city it becomes from November to March. It's exactly during this time that EVERYONE (natives and expats alike) have a wide-eye moment of madness thinking, "Right, now's the time to make a run for Thailand - just 'till March!!" But you just end up down the pub drinking until your paralytic enough to ease into winter.

However, this
year, I had a much better crutch to usher me into my fourth London winter – FREE FILM and loads of them, sometimes three to four a day!! It is wonderful to be immersed in something that is your passion. Last Sunday I met others who shared my passion as we all stumbled up to a 10am screening of For Your Consideration (an indie satire about Hollywood during Oscar season), in the freezing, pissing rain… with NO COFFEE because the damn Starbucks cue/line was beyond appalling! "All for the love of film," we told ourselves, "All for the love of film."

And here's some of what I screened:

A court is set up in the middle of a courtyard in the poor section of Bamako, Mali . On t
rial are the international financial institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, that are facing proceedings brought against them by African civil society for their disastrous policies on Africa, which have brought most African countries into extreme financial and economic neediness. Witnesses for the plaintiff are brought from all walks of African society. But as the trail takes place, life simply goes on in and around the courtyard: women get water, children play football and a wedding takes place. There is even a cowboy film thrown in, starring Danny Glover.

This film explores the global coffee industry (second largest traded commodity worth over $80 billion a year), focusing on Ethiopia. Profits for multinational coffee companies continue to increase and so the price paid for coffee harvests have fallen to such an extent that farmers in some of the world's poore st countries are forced to abandon their crops. Ethiopia, recognized as the birthplace of coffee, is one of the hardest hit countries. So the documentary shadows Tadesse Meskela, General Manager of a co-operative union that represents some 70,000 struggling Ethiopian farmers, as he goes to the coffee commodity exchanges in New York and London and, to a branch of Starbucks (amongst other places) illustrating how the customers' demand for coffee has grown and to promote the difficulties of his members – ultimately seeking to establish a fair trade market for their coffee.


This was a live discussion with the director of Bamako, Abderrahmane Sissako; Charles Abugre, Head of Policy at Christian Aid; award-winning playwright and actor Kwame Kwei-Armah; and Bonnie Greer, playwright and cultural commentator, to discuss the film and the issues it raises.

Sadly, like so many discussions on the state of Africans and African-Americans that I've had over the years, no clear plan of action was suggested. However, I did appreciate the facts shared. I have a much better understanding of the WTO and IMF but what does all this mean to African Americans back home in the ri
chest country in the world. A country where their spending power is closing in on $1 trillion per year (about the 10th largest economy in the world)!

I managed to ask Mr. Kwei-Armah what he'd want to relay to the African-Americans that would be reading this because I was already stumped. I knew that I wasn't going to sit here and preach to you about the injustices on the planet's richest continent or about the thousands of Africans that are pouring into just Spain alone every single day and the thousands that die trying while looking for a better life (news you don't get in America). Crazy how they had to catch us and ship us to these countries and now they're/we're killing ourselves to go right back. Unfortunately, he didn't have a specific answer other than continued education and awareness of the issues.

I on the other hand was inspired by the words of New York 's last mayor (yeah, this was a first). After 9/11, Gulianni said, "If you want to help New York City , go out and buy something. Go shopping, out to eat, to the theater…" So here's my two cents of wisdom. If you're like me and you know you're not going to do charity work or give cash to some number on your TV but you want to help African nations, GET ON A PLANE AND GO VISIT (Morocco, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa…). Invest in a passport, put some money aside and get on a plane and go. You'll be helping these fragile economies directly and there's a little something called knowledge and experience in it for you. You may scoff at Madonna but at the very least, she is bringing much needed, world attention to an area of the world that is literally starving for it.


OHN LENNON There is tons of footage in this documentary of John Lennon that I'd never seen, giving you an in depth look at his political activism. It took the directors (David Leaf and John Scheinfeld) about eight years to get the film out because distributors didn't think it relevant. It's quite amazing just how far reaching and profitable the Iraq war has been don't you think?

This was a truly great film with a staggeringly stellar cast--OSCARS FOR EVERYONE (well maybe just a nomination for Lindsay Lohan--yeah, she was pretty good). Every time a new character came on, you gasped--my favourite of which was Harry Belafonte. Again, like The US vs John Lennon, it's an incredibly timely and relevant film. I balled my eyes out like a little girl because the sheer hopelessness that was felt in 1968 with the Vietnam war, the death of MLK, JFK and then RFK, is exactly the state of hopelessness I think we're headed towards in 2006 with the Iraq war and an American president who just doesn't get it.

This is a Turkish film centring on the relationships of one man and, in my opinion, a complete waste of time. Ok, it could have been because I saw the film after a particularly gruelling day at work and was forced to sit (they assign seats in some movie theatres here) squashe
d between silver haired seniors who asked me not to eat my popcorn because the smell of it made them nauseous. I might not have liked the film also because I am of the MTV generation and this film moves slower than a 'dead man walking'. The dialog was beyond minimal, probably making the actual script two pages staple together.

Loved it! But I'm a sucker for artistic sex on screen. This is John Cameron Mitchell's (Helwig and The Angry Inch) new feature. There's tons of full frontal nudity, full-on sex, group sex, S&M sex…(including gay sex, so prudes beware) as three New Yorkers confront their issues with what else, SEX.

I was pleasantly surprised by this movie being that I wasn't a Kate Winslet fan (I am n
ow). The promotional poster is SO misleading though. Her sexual relationship with Patrick Wilson makes up only a tiny part. This film will definitely make you reassess your marriage or partnership.

This was t
he closing film of the festival and well, while Brad Pitt is a sexy man (looks like crap in this movie), he seriously can not act. Has no one else noticed this? No one comments on it. Some how, every time he gets on screen you still see all the past characters he's played right in front of you. It's no different in Babel. It wouldn't be too far fetched to believe that his character in Babel is just a slightly evolved Rusty Ryan from Ocean's Eleven. The three storylines all intersect but I just kept thinking, what in the hell are they trying to say here? All the scenes shot in Tokyo are fantastic but all together, at 2 hours and 40 minutes; it was just a bit too long.


This by far was the highlight of the festival for me. Two hours of uninterrupted HOFFMAN! What a living legend! He was hilarious; moving; generous with his knowledge and experiences--he takes none of them for granted and still chokes up when thinking of the first time he met Arthur Miller and they sat on Hoffman's front lawn discussing the possibility of him doing Death of a Salesman.

He continued to profess his undying gratitude to Mike Nichols for casting him in The Graduate. He's not obsessed with dying although not a day goes by that he doesn't think about it but he counters that by thinking about sex everyday as well. "When you realize your mortality it allows the now to take place more fully," he noted. He supports the concept of film distribution on the Internet in order to further propel The Artist and before his next birthday, he would love to direct his first film – he says it's taken him way too long.

Overall, the London Film Festival was good fun but I have to say, for festival of the arts to be celebrating 50 years, you'd think there would be a bit more celebration. Hmm, maybe there was-- more than likely press wasn't invited as we were not permitted to go to the evening premiers either (at least not BFI press). I understand the festival was more consumer-focused than media-focused and maybe because press in America are spoiled rotten but damn, I think some sort of social event could have been organized to give all these lovers of film space to share in that love.

Well, 'till next year… maybe 51 will be the big one.

Celebrity Chef Marcus Samuelsson, Rev. Al Sharpton, Swizz Beatz, ("The Apprentice winner) Randal Pickett, Kathleen Battle, reality star Stacy J, film producer Lee Daniels, and Gayle King chowin' down at the Ebony Magazine and Anheuser Busch "Taste Of Ebony," a culinary extravaganza featuring leading Black chefs, restaurants, and wine experts at NYC's Metropolitan Pavilion.

Rapper/actor Ja Rule, Irv Gotti, Lil' Wayne and a whole bunch of Maybachs lining the street outside of The Canal Room in NYC, where Giant/Universal/Motown records hosted a showcase for Lil' Wayne, Baby & Vanessa Carlton.