59: NBPC/Bev.Hills Film Fest
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Snap, Crackle, Pop--more noise than a fresh bowl of Rice Crispies, here's your weekly dose of diverse Hollywood. Make sure to sign our petition to the FCC for increased media inclusion (www.thepetitionsite.com/takeaction/463150484 ). Issue #59
SALUTING SPIKE...The folks over at the San Francisco International Film Festival tell us they will honor Spike Lee with the Film Society Directing Award at this year's fest, April 26-May 10. In all, there will be a public presentation of the award, including clips from Lee’s career, an onstage interview by Wesley Morris of the Boston Globe and a screenings When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.
FAT CHANCE...Despite all the controversy Stateside, on its opening international weekend Norbit topped the British box office--just as it did at home. Eddie Murphy's flick took in 1.96 million pounds (or $3.8 million) over three days. Once again, like Pursuit of Happyness most recent, Black films are disproving the myth that African-American films simply don't sell overseas. It should encourage more foreign distribution and understanding that abroad we are more often viewed as Americans rather than Black or White. Unlike in Hollywood, international audiences seem to look at the film's story. Remember who "found" Spike Lee? The French at Cannes.
HIGH KICKING & KILLING...Finally the Hughes Brothers--Allen and Albert--are back behind the film camera with not one, but two, movies. Our friends at Black Talent News tell us the pair are set to release a film version of the TV series "Kung Fu" from the '70s. Then they'll direct the real-life story The Ice Man, based Phillip Carlo's book, The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer about a mafia contract killer for the Gambino family. Lorenzo di Bonaventura and Jason Blum, who have film rights, will produce. Smart move by the siblings. Whether The A-List inspired a resurrection of these filmmakers in our recent analysis of "The State of Black FIlm"
WEB GOES SHOOSH...CBS Sports, the NCAA and Pontiac have teamed with YouTube to bring "NCAA March Madness" via the Web (www.youtube.com/cbsncaatourney). It will feature NCAA game clips and highlights—uploaded in near real time—from the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Championship. Between the tube and the Net, sports fans won't miss a shot.
GOOD WORKS...The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance has announced a star-studded extravaganza, " Teddy 25--A Celebration Of Life, Hope, and Possibilities," to be held June 10th at Philadelphia's Kimmel Center and hosted by Mo'Nique. Patti La Belle, Ruben Studdard and Stephanie Mills are among the performers confirmed and the event will honor Whitney Houston, Arsenio Hall, Regis Philbin, Ashford & Simpson, Cathy Hughes (CEO/founder of TV One/Radio One), Mark P. May (CEO, Clear Channel), Donald Trump, Daniel Markus & Shep Gordon (managers), Bob Krasnow (CEO, Elektra/Asylum Records), and Pendergrass' longtime publicist Lisa Barbaris for their friendship and assistance through the years. Proceeds from the black-tie gala will be donated to The Teddy Pendergrass Alliance, which aids spinal cord injury research.
WINDY CITY SHUFFLE...Just what was Robert Townsend doing at the Garfield Park Conservatory in Chicago recently? Shooting scenes for his latest film--a family drama called Of Boys and Men. The C-Town native Townsend is also producing and starring in the feature with Victoria Rowell. Look for Of Boys and Men in theatres January 2008. It's been 10 years since his last feature effort, B.A.P.S. Let's hope this one fares better with the critics--and the box office.
WHO STOLE THE SOUL?...The Soul Train Awards have come and gone with not more than a whisper. It seems that not only did the media--those who were invited to cover--gave the ceremonies the cold shoulder, but so did celebs. It seems that eight out of the ten award winners--including Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, and John Legend--failed to show up. And rumor has it that Jennifer Hudson was even tempted to skip the show. This lack of star power will likely affect ratings when it is broadcast in syndication between March 17 and 24.
HIP HOP HOLLYWOOD
HOMELESS IN HOLLYWOOD...Remember Pras from the Fugees? He's is set to release a documentary called Skid Row, in which he lived on L.A.'s skid row for nine days with nine dollars. Directed by Marshall Tyler, Niva Dorell Ross Clarke. Heather McDowell of Artist International (which just recently signed Pras) tells The A-List, "We are currently in negotiations with different studios...The documentary should be released, however, by late spring, early summer."
EISNER LEADS MOBILE MEDIA STUDIO LAUNCH
An investment firm headed by ex-Walt Disney Co. Chief Executive Michael Eisner has just launched a studio named Vuguru to produce and distribute videos for the Internet, portable media devices and cellphones. Vuguru has already announced its debut project, Prom Queen, a scripted 80-episode mystery. Each episode will be 90 seconds and will begin running on April 2. The Prom Queen will be available at PromQueen.tv, online magazine Ellegirl.com, YouTube, and Veoh Networks, which is co-financed by Eisner's investment company Tornante Co.
BEHIND FESTIVAL SCENES
BEVERLY HILLS FILM FESTIVAL
Nino Simone: What makes the BHFF different?
The A-List: Having had experience with monster film festivals where you screen over 300 films, I wanted to make sure that independent filmmakers got the attention they deserved. We usually only show about 30 films--though this year we have 50 because there were just so many great entries. We're also a competition-only festival.
NS: Are many deals brokered during the festival?
AL: We have a lot of deals. Two years ago we had 80 percent of our filmmakers land distribution or development deals.
NS: Do you get a diverse selection of films?
AL: There's been a huge wave of Latino films lately. We also get many international films, films from African Americans, Native Americans, Inuit filmmakers.
NS: What does it take for a film to be accepted into the BHFF?
AL: A great storyline, quality and effort. Effort goes a long way. There have been films that have it all, but we've chosen other films over them because they showed a great deal of effort by the filmmaker.
NS: What advice to you have for filmmakers attending your or any other film festivals?
AL: Do your homework [about the festival]; love what you do; and brush up on your marketing skills--it's good to understand the business side of the industry.
Name: Beverly Hills Film Festival
When: April 11-15, 2007
Where: Beverly Hills Hotel
THE NATIONAL BLACK PROGRAMMERS CONSORTIUM
While many complain about the lack of resources for Black filmmakers, an organization called the National Black Programmers Consortium has been an advocate for filmmakers of color for more than 25 years--providing financing, networking, and even broadcast platforms.
NBPC is one of five ethnic consortia funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). The Consortia function as developers, producers, and distributors of radio and television programming that appeals to diverse audiences and harnesses the creative talents of minority communities. "Primarily NBPC is set up as part of the National Minority Consortia (NMC) which includes: Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB), Pacific Islanders In Communications (PIC), Native American Public Telecommunications (NAPT) and the Center For Asian American Media (CAAM)," explains Nonso Christian Ugbode, Programs & New Media Coordinator, NBPC.
"Our main priority at NBPC is to increase the visibility of the Black experience in public media. It is an invaluable service considering the history of Black representation in American media," says Ugbode. " We believe public media is a powerful way to do this because it reaches far into the local communities of Black Americans who are hungry for accurate and truly engaging representations of themselves, and those they know in America and in the Diaspora. NBPC is also historically and to this day, a big supporter of Black producers, through many of our professional development initiatives, we look to invest in present and future Black content producers who have a hunger to evolve story telling strategies about the Black experience in America and beyond."
Launched in 1991, the NBPC has awarded more than $6 million to independent filmmakers, whose work has provided several hundreds of hours of programming on the PBS system.
"NBPC's primary work is to provide documentary programming for the public television system," says Ugbode. "Our promotion efforts are often tied to television broadcasts of important documentaries that we have recently help fund for broadcast; examples include the recent broadcast of Byron Hurt's critically acclaimed documentary on misogyny and homophobia in hip hop, HIP HOP: Beyond Beats & Rhymes. That program was broadcast on 'Independent Lens' on PBS. Another program we have supported, which will be airing in March, is Race To Execution, by filmmaker Rachel Lyons. It is a searing look at the intersection of race and the death penalty in America."
And because it isn't an easy task getting an airing on PBS, the NBPC offers a much-need conduit. "Public television is a complicated maze of dos, don'ts and who you know and who you don't know, NBPC is a crucial resource for filmmakers to help them find their way through the maze," explains Public Television Program Marketing Consultant Robyn De Shields, President, De Shields Associates, Inc.
Now NBPC is seeking to make advances for African Americans in New Media. On this end, the organization recently funded a summit and new media training program that yielded four high-concept new media projects to be distributed via its website and through hand-held devices.
The NPBC is also partnering with MTV in a joint media internship program with MTV Networks. An intensive 12-week program, the intern will experience firsthand the fast-paced, ever-evolving, world of television and new media creation and distribution. It's a way to help the new generation of film and media makers be prepared in this new medium.
The New Media initiative is just one of the offerings of the NBPC. It also offers a film summer internship for students; hosts an annual film festival in New York called Chica Luna, which focuses on films by women of color; independent producers scholarships; the Katrina Project, a collaboration by filmmaker Royce Osborn, and multimedia artist and activist, Linda Goode Bryant, to document the transition of New Orleans; and most importantly grants for filmmakers of color.
"NBPC's annual open call for funding draws a diverse array of filmmakers that we always find exciting; we get local, international, emerging and veteran producers applying. This makes for a very interesting submission roster, and our panel of independent media professionals always have a very lively debate on funding choices," says Ugbode. "We receive an average of 80 to 100 applications yearly, and often will fund about 3 or 4. The maximum funding request for these projects is set at $80,000. " The next funding deadline for open call is set for June 1st. For more information on this, filmmakers can visit "For Producers" section at NBPC website: http://www.nbpc.tv/.
What type of films interest the NBPC? "NBPC is interested primarily in documentary productions that have interesting cultural and social depictions of facets of the Black experience, in America and globally. In the past we have sponsored narrative work with intriguing historical or social value, like Rodney Evans' Brother To Brother," says Ugbode. "However, that is not our primary goal, we look to find new, inventive documentary depictions, and we look to find fresh filmmaking ideas and strategies from emerging or even veteran producers. We are also looking for fresh depictions on global popular culture as it relates to the Black experience. One of our recent initiatives in that area include our web cast of the spectacular documentary on African entrepreneurs, Africa: Open For Business (http://www.nbpc.tv/africaopen)."
The organization continually tries to get the word out about its programs. "We focus most of our promotional energies on grassroots screenings in local communities to promote discussion on the issues raised in the film," says Ugbode. "An ongoing project NBPC is interested in is increasing our profile at historically black colleges and universities, so a lot of initiatives for promoting our programs have recently been based around HBCUs, and we hope to continue that in the future."
NBPC offers a entry platform for many filmmakers, one that they might not otherwise have. "It is so important for emerging and established African-American filmmakers to have an organization that will support their projects with start-up funds," says De Shields.
Mixed feelings might be what you walk away with after viewing My Brother, starring Vanessa Williams, Tatum O'Neal, Nashawn Kearse, Fredro Star, and Nasser Metcalfe. Though the film might bring up memories of pretty forgetable movie called Radio, which like My Brother featured a developmentally challenged character, try to keep an open mind. And when you least expect it, you'll become emotionally involved with the two brothers in this movie. The two actors who play the developmentally challenged character (one as a younger boy and the other as an adult) are in fact afflicted with the same challenge. It lent such believability to these characters you'll find yourself caring very much for them. They are the heart of the story, although the larger story is really about the bond between the two brothers.
Even though there are some plot twists that test that bond, the parallel telling of their back-story explains how that bond came about. Vanessa Williams as their mother, L'Tisha Morton, cements their relationship with wisdom and dedication, even though she is hiding from them the fact that she is dying. It's in her scenes that Williams delivers a great performance…devoid of sentimentality and glamour but with plenty of regret and panic at the prospect of her two sons having to fend for themselves. She is so believable as a mother who is aging fast, you'll forget the diva from "Ugly Betty."
There are a couple of small issues with My Brother. The music is too sentimental for the way that writer/director Anthony Lover's unique style of telling the story. The movie also ended rather abruptly, with an unresolved plot. But yet with the powerful performances by the cast, and the way that Kearse ties the movie together as Isaiah. Although not perfect, My Brother deserves to be experienced by a broad audience. Rating: "B' list rating. --Al Ramirez
Atlanta Falcon Superstar Michael Vick hosted a SRO crowd at the opening of his new restaurant “The Tasting Room” in the East Point section of Atlanta. Internationally renown chef Colin A. Smith mans the kitchen--and more than satisifed the A-List crowd.