Filmmakers of Color Speak at Tribecca Film Festival

Last month the Tribecca Film Festival hosted a panel of filmmakers of color called “Look Who’s Talking.” The panel consisted of Nelson George, Tambay Obenson, Frida Torresblanco, and Terrence Nance. It was moderated by Beth Jansen. The members speak on diversity in film, opportunities for people of color within the industry and their own experiences in making and distributing their work.

Projecting Beyond The Wall

There was an interesting article a couple weeks back by the NY Times talking about the powerful impact that film was having on a group of female students. The twist? All of the students were inmates.

The article profiles one former inmate, 20-year-old Amirah Harris, and the impact that Tribecca Teaches had on her. Tribecca Teaches is a film program run by the Tribecca Film Institute that teaches students in New York City and Los Angeles the craft of filmmaking. The NY Times article speaks with one of the teachers in the program who taught at Rikers Island (a prison facility) and noted the positive impact it had on the women in her class. She also notes that she didn’t fear for her safety at all during the time she was teaching.

I remember hearing of a similar story on NPR radio host Michele Martin’s “Tell Me More” program, where a woman in Indiana who is a public school teacher, volunteers her time teaching inmates Shakespeare. She said that the inmates brought their own experiences into their analysis of the work, raising questions and positions that she as a teacher had never even considered before. She too stated that she had no fear for her own safety in the classroom, and that many of the inmates were just happy that someone was willing to take time out of their day to work with them.

In both these cases we see the power that art can have on a population deemed ‘undesirable’ by society. If art – whether it be film, Shakespeare, or poetry – can have these dramatic effects on prisoners, maybe we ought to rethink about arts being the first thing cut when school budgets get tight. Just a thought.

Still Thanking Black Starz 11 Years Later

When the month of March rolls around, I get flashbacks. You see, while this site is just under a year-and-a-half old, media –specifically film– has intrigued me for the better part of 11 years. It’s been this fascination with moving images and the stories behind them, that has left me like a small boy chasing a dream that always seems just beyond the horizon. It all started rather simply.

March of 2002 was an interesting time. I was 6 months into my freshman year of high school, my Oakland Raiders were a winning and respectable organization, and I was witnessing a miracle at the Meadowlands as Jason Kidd was leading the then New Jersey Nets on a path to the NBA Finals. It was also the time when my family upgraded from basic cable to digital cable. I had never seen so many channels before in my life. As great as the sheer volume of channels were, it was the included movie packages that caught my attention.

One of those packages was the Starz package. It was 5 channels of the Starz network and one of those channels was strictly dedicated to people of color. It was called Black Starz and it opened my eyes to a world of cinema I had never seen before. Seeing people who looked like me headlining movies on a 24/7 basis made me wonder why there wasn’t more diversity in Hollywood in the first place. It wasn’t just feature films shown on Black Starz, but shorts and documentaries as well. Ultimately, it left me with the impression that there should be more of these films shown.

From there I began writing down the films each month that had the greatest impact on me. I called the list my ‘Movies of the Month’ list. Movies such as: “To Sir With Love II,” “Love Jones,” “Joe & Max,” “Against the Wall,” and “House Party,” were just some of the few that I wrote down. Later, I would take a few documentary courses under the journalism department at my college, getting my feet wet in the industry.

Since graduating, I’ve been able to work on documentaries, shorts, features, music videos, and now a webisode. Each time learning something new and meeting new people. Now I watch movies with a whole different perspective than I did as a teenager. Once you’ve been behind the scenes and see the amount of work that goes into making a movie, you have a whole different level of appreciation for the craft.

After a few years of working on various projects (and doing odd jobs in the process to pay the bills) I started FilmSwag in the fall of 2011. I’ve certainly learned a lot and am still learning. In the 11 years since viewing Black Starz, the technology has come a long away. It’s never been easier to start filming your own projects. HD video was not readily available to many in ’02, now most cell phones come equipped with 720p or 1080p cameras. Youtube has opened up the platform immensely for aspiring filmmakers. And the rise of social media like Twitter and Facebook have made it easier to connect with one another in record time around the globe. So now in 2013 as there are many more avenues for our stories to be told, I continue to keep learning as much as possible, just like when I started out 11 years ago.

The Root Talks With Louis Gossett Jr. on Post Oscar Blues

A very good interview with Louis Gossett Jr. on the triumphs and challenges of winning an Oscar and then struggling to find work in the aftermath. Gossett speaks glowingly of working on the groundbreaking TV mini-series “Roots,” how he started out, battling alcoholism, and his current work with his foundation Eracism. Definitely worth the read.

Check it out here.

                                        Image courtesy of The Root

Where Art Thou Black Rom-Coms?

This article originally posted by Chevonne Harris of Aol’s Huffington Post, explores her frustration with the lack of quality titles featuring African Americans in the romantic-comedy genre.

Her concerns are not a new one, nor are they unique to her. I’ve heard many people lament the lack of quality movies featuring people of color not only at the box office, but also in the search results of their Netflix account.

Ultimately, this comes down to a lack of representation for many people of color. Why should we “settle” for one to two mainstream ‘black’ romantic films per year? This still is a problem in Hollywood, although recent advances in technology -such as webisodes- are proving to be a viable alternative with each passing year. What are your thoughts?

Louis Gossett Jr. on Blaxploitation Films and Black Actors

 “. . . The responsibility for film imagery must be extended to the producers who come up with these scripts. The blame can’t be placed on black actors because they have to work – any place and any time they can. They have rent to pay just like everybody else.”

                                      – Louis Gossett Jr., NY Amsterdam News, 1974

Remembering A Legend

46 years ago this month, the world said goodbye to Dorothy Dandridge.

Dorothy Dandridge is a name that is too often forgotten when it comes to women in the early days of Hollywood. Everyone has heard of Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor and the like. Well, Dandridge was every bit the onscreen presence these women were, but as a black actress in the 40s and 50s it was hard to get noticed and even harder to find consistent work. Hell, truth be told it’s still hard for women of color to find steady work in Hollywood and get recognized (see Taraji P. Henson).

What makes Dandridge so compelling is the fact that she wasn’t just an actress, but a singer as well. She was what you would call an all around entertainer. Perhaps best known for her work as Carmen in the movie ‘Carmen Jones,’ Dandridge was electrifying on screen and would even garner an Academy Award nomination for Best Actress in 1954. She didn’t win, but maybe more importantly, she proved she belonged.

Sadly, ‘Carmen Jones’ proved to be the high point of Dorothy’s career as she would spend the next decade with diminishing roles and increasingly high personal debt. The fact that she was even able to get prominent roles in Hollywood films could be seen as an accomplishment in itself considering the rampant racial discrimination of her era. Dandridge’s career might best be described in the last line of her biography on her IMDB page: Had she been born 20 years later, Dorothy Dandridge would no doubt be one of the most well-known actresses in film history.”