After 300 submissions, 60 movies were screened at the Urbanworld Film Festival. Since most of these are lacking in the distribution department, and will travel the film festival circuit seeking financial support, The Shadow League is giving you seven picks you should know about. You’re welcome.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete
Directed by George Tillman, Jr.
Written by Michael Starrbury
Heroin addiction. Prostitution. Stick up kids. Boys in the foster care system. "The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete" features a dirty laundry load that children in the hood are often forced to sort through. “Sometimes kids are in situations, left with their grandmother, or aunt, or someone. And they just keep it moving,” says director George Tillman, Jr. whose 1997 film "Soul Food" debuted at the first Urbanworld Film Festival 17 years ago. “At the end of the day, it’s about relationships. We all need people in our lives.”
Executive produced by Alicia Keys, "The Inevitable Defeat…" which hits theaters October 11, is the intense tale of two abandoned boys, a Black and a Korean, who do whatever it takes to stay out the system. Jennifer Hudson’s role of Gloria is too easy for the Oscar winner. She nails it with her eyes closed numb from a fix. Jeffrey Wright as the bum Henry, makes you wish his character was larger. And Anthony Mackie is Kris, the neighborhood pimp and dealer. But the real stars are Pete (Ethan Dizon), and especially Mister (Skylan Brooks), who carries the film as a kid maneuvering through a Brooklyn project. “As a filmmaker, you don’t just want to entertain. You want to enlighten,” says Tillman. “That’s what I want to do. The key is being able to tell stories you love.”
Written and Directed by R. Malcolm Jones
Echoing the plight of kids in wayward adult situations is "Magic City," the story of Miami sisters who, to avoid being taken by child services, hide their foster mother in a bathtub after she dies from a heart attack. The film follows the girls, and a friend, as they spend days in Liberty City buying shopping carts full of ice to preserve the body. “I knew those kids. I knew that neighborhood. And I felt like the government had abandoned the people,” says R. Malcolm Jones, "Magic City’s" writer and director who worked on 150 music videos before making this film. “I wrote this after the recession at the University of Miami, in solitude, taking it all in.”
Jamie Hector stars as an alcoholic army vet, home from the Middle East, suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Jenifer Lewis plays his sister, and Keith David is the concerned neighborhood bodega owner. “I’m most proud of this film. And I’ve done 67,” says Lewis, 56, who co-starred in Urbanworld’s big budget, opening night movie, "Baggage Claim." “It’s so poetic. And it carries you places.”
Using $350,000 of his own money to help finance the project, and with an all female team of producers, Jones was confident of one thing over the three years it took to make this movie. “I always knew God was on my side, with this project,” he said.
Things Never Said
Written and Directed by Charles Murray
Caught up in a torrid, passionate affair, "Things Never Said" showcases two unhappy souls connected by their mutual love of live poetry. Omari Hardwick plays Curtis Jackson, a recently released ex-con, healing from his ex-wife’s infidelity; while Shanola Hampton is Kalindra Stepney, who seeks an escape from her abusive marriage. “[The movie] is partially based on my mother and father. There was domestic violence in the house,” says writer and directed Charles Murray. “And before she passed, I interviewed and told her I was going to write a movie about her.”
His first movie project, Murray is a seasoned TV writer who’s written for shows like “Criminal Minds,” “V,” “Third Watch,” “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” and currently “Sons of Anarchy.” He enlisted a grassroots effort to make his debut film for under $400,000. “Charles Murray is doing some real work around his film. He’s releasing "Things Never Said" on his own,” says Urbanworld’s programmer and Senior Producer, Aidah Muhammad. “A project like this, beautiful film, great script, great cast, you would think it would have this really big engine behind it, driving it and putting it out in the theaters. But it’s really dedicated filmmakers, producers, even cast, those are the people that get the word out and make that happen.”
They Die by Dawn
Written & Directed by Jeymes Samuel
Featuring an all-star cast, including Michael K. Williams, Giancarlo Esposito, Erykah Badu, Rosario Dawson, Bookeem Woodbine, Isaiah Washington, Clifton Powell, Nate Parker, Harry Lennix, and David Banner; "They Die By Dawn" is a black cowboy Western that takes place in 1819. “Every time a black person is shown in a Western, they’re a slave. Every time you see them, there’s an explanation on why they’re there. There were decades after slavery of black people in the old West,” says British writer and director Jeymes Samuel, who wrote "They Die by Dawn" as a prelude to his next feature, "The Notorious Nine." “I wanted to depict characters from that time and place. All the characters [in "They Die by Dawn"] are real.”
Shot on the real set where John Wayne made his films, every actor who signed on to "They Die by Dawn," came through word of mouth. “This was for us by us,” says actor Michael K. Williams. “This was designed by love and passion and the desire to want to work with each other.”
Written and Directed by Stephen Lloyd Jackson
Miriam-Webster defines “Sable” as an old French adjective meaning: 1. of the color black. 2. Dark, Gloomy. "Sable Fable" exudes this shining a disturbing light on British couples whose lives intersect into tragedy. Touching on nearly every type of sordid issue ─ from racism and incest to suicide and murder ─ "Sable Fable" is truly, as London writer/director Stephen Lloyd Jackson puts it, “A dark story. The inspiration comes from life and what happens in today’s society,” says Jackson, who made "Sable Fable," which received Urbanworld's Honorable Mention award, as part of a trilogy. “[I wanted] to do a movie where there’s no ‘N’ word, no guns, and tells a story about our people. I want people to walk away appreciating who you are in life, who you fall in love with, and not take people for granted.”
Written & Directed by Vicky Wight
Representing the female minority of directors, Vicky Wight was added to a second minority category, at the Urbanworld Festival, as a Caucasian with her project "The Volunteer." Winner of Urbanworld's Best Narrative Feature award, the drama stars Aunjanue Ellis as a 40-year old woman who, while striving to find purpose, suddenly quits her high paying job, volunteers at a soup kitchen, and falls in loves with a homeless man. Hill Harper plays the supportive, unknowing boyfriend, in a film that walks through the foggy maze of depression leaving countless lost in their minds. “I had gone through an illness in my life and I thought of what women go thru, the love we deserve, and how we connect with people. Is it the right connection?” Asks Wight, who wrote "The Volunteer" in 2012. “Having it all, is not having it all.”
Written & Directed by Solvan “Slick” Naim and Olli Koivula
Based in Bushwick, Brooklyn, "Full Circle," a comedy about a pizza delivery boy who stumbles upon a bag of drug dealer money, was the funniest feature at the Urbanworld Film Festival winning the Audience Award. “I’m an artist and someone sent me a track that made me feel sadness, revenge, love…” says writer/director Naim, a MC who also stars in the movie that took 21 days to make. “We originally decided that [each emotion] was going to be made into a music video. But we decided to make [those feeling] into a feature.”