While the mainstream press enthusiastically identifies Tyler Perry as the new voice of black cinema, industry insiders looking for the next Spike Lee are placing their bets on a young NYU student named Rashaad Ernesto Green. In the last few months, Green’s award-winning student film “Premature” played the 2009 Santa Barbara Film Festival before premiering on HBO, while his latest short, “Choices,” debuted at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival. But Green is not the only black director making a name for himself as a result of his short film work.
On February 26, 2009, the American Cinematheque hosted the African American Short Film Celebration, programmed by Kimberley Browning of Hollywood Shorts and featuring the work of Kamali Minter and Randall Dottin, among others. A week later, Fusion 2009: The Sixth Annual Los Angeles LGBT People of Color Film Festival showcased short films by Julian Breece and Roberta Marie Munroe.
With so many actors, writers, directors, and producers expressing themselves via the short film format, it’s impossible to give every exciting new voice in black cinema their due.
However, here, in alphabetical order, are ten directors whose remarkable short films have made them filmmakers to watch.
Julian Breece – Breece’s dramatic 15-minute short, “The Young & Evil,” is an audacious film drawing attention to the rise of HIV/AIDS infection among young, gay African-Americans. Having generated buzz at Outfest and Frameline, the short continued to make noise when it played this year’s Sundance Film Festival. A Washington, D.C. native, Breece studied history and literature at Harvard University before completing his MFA at USC, where he co-founded the USC Queer Film Festival. Breece and his producer, Aaliyah Williams, are concentrating their efforts on their first feature film, “Heartland.”
Randall Dottin – Dottin’s 30-minute short, “Lifted,” is a captivating story of an aging dancer/single mother and the encounter in a subway station that changes her life. A graduate of Dartmouth and Columbia, Dottin made his student film debut with a short called “A-Alike,” which won the Directors Guild of America Award for Best African-American Student Filmmaker, a National Board of Review for Motion Pictures Award for achievement in filmmaking, and the gold medal in the narrative category at the Student Academy Awards.
Rashaad Ernesto Green – Bronx-native Green received a BA from Dartmouth College and a MFA from the NYU Graduate Acting Program. “Premature,” his fifteen-minute short about a pregnant teenager, world-premiered at the 2008 American Black Film Festival, where it won the Grand Prize for Best Short Film in the HBO Short Film Competition. His latest short, the four-minute long “Choices,” shows a young man’s thought process as he makes love to his girlfriend. Green is focusing on making his first feature, “Gun Hill Road.”
Khary Jones – Jones’s 16-minute short, “Hug,” about friendship and mental illness, was one of ten 2009 Sundance Film Festival official selections chosen to screen for free on iTunes during the festival. It is also an official selection of the 2009 South by Southwest Film Festival. A Morehouse and Columbia man, Jones has taught filmmaking at Clark University. He is currently working on his next short film, a coming-of-age story entitled “Chrysalis.”
Kamali Minter – A working actress (“Shark Tale,” The Life and Times of Tim”) and editor (“Toddlers and Tiaras”), Minter stepped behind the camera to make a flat-out comedy, “Love Conquers Al,” which stars Malcolm Barrett of the new ABC series “Better Off Ted.” An NYU grad, Minter has shown her short at the Urbanworld Film Festival, the Pan-African Film Festival, and the Hollywood Black Film Festival. She is currently working on her first feature and launching a new production company with her partner, Kenn Michael.
Moon Molson – A Dartmouth alumnus, Molson made his thesis film, “Pop Foul,” as part of the Columbia MFA program. The emotional father-son drama world-premiered at the 2006 American Black Film Festival, where it won the HBO Short Film Award. It then won the 2007 REEL Shorts Jury Prize at SXSW and was honored at the 2006 Student Academy Awards. Molson was named one of Filmmaker’s Magazines 25 New Faces of Independent Film in 2007.
Roberta Marie Munroe – After a highly successful run with her first short, “Dani and Alice,” former Sundance Film Festival short programmer Roberta Marie Munroe is conquering the festival circuit once again with her latest 14-minute comedy, “Happy Birthday.” Both shorts have been featured on Logo’s “The Click List: Top 10 Videos.” A Canadian by birth, Munroe was instrumental in launching the Blackhouse Foundation, which supports African American filmmakers, and served as their founding Artistic Director. Named one of POWERUP’s “10 Amazing Gay Women in Hollywood” and GONYC’s “100 Women We Love,” Munroe recently authored her first book, “How NOT to Make a Short Film: Secrets from a Sundance Programmer.”
Anthony Onah – Currently a graduate student at UCLA (class of 2011), Onah drew national attention when his health care-themed short “The Cure” won the highly prestigeous Stolen Dreams competition. Born in Nigeria, Onah trained as a biochemist and neuroscientist, graduating with honors from Harvard University. He is currently working on a film about deaths in U.S. immigration detention centers.
Osbert Parker – Parker’s highly distinctive mixed-media animation-meets-live-action pieces have earned him attention in his native England and on the international festival circuit. His short “Film Noir” garnered a best animated short nomination by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts in 2006 and was also nominated for the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival. His follow-up, “Yours Truly,” was also nominated for a BAFTA in 2008 and took home the best short animated film award at the British Animation Awards. With Hollywood already courting him to do feature work, Parker is poised to lead his own British invasion.
Dee Rees -A graduate of Florida A&M University and NYU, Rees interned on Spike Lee’s films “When the Levees Broke” and “Inside Man” and also worked as a development intern with producer Barbara De Fina. Having racked up numerous prizes on the festival circuit for her universally-praised coming-of-age short “Pariah,” Rees went to the 2008 Sundance Screenwriting & Director’s Labs and was selected as a 2008 Tribeca Institute/ Renew Media Arts Fellow (Rockefeller Foundation). She recently wrapped post-production on “Eventual Salvation,” her feature documentary on Liberia.