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S&A Fall Black Film Preview – Which of These 12 Films Are You Looking Forward to Seeing?

S&A Fall Black Film Preview - Which of These 12 Films Are You Looking Forward to Seeing?

The last days of summer are upon us – we have about a week left (September 22 is officially the last day of the season) – as we look to the fall (award) movie season, typically when studios release their prized possessions; those films that they hope will contend for top honors, kicking off with highly-touted premieres at key late summer film festivals in Venice, Toronto and Telluride, where many Oscar potentials often first unveil themselves.

And as I usually do during every change in seasons, here’s a list of “black films” (or films in which black actors star, or films that tell stories centered around the lives of black people) that will be coming to a theater near you some time over the next 3 1/2 months, through the end of the year. Most of these you should already know about. Others may be surprises.

I should note that there are a small handful of films without release date announcements that just may open later this year, like Don Cheadle’s “Miles Ahead,” which was picked up by Sony Pictures Classics about a month ago, ahead of its New York Film Festival world premiere, but doesn’t have a commercial release date yet. In fact, Sony hasn’t said whether it’ll release the film this year; But I’d wager that it’ll be out before the end of the year, if only to ensure that it gets an awards season – specifically 2016 Oscar-qualifying – run. They may just be waiting to see how it performs after it screens at the NYFF in early October before cementing a date. 

Without further ado, the list of 12 films we know of with certainty, follows…

1 – “The Keeping Room”

Muna Otaru co-stars in the Civil War drama alongside Brit Marling and Hailee Steinfeld, in a film that tells the story of 3 Southern women (2 of them sisters, and the third, their long-silent family slave) who are forced to defend their home in the last days of the war, against a large group of soldiers who have broken off from the Union Army.

Sam Worthington and Kyle Soller co-star.

“The Keeping Room” is directed by Daniel Barber, from a script written by Julia Hart. 

Drafthouse Films opens the film on September 25.

Anonymous Content, Wind Dancer Films, Gilbert Films are all producers.

The project has been described as “cinematic, thrilling and dangerous,” and full of “profound themes.”

Zeba Blay reviewed it for S&A at TIFF last year, calling it “a necessary addition to on screen depictions of the American Civil War,” praising it for its noteworthy depictions of women characters. Read her review here.

Check out the first trailer for “The Keeping Room” below:

2 – “Difret”

The Sundance Film Festival award winning feature film from Ethiopian filmmaker Zeresenay Berhane Mehari’s (where it picked up the Audience Award: World Cinema Dramatic), is being presented by Angelina Jolie, who attached herself as an executive producer, which has helped dramatically raise the film’s profile.

A project we first alerted you to during the summer of 2012, writer/director Zeresenay Mehari’s “Difret” is a feature length scripted film based on the true story of the legal-precedent-setting court case that outlawed the practice of abduction for marriage in Ethiopia – also referred to as “Telefa.”

It tells the story of a 14-year old girl named Aberash Bekele who was accused of murder after killing the 29-year old man who raped, beat, and abducted her in an attempt to marry her. Aberash was charged with murder and kept in prison without bail until a female lawyer named Meaza Ashenafi heard about the case and decided to represent Aberash. With immense odds against them, the 2 women fought a harrowing drawn-out legal battle over a two-year period that would eventually change the lives of Ethiopian women forever.

It was last summer (2013) when the filmmakers raised close to $30,000 via Kickstarter to complete post-production on the film, which was shot in Ethiopia last year on 35mm film (a rarity these days, especially when it comes to indie filmmaking), thanks to support from a production package from Panavison Cameras, Pipeline Production, the Ministry of Culture Ethiopia, and others, including a previous successful Kickstarter campaign that raised almost $40,000 of the film’s mid-6-figure budget.

“It is inspiring to see such an important story so beautifully illustrated with such creative talent. It draws out the richness of Ethiopian culture and shows how important legal advances can be made while respecting local culture,” said Angelina Jolie in a statement, adding, “It is a story that gives hope for Ethiopia’s future, and for other countries where countless girls grow up without the protection of laws that shield them and their bodies, and shows how the courage of brave individuals can awaken the conscience of a society.”

The film stars Meron Getnet and Tizita Hagere.

Mehari’s feature film debut, “Difret” has an October 23, 2015 theatrical release date set.

3 – “The Secret in their Eyes”

STX Entertainment shifted the release date for its upcoming crime thriller “Secret in Their Eyes” for the weekend prior to Thanksgiving, in order to give the film “a strategic position leading into the successful movie-going corridor,” says the press release a couple of months ago.

Adapted from Juan José Campanella’s 2010 Academy Award-winning Best Foreign Language Film, “Secret in Their Eyes” is directed by Billy Ray, and stars Chiwetel EjioforNicole Kidman, and Julia Roberts, is now set for a November 20, 2015 release, it was announced today by Kevin Grayson, President of Domestic Theatrical Distribution for STX. The film was previously slated for release on October 23, 2015.

“‘Secret in Their Eyes’ is a smart, well-crafted crime thriller with a remarkable cast that has broad commercial appeal for adults. We launched the trailer over the July 4th weekend and have been thrilled with the response.  We believe this is a time of year where our audience will be looking for quality films, and are pleased to give them this compelling date night thriller,” said Kevin Grayson of STX Entertainment.  

Official synopsis reads: “After FBI investigator Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) finds the teenage daughter of his partner Jess (Julia Roberts) murdered in a brutal crime, they team with the District Attorney, Claire (Nicole Kidman), and make it their crusade to bring the murderer to justice.  Their passion meets cold reality, however, when they realize the murderer is a protected witness in an ongoing terror investigation – they can only watch as he walks free.  After searching every day for 13 years, they uncover a surprising new lead that takes them on an intense pursuit of the elusive killer.  No one is prepared, however, for the shocking, unspeakable secret that will reveal the enduring, destructive effects of grief and vengeance on the human soul.  Interweaving past and present, ‘The Secret In Their Eyes’ is a deeply layered mystery that explores the boundaries of justice, and asks the question, how far would you go to right an unfathomable wrong?”

Produced by Mark Johnson (“Rain Man,” “Breaking Bad”) and IM Global President of Production Matt Jackson, the filmmaking team collaborated with Juan José Campanella, director of the Argentinian film upon which this adaptation is based. Campanella serves as executive producer of the film along with IM Global’s Stuart FordJohn Ufland and Jeremiah Samuels.

4 – “Creed”

Ryan Coogler and Michael B. Jordan have re-teamed for boxing drama “Creed,” after winning much acclaim for their first pairing, “Fruitvale Station,” in 2013. 

The “Rocky” spin-off, which also co-stars the original Rocky, Sylvester Stallone, as well as Tessa Thompson, and Phylicia Rashād, will see Rocky Balboa acting as a trainer and mentor to the son of one of his previous opponents, Apollo Creed, as he preps to follow in his father’s footsteps in the ring.

All eyes will probably be very interested in seeing what Coogler does next, so I anticipate that this won’t be a project lacking in press and critical attention when it’s released in November. The month of its release (typically when studios unload their Oscar-worthy material) is also noteworthy. And the Academy seems to love a good boxing drama (see “Rocky,” “Million Dollar Baby,” “Raging Bull,” and “The Fighter” to start). This year will see the release of at least 2 of them that just might be in contention for awards of some kind – the other being Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw” which stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a fighter on the rebound, and Forest Whitaker as his trainer. 

Set for a November 25th, 2015 theatrical release, “Creed’s” second trailer is embedded below:

5 – “Concussion”

It looks like Will Smith is back this year (2015), after a brief break from acting (although he had bit parts in films like “Winter’s Tale,” and the movie his son starred in, “After Earth”). Big Willy returns to leading man roles, with two 2015 features: “Focus” (which was released on February 27), and now, “Concussion,” which has been slotted for a Christmas Day 2015 opening, via Sony Pictures.

The last time Big Willy starred in 2 feature films in the same year, was in 2008 (“Hancock” and “Seven Pounds”) which, in hindsight, signaled the beginning of his hiatus, while he worked primarily behind the camera, producing work for his son and others (although he did return for a 3rd “Men in Black” movie, 4 years later, in 2012).

In “Concussion” Smith will tackle a very topical matter – concussions in the NFL – in a drama/thriller based on the GQ article “Game Brain,” which was written by Jeanne Marie Laskas, and follows Dr. Bennet Omalu, the forensic neuropathologist who single-handedly made the first discovery of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) in a pro football player, raising public awareness for the degenerative disease.

The article tells a whistle-blower tale, humanizing the price paid by professional athletes in impact sports, and the political, cultural and corporate interests that fuel the business of professional sports.

Of course Will Smith stars as Dr. Omalu, under the direction of Peter Landesman, who also penned script.

The project joins other upcoming films on CTE in development, including “Game Time Decision,” Matthew Cherry’s follow-up to his feature film debut, “The Last Fall,” which attracted the acting talents of Isaiah Washington, who will star as a retired football player suffering from the effects of concussions sustained during his professional career, as he tries to reconnect with his estranged family, notably a son following in his father’s footsteps, in danger of a similar kind of future.

The goal of each film is to highlight Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, which is common in individuals with a history of multiple concussions and other forms of head injury; An affliction suffered by dozens of deceased former players, like Junior Seau.

Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Alec Baldwin, Bitsie Tulloch, and Albert Brooks also appear in “Concussion.”

Oscar has eluded Will Smith, despite 2 nominations within a 5-year period. Playing what will likely be a meaty role in Dr Omalu, in what will also probably be a weighty, dramatic, hopefully finely-crafted and produced project, tackling a very topical subject, just might mean a 3rd. And given that Sony has set an X-Mas day release for the film, one can only speculate that the studio thinks it has a contender on its hands.

First trailer below…

6 – “The Hateful Eight”

“Finally, the issue of white supremacy is being talked about and dealt with. And it’s what the movie’s about […] It was already in the script. It was already in the footage we shot. It just happens to be timely right now. We’re not trying to make it timely. It is timely. I love the fact that people are talking and dealing with the institutional racism that has existed in this country and been ignored. I feel like it’s another ’60s moment, where the people themselves had to expose how ugly they were before things could change. I’m hopeful that that’s happening now.”

Words from Quentin Tarantino in an extensive interview he gave to New York magazine a couple of weeks ago.

Tarantino was responding to questions about making the movie “feel contemporary,” speaking to present-day topical matters – specifically, as the interviewer, Lane Brown, states, whether “what’s happening in Baltimore and Ferguson find its way into ‘The Hateful Eight’,” the writer/director’s upcoming new work.

“My movie is about the country being torn apart by [the Civil War],” he said, “and the racial aftermath, six, seven, eight, ten years later. The issue of white supremacy is being talked about and dealt with, and it’s what the movie’s about.”

Since I haven’t seen the movie (no one has yet; it’s not out until December), I can’t really offer any informed commentary on what it does or doesn’t do, or whether it’s as relevant (even if accidentally so), as Tarantino says it is. Although, what I can say is that, looking into my crystal ball, I predict there’ll be several *think pieces* written in response to “The Hateful Eight” when it’s eventually released later this year.

I can’t help but recall the infamous interview (eventually humorously referred to as the “Tantrumtino” interview) he gave to the UK’s Channel 4 anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy, before his last movie, “Django Unchained” was to be released across the pond, in which he essentially took credit for, I’m paraphrasing, starting a dialogue about race in this country, via that specific movie – a claim that was, as you’d expect, ridiculed by some.

The story set up for “Hateful Eight” reads as follows: Set years after the end of the Civil War, a stagecoach hurtles through the wintry Wyoming landscape. In it are bounty hunter John Ruth (Russell) and his fugitive Daisy Domergue (Leigh), who are on their way to the town of Red Rock, where John Ruth, known in these parts as “The Hangman,” will bring Domergue to justice. Along the road, they encounter two strangers: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), a black former union soldier turned infamous bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), a southern renegade who claims to be the town’s new Sheriff. Their progress halted by a blizzard, the 4 (Ruth, Domergue, Warren and Mannix) seek refuge at Minnie’s Haberdashery, a stagecoach stopover on a mountain pass. There, they are greeted not by the proprietor but by 4 unfamiliar faces: Bob (Bichir), who’s taking care of Minnie’s while she’s visiting her mother, is holed up with Oswaldo Mobray (Roth), the hangman of Red Rock, cow-puncher Joe Gage (Madsen), and Confederate General Sanford Smithers (Dern). As the storm overtakes the mountainside stopover, the 8 travelers come to learn they may not make it to Red Rock after all…

The movie’s ensemble cast is led by Samuel L. Jackson as Major Marquis Warren, who’s joined by Kurt Russell as John “The Hangman” Ruth, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Daisy Domergue.

The rest of the cast includes Walton Goggins as Chris Mannix, Demian Bichir as Bob, Tim Roth as Oswaldo Mobray, Michael Madsen as Joe Gage, and Bruce Dern General Sanford Smithers. 

Channing Tatum, James Parks, Zoe Bell, Belinda Owino, Lee Horsley and Craig Stark also feature.

“The Hateful Eight” is produced by Richard N. Gladstein, Stacey Sher and Shannon McIntosh.  

Harvey Weinstein, Bob Weinstein and G. Mac Brown are executive producers, and Coco Francini and William Paul Clark are associate producers.

The 70mm film is set for release in select theaters on Christmas Day.

Watch the first trailer below:

7 – “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

Check out our man John Boyega in the below most recent teaser (a very short teaser) for the upcoming “Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” in which his character, Finn, wields a lightsaber as if ready to do battle… with whom, we’re not entirely certain; but given the shot that precedes it, and what looks like the same location, we can guess that it’s with Kylo Ren, as played by co-star Adam Driver.


A couple of months ago, we finally learned more about Boyega’s character in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (most notably that he’s one of the film’s 3 leads). This is obviously great for the young actor, and for his fans; and I’m glad that he’s not just a a sidekick, or some other peripheral character. He’s actually going to be quite involved in the movie’s overall narrative. 

Also, the mystery that was Lupita Nyong’o’s character isn’t as much of a mystery anymore. As reported on this blog in May, Nyong’o’s character will be computer generated – a pirate named Maz Kanata, who apparently owns a castle where “galactic travelers, smugglers, and other assorted riffraff” gather. Beyond that, the character is still a mystery, in terms of what her specific storyline is, her motivations, where her loyalties lie, her overall contributions to the main narrative, etc. We’ll find out soon enough.

Also of note, director J. J. Abrams shared that he’s thinking about killing off the very controversial Jar Jar Binks character from “The Phantom Menace” – the computer generated bumbling Gungan from the planet Naboo, who drew much attention from the media and fans alike; the character was widely rejected and ridiculed by people who felt that Jar Jar was a racial caricature. Abrams said earlier this year, “I have a thought about putting Jar Jar Binks’s bones in the desert there. I’m serious! Only three people will notice, but they’ll love it.”

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens” bows in theaters on December 18.

8 – “Carter High”

Charles S. Dutton, Vivica A. Fox, David Banner and Pooch Hall all star in the upcoming feature drama “Carter High,” which centers on the 1988 Carter High Cowboys, a formidable high school football team in Texas that overcame adversity to win the Texas State Championship. However, it is what happened after their championship season that rocked the world of sports: 9 of the 18 Division 1 scholarship players went on to commit a string of robberies, and all were apprehended before the start of their freshman college seasons, leading to national headlines, courtroom drama and eventual prison sentences. Their state title was stripped in January 1991, the trophy returned, the record book revised, and a best-seller titled “Friday Night Lights” was born.

In his 1990 best-seller, “Friday Night Lights,” author H.G. Bissinger chronicled Odessa Permian’s 1988 season, which culminated in a 14-9 state semifinal loss to Carter High – a book that some Carter players take some issue with, specifically the 2004 movie adaptation, which they say depicts them as dirty-playing thugs.

Former Carter High School football player Arthur Muhammad is directing “Carter High” from his own script.

Dutton plays the coach of the 1988 Carter High Cowboys. Vivica Fox plays his wife.

Former Dallas Cowboy Greg Ellis is executive producing the film, with Play Now Enterprise and Tycor International Film Company, producing.

The movie has an October 30, 2015 release date, and a trailer as well, which is embedded below:

9 – “In My Father’s House”

The only documentary in on this list, it’s set for an October 9, 2015 release. Aramide Tinubu screened it at the American Black Film Festival over the summer. Below you’ll find her full review which was initially published on this blog in June (you’ll find the film’s trailer afterward):

***

Statistics say that 75% of Black children are born in single-family households, a number that has increased exponentially since the 1960s. Directors Annie Sundberg and Ricki Stern’s surprisingly bold documentary “In My Father’s House” follows Che ‘Rhymefest’ Smith as he embarks on a journey to find his absentee father, a man that he never knew. After buying the house that his father grew up in, Che is suddenly desperate to learn about the man who is responsible for his existence.

At first glance, the subject seems rather tiresome and cliché. Another Black man without a father, Che defied the odds and left behind his rough Chicago neighborhood and found major success in music. (He co-wrote “Jesus Walks” with Kanye West and “Glory” with Common and John Legend.) However, when Che finally does reconnect with his father, he finds him living on the street a few blocks from his home. Brian Tillman is a destitute man; he’s an alcoholic who has been living on the streets of Chicago for the past twenty years. And yet, despite his circumstances, Brian brings light humor and warmth to an otherwise devastating subject matter. He’s charismatic and extremely intelligent, but also somehow broken, either by the cycle of Black oppression or something equally as sinister. 

A Chicago native, it was thrilling to see the real Chi-town on screen. The film showed neighborhoods and places that were familiar to me, it didn’t focus on the glitz and glam of downtown. The documentary felt authentic because it didn’t smooth over the grit and ugliness of the city. Like “Hoop Dreams” (1994) and “Cooley High” (1975) the city wasn’t simply a backdrop in the story. The harsh winters, segregation and violence all honestly played a part in the story. Brian lived and thrived on the streets and the camera was right there with him.  

Rebuilding familial relationships is not an easy task. However, “In My Father’s House” moves in a an extremely surprising direction. Sometimes, it’s other people’s expectations of you that will drive you to do better for yourself. And yet, total sobriety after decades of abuse is not the easiest path to take. Sometimes it’s easier to meet people where they are, and to accept what they are able to bring to the table, rather than placing your own expectations upon them. 

The film at times felt almost too personal to watch. As Che and his wife Donnie struggle to conceive their first child together as a couple, Che turns the camera on himself, confronting his own inadequacies as a father, including his nonexistent relationship with his one-year-old daughter. So often we discuss single mothers and fatherless children in the Black community. Rarely do we have the chance to hear from Black women who are struggling to have babies. Donnie’s story adds an extremely poignant layer to the film, steering it in a far more profound and heartbreaking direction.

A thoroughly powerful film, the story only faltered slightly concerning two points. In the film, Brian talks briefly about his abusive father, but the film fails to dig deeper into his background. It’s obvious that his father did not end up on the streets by accident, but we never get a true explanation as to why he ended up where he did. Likewise, Che’s own relationships with his children are troublesome. His youngest daughter was conceived around the same time he met and married Donnie but his only interactions with the little girl are via child support payments. Though he acknowledges his paternity in the end, he seems reluctant to form a real relationship with the child. It leaves the audience wondering why he seems so much more invested in the unborn child rather than forming a bond with the one he already has.

“In My Father’s House” is a beautifully haunting film about the cycles that we find ourselves in. Its both hilarious and heartbreaking moments really shine light on the affects of absentee parents, drug and alcohol abuse, as well as homelessness in the Black community. The film sugarcoats nothing and instead forces us to take a long, hard, look to ourselves.

***

Here’s the trailer:

10 & 11 –  “Ayanda and the Mechanic” & “Out of My Hand”

Both are ARRAY films, which the company only very recently (last week) announced its acquisitions of. So neither has a release date yet; but we’ve been told that both films will be out some time over the next 3 1/2 months. 

First, South African drama “Ayanda and the Mechanic,” directed by Sara Blecher (“Otelo Burning”), the opening night film of the 36th Durban International Film Festival 2 months ago, and just before that, making its North American premiere at the Los Angeles Film Festival. 

Set in the vibrant, Afropolitan community of Johannesburg’s Yeoville, “Ayanda and the Mechanic” is a coming-of-age story of a 21-year-old “Afro-hipster,” who embarks on a journey of self-discovery, when she has to fight to save her late father’s legacy – a motor repair shop – when it is threatened with closure. She’s thrown into a world of gender stereotypes and abandoned vintage cars once loved, now in need of a young woman’s re-inventive touch to bring them back to life again.

The film stars Fulu Mugovhani and Nigerian actor OC Ukeje, with a star-heavy South African cast that includes Ntathi Moshesh, Kenneth Nkosi, Jafta Mamabola, Thomas Gumede, Sihle Xaba and veteran star of stage and screen, Vanessa Cooke.

This is director Sara Blecher’s follow-up to her critically-acclaimed “Otelo Burning” (covered quite extensively on this blog), which also opened the Durban International Film Festival in 2011. 

And the second film is one that was selected for the main program of the Berlin International Film Festival’s Panorama section in February of this year – Takeshi Fukunaga’s directorial debut, “Out of My Hand,” about a worker on a Liberian rubber plantation who wants to get away from a life overshadowed by civil war, and so moves to New York where he lives a new life as a taxi driver.

The film was made with support from the Liberian government and its Movie Union, who sponsored the shoot, and offered to pay for travel for its Liberian cast and crew, for the New York portion of production. 

The film’s stars (Bishop Blay and Zenobia Kpoto), as well as of its cast for the Liberia portion of the shoot, are played by Liberians, who, for the majority, are acting for the very first time. As the filmmakers said previously: “We consider ourselves very fortunate to have found such an extraordinarily talented cast in Liberia. There are of course few opportunities for actors to practice their craft in the country of Liberia, due to its small, but resiliently passionate film community. Our hope is that this film will shine light on them, and hopefully contribute in whatever small way to bringing still greater opportunities for them to do what they love.”

To help complete the film, a successful Kickstarter campaign raised over $42,000 last year. Its Berlin screening was its world premiere. It also screened at the Los Angeles Film Festival in June, where Brandon Wilson saw it and reviewed for S&A here, calling it simultaneously “of the moment but also timeless.”

Both films will be out this fall; specific release date announcements and distribution platforms are forthcoming.

In the meantime, check out footage from each of them below.

First, a trailer for “Ayanda.”

There’s no official trailer yet for “Out of My Hand” but here’s the filmmaker’s Kickstarter pitch video, which does include footage from the film:

12 – “Reversion”

Last but not least… Titled “Reversion,” and categorized as a sci-fi/thriller, the film stars Aja Naomi King (“How to Get Away with Murder”) as Sophie Clé, “a delighted user of the Oubli, a wisp of high-tech jewelry that wraps behind the ear and uses neuroscience to help its users experience their most joyful memories as if they were happening for the first time. In addition to being the head of marketing for the company that makes this revolutionary memory-enhancing wearable device, she is also the daughter of its inventor, Jack Clé (Colm Feore). Sophie’s most joyful memory is the last day she saw her mother alive, fifteen years earlier. But on the eve of the Oubli’s worldwide launch, a stranger named Isa (Jeanette Samano) kidnaps Sophie, setting off a chain of events that remind us all, you can’t escape what you can’t forget.”

The film is directed by Jose Nestor Marquez (his second feature film directorial effort) from a script he co-wrote with Elissa Matsueda. 

Gary Dourdan and Jeanette Samano round out the FLUENCY Productions film’s key cast.

An October 9, 2015 theatrical opening is set for New York (Empire 25), Los Angeles (Universal Citywalk) and Chicago, with a national roll-out to follow.

No trailer yet, which is a surprise, considering that the film’s premiere date is less than a month away. But we do have some still images to share, all embedded within this post. I’m sure a trailer will surface shortly, and when that happens, I’ll update this post.

Until then check out a few pics from the film…


And that’s all folks! 

Of these 11 films, which are you most looking forward to seeing? 

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