This year’s Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City covers everything from black swan theory to arranged marriage and Southern gothic tradition. The festival opens September 14 with Nelson George’s and Diane Paragas' "Brooklyn Boheme" and closes September 18 with Alrick Brown’s Sundance World Cinema Audience award winner "KinyaRwanda." Below we’ve compiled a list of eight must-see films at this year’s festival. Check them out.
Yelling to the Sky
Logline: As her family falls apart, 17-year-old Sweetness O'Hara is left to fend for herself in a neighborhood where her survival is uncertain.
Why you should see it: Victoria Mahoney’s feature debut takes us on a wild, evocative ride through adolescence and family woes. Starring Zoe Kravitz as Sweetness O’ Hara, "Yelling to the Sky" premiered at the 2011 Berlin Film Festival and Shadow and Act's Tambay Obensen likens it to Miles Davis’ “Bitches Brew.” Mahoney says of working with Kravitz, "She inspired me with her longing to expand. ‘Yelling to the Sky’ was her first time carrying a film and my first time directing a film. Which presented specific challenges, joy, fear, excitement, respect and care. I dare any filmmaker not to go soft and quiet, at the thought of the first actor, who said, 'I trust you.' "
Black Swan Theory
Logline: A psychiatric casualty of war recently returned to the US, Sonya's imagined sense of normalcy crumbles around her; she must hunt or become the hunted.
Why you should see it: This is heart-pounding suspense that navigates uncharted territory by highlighting the experience of a black female soldier. Writer/director Nikyatu Jusu says, “We rarely, if ever, hear about the experiences of black women who have fought for this country and I thought it would be interesting to explore such a character in the context of an attempted return to normalcy–when normalcy is no longer definable.”
Logline: An Africa immigrant survives on the fringes of New York City where music is his passion, life is a hustle and falling in love is his greatest risk.
Why you should see it: The stunning cinematography by DP Bradford Young had Sundance attendees singing its praises last January. And director Andrew Dosunmu delivers a distinctly original story that’s not usually told from the lens of those who live it. He says, “I believe it is crucial to expose and define the immigrant experience as one of both struggle and ordinariness. We are not other, or foreign... but part of the whole, and in fact, very ordinary.” Dosunmu united his extensive backgrounds in photography, film and fashion into a singular vision.
Logline: During the Rwandan genocide, some crossed lines of hatred to protect each other.
Why you should see it: It tackles the massive, often controversial subject of the Rwandan genocide with intimacy and specificity, weaving several interconnected stories of people who risked their life to save others. It also captured the World Cinema Audience Award at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. Writer/director Alrick Brown says, “We hope that audiences approach the issues brought up in the film from a very personal perspective. Rather than look at Rwanda, Bosnia, Sudan as ‘the other,’ to see the same humanity and capacity for violence within ourselves. And then ultimately understand that forgiveness, love is a part of how we all move forward in this world.” The film was recently acquired by the African American Film Festival Releasing Movement and Brown will embark on a theatrical release in the fall.
Logline: A repressed woman does away with her domineering father and conjures a demon to aid her in creating the man of her dreams, but soon finds herself in a waking nightmare.
Why you should see it: Bree Newsome’s thesis film is reminiscent of "The Color Purple" and "Eve’s Bayou" in its period portrayal of Southern gothic tradition and folklore. Newsome says "Wake" was inspired by Southern storytelling in general, and in particular by a story her grandmother told her about an ancestor. In capturing the world of 1930’s North Carolina, Newsome collaborated with a costumer who understood the distinct culture of the characters, and after a difficult search, found a location. “By total happenstance, it looked exactly like the house I'd imagined, from the expansive front porch down to the worn wooden frame on the screen door.”
Logline: In a country where love is not left to chance, Divya and Neha are educated beautiful women who prefer to take the arranged marriage route, despite being daughters of love marriages.
Why you should see it: The documentary takes an alternative perspective, showing two women who actually want to have arranged marriages. This vantage point give viewers a rare glimpse into the complex interworkings of arranged unions, and shows the clash between modernity, culture, and age-old prejudices. The film was directed by Soniya Kirpalani, a filmmaker and social activist who was born and raised in India and lives in Dubai.
Crazy beats strong every time
Logline: An African-American 20-something finds his Nigerian-immigrant stepfather passed out drunk in their apartment building hallway and is manipulated by a friend into murdering him.
Why you should see it: Well, the logline alone makes you want to know how writer/director Moon Molson executes this. According to Molson’s director’s statement, the film is an urban neo-noir that examines violence in black youth as “a dangerous code of conduct founded on terminal machismo values.” The crux of the film lies in whether the main character Markees succumbs to this code or walks away from it.
Men in Love
Logline: Following a bitter break-up, Leo's best friend takes him out to meet a new woman. But after a steamy and unexpected encounter with a stranger he's forced to face what most men fear: they don't realize they're in love with the right woman until it's too late.
Why you should see it: Check out the trailer to experience how visually intoxicating the slow dance scene is. Writer/director and Sundance Director’s Lab fellow Keith Davis embarks on a cinematic journey to ponder an age-old question, using the specificity of main character Leo’s internal confusion. Inspired by the Jacques Prévert quote: "I recognize happiness by the sound it makes when it leaves,” Davis says, “I found his words both sad and true as my own initial highs and lows in relationships (and my friends) suggested to me most men just don't know when they're in love... sure as they mature they learn to recognize it but it takes a while to give themselves over and sometimes unfortunately, once they do decide then it might just be too late.”
For more information, visit: Urbanworld Film Festival