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Predictions: Black Films That Might Make Their Debuts At The 2013 Sundance Film Festival – Part 1

Predictions: Black Films That Might Make Their Debuts At The 2013 Sundance Film Festival - Part 1

How fast time flies…! The 2013 Sundance Film Festival is almost upon us – just shy of 2 months away actually. The first film festival of each year that many filmmakers work to get their films into; most don’t make the short list, and for those that do, it could mean the beginning of a extra special year.

What film might be next year’s Beasts Of The Southern Wild? What director might make history like Ava DuVernay did this year, becoming the first black woman director to win the coveted Best Director award? What trippy, experimental features will challenge and astonish us like Terence Nance’s An Oversimplification Of Her Beauty? Might there be any wonderful documentaries on the *black experience* globally (historical, present, or future) that will enlighten us – like The Black Power Mixtape from last year’s festival, and Slavery By Another Name from this year’s lineup?

And there are still more questions I could ask… but I won’t.

If past years are any indication, the festival usually starts to unveil its lineup during the last week of November or the first week of December (the 2012 lineup was revealed on November 30 last year), and I’ll assume that those filmmakers who submitted their films for selection consideration likely already know whether they’re in or not, at this point. Although no one’s telling…

Not that I’ve heard anything directly, but I’ll go out on a limb and say that there are lots of excited filmmakers booking their January trips right now (or who have already booked their January trips); although there are likely also lots (a LOT more actually) who might be moping about, feeling dejected from the rejection. And to those folks I say, there are other festivals! 

In film history, there have been films that were rejected by the Sundance Film Festival, that went onto premiere at other prominent festivals, did very well, were picked up for traditional theatrical distribution, and the filmmakers went on to have illustrious careers – or, at least, they were able to continue working as filmmakers.

I’m singing that old Frank Sinatra tune in my head right now, that goes something like this… “I said that’s life, and as funny as it may seem, Some people get their kicks, Stompin’ on a dream; But I don’t let it, let it get me down, ‘Cause this fine ol’ world it keeps spinning around…

In anticipation of the festival’s upcoming lineup announcement, as I’ve done every year for the last 2, I thought I’d take a look at films by black filmmakers, or films with stories that center on the lives of black people (whether made by black filmmakers or not), that might, MIGHT be included on that official selection list, when it drops likely by the end of this week.

Again, this is mostly speculation; I don’t have any insider info. I did talk to some of the filmmakers about this specifically, and while a few were forthcoming, this is all really just conjecture on my part… conjecture based on available evidence.

Might we see a continuation of the last 2 years at the festival, which saw a good number of “black films” screen at the festival? Or will Sundance 2013 be an unfortunately “color-free” year?

I’m not clairvoyant, but what I do have is Shadow And Act’s extensive database of films and filmmakers we’ve written about in the last 3 1/2 years, as well as IMDBGoogle search, email, and social networking sites to help compile the list that starts below.

As the title of this post states, this is just PART 1 of the series; each part will have about 5 films mentioned, in a series that will continue daily, starting today, until I’d say, Thursday, or I run out of titles. I can tell you that, as of right now, I have a list of 20 films that could make the cut; they all won’t obviously, but there’s the potential – based on available info.

Again, I’m doing 5 at a time, so don’t post any comments asking me why I didn’t include this film, or that film – at least, not until I’ve posted every film I have. Filmmakers can think of this as an opportunity to alert me to their projects (preferably via email at, if they feel they belong on the list.

In absolutely no specific order, here are the first 5 films:

1- NewlyweedsA strong cast leads writer/director Shaka King’s feature film debut, described by the filmmaker as a gritty, stoner romantic dramedy that stars Amari Cheatom and newcomer Trae Harris, in addition to Isiah WhitlockColman Domingo, Tonya Pinkins, Diane NealAdrian Martinez and Hassan Johnson.

Its synopsis reads: Spray painted on the side of Lyle’s van is a gargantuan, ejaculating, penis. This is what his community thinks of him. He is a repo man. His sole companion is his girlfriend Nina, an unemployed, capricious, dreamer who lives with her overbearing mother. When mom smells reefer on Nina’s towel she gives her the boot, right into Lyle’s apartment. But what should be a match made in stoner heaven turns into a love triangle gone awry when Nina starts to suspect that Lyle needs weeds more than he needs her.

Newlyweeds was a 2011 IFP Emerging Narrative program selection, as well as a finalist for NYU’s prestigious Columbus/Vague Award, and is on The Purple List (NYU Film’s counterpart to Hollywood’s Black List). It was also a Rooftop Films 2012 Filmmakers’ Fund grantee.

2- Dorian MissickYaya DaCostaGbenga Akinnagbe and Darien Sills-Evans star in Neil Drumming’s feature film directorial debut titled Big Words.

The Brooklyn-set film film centers on members of a once-promising hip-hop group, now in their late 30’s, struggling with regret, disappointment, and change on Election Night 2008 – when Obama was elected.

A little background on Neil Drumming… in case you were wondering; a former staff writer and editor at Entertainment Weekly, he’s also penned pieces for WiredThe Washington Post,VibeRolling StoneEssence and Vanity Fair. In 2011, he completed the short film Hi Res, which starred Jevon McFerrin and Nadia Kiyatkina

3-  Isaiah Washington stars as John Allen, and Tequan Richmond, best known for TV’s Everybody Hates Chris, as Lee Boyd Malvo, in the appropriately titled Blue Capricedirected by Alexandre Moors – the New York-based film, music-video and commercial director. You’ve likely seen some of his work, as he’s directed videos for the likes of Kanye West and Talib Kweli.

The film is based on the story of the real-life Beltway (Washington D.C. area) sniper attacks of 2002. 10 people were killed over a 3 week period in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. 

It was later learned that the rampage was perpetrated by one man, John Allen Muhammad, and one minor, Lee Boyd Malvo, driving a blue 1990 Chevrolet Caprice sedan, and had apparently begun their killing spree a month prior, with murders and robberies in Louisiana and Alabama.

Of all the films on today’s list of 5, it’s the only one that we’ve seen footage from, via an early teaser that surfaced about a year ago. Blue Caprice was selected for the for the eighth annual IFP Narrative Labs over the summer, as well as for Independent Film Week here in NYC in the early fall.

4- Nefertite Nguvu’s In The Morning – a  feature which was shot in just 9 days earlier this year! And, repeating what I’ve already said about the project, with the talent involved, both in front of and behind the camera, I’m looking forward to seeing what this looks, sounds and feels like. 

The film is described as follows: In The Morning is a film about love and transitions. It examines the complexities of love from the perspective of three women in the midst of some hard won self-transformation. It’s a mood piece that weaves together three stories about personal growth and the power of choice and action.

The film’s ensemble cast includes French/Burkinabe actor Jacky IdoEmayatzy CorinealdiHoji FortunaKim HillJoNell Kennedy, De’adre AzizaNuma Perrier, and newcomers C.J. Lindsey, and Alzo Slade.

The question with this one is whether it met Sundance’s submissions deadline; as of November 16, it was in its final stages of post-production. And another round of fundraising was expected, to put necessary finishing touches on the film; but that hasn’t stopped past films from eventually making the lineup. The film may not be entirely ready for screening by the Sundance submission deadline, but a roughcut that impresses could be enough to get the nod, with expectation that the filmmakers will have a print ready to screen for audiences by the time the festival comes around in January.

5- And the 5th film on today’s list is… Andrew Dosunmu’s first post-Restless City project, Ma’George – a project previously workshopped at the Sundance Labs in 2005, and was a recipient of a major grant from the Ford Foundation.

It’s actually a film that the secretive Mr Dosunmu wanted to make before Restless City, but, at the time, didn’t have the necessary funds to do so.

The talent alone that’s involved in Ma’George, both in front of and behing the camera, should excite you: there’s cinematographer extraordinaire Bradford Young, who also shot Andrew’s Restless CityDee Rees’ Pariah, and Ava DuVernay’s Middle Of Nowhere.

And then there’s the film’s starring cast: Danai Gurira plays the lead character (a woman torn between tradition and a new life in the USA, struggling to please her husband and give him the son that will carry on his family’s legacy). Now if that name sounds familiar to you, it should, given that she plays the sword-wielding Michonne in the AMC’s hit zombie series The Walking Dead; secondly, there’s frequent Jim Jarmusch collaborator Isaach De Bankole – a man with a face that’s its own character; we’ve written about him several times on this site, and I hope most of you recognize the name. And last, but certainly not least, Yaya Dacosta (I doubt she needs an intro here), rounds out the cast.

The film was also 1 of 15 selected to recieve a total of $200,000 in grants this year, as part of the Cinereach Project at the Sundance Institute.

And the fact that Andrew is a Sundance alum, makes the selection of Ma’George for 2013, almost a no-brainer. BUT, I certainly could be wrong.

Alright – that’s today’s first list of 5 films that might be announced as selections for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, at the end of this week.

Tomorrow, I’ll return with another 5!

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