Films at Sundance 2013 Featuring and Directed By Black TalentPosted by Wilson Morales
January 16, 2013
Source: The Blackhouse Foundation
At the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, several films featuring and directed by Black talent went on achieve greater heights such as Ava DuVenay taking home the award for Best Director for Middle of Nowhere and becoming the first African American to do so. ‘Beasts of the Southern Wild’ emerged as the Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic winner. The film would later move on to win several awards at other festivals and receive multiple Academy Awards nominations, including one for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (Quvenzhane Wallis).
Here’s a preview of several films that are directed by or starring Black talent.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete – U.S.A. (Director George Tillman, Jr., Screenwriter-Michael Starrbury)
During a sweltering summer in New York City, 14-year-old Mister’s hard-living mother is apprehended by the police, leaving the boy and nine-year-old Pete alone to forage for food while dodging child protective services and the destructive scenarios of the Brooklyn projects. Faced with more than any child can be expected to bear, the resourceful Mister nevertheless feels he is an unstoppable force against seemingly unmovable obstacles. But what really keeps the pair in the survival game is much more Mister’s vulnerability than his larger-than-life attitude.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete is a beautifully observed and tremendously moving film about salvation through friendship and the way transformation sometimes can happen just by holding on long enough. Director George Tillman, Jr. draws indelible performances from a fantastic cast, which includes Jennifer Hudson, Anthony Mackie, Jeffrey Wright, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje, and Jordin Sparks, all led by Skylan Brooks in a stunning breakout performance as Mister.
Stoker –U.S.A (Director: Park Chan Wook, Screenwriter- Wentworth Miller)
After India’s father dies in an auto accident, her Uncle Charlie, whom she never knew existed, comes to live with her and her emotionally unstable mother, Evelyn. Soon after his arrival, India begins to suspect this mysterious, charming man has disturbing ulterior motives, but instead of feeling outrage or horror, the friendless girl becomes increasingly infatuated with him.
Visionary filmmaker Park Chan-Wook, whose Old Boy and Three…Extremes both played at the Sundance Film Festival in 2005, returns with another macabre story, one that marks his first venture into English-language cinema. Armed with an inspired script, a world-class cast, and a wickedly playful nature, he subverts audience expectations by employing delightful visual trickery and placing a magnet over the moral compass of the film, giving complex and sympathetic motivations for the characters’ violent actions. Featuring a gasp-inducing performance from Nicole Kidman, Stoker is a haunting, Hitchcockian tale as unsettling as it is stunning. Cast includes Mia Wasikowska, Matthew Goode, Dermot Mulroney, Jacki Weaver, Nicole Kidman.
The Way, Way Back – U.S.A (Director: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash, Screenwriter: Nat Faxon, Jim Rash)
The Way, Way Back tells the story of 14-year-old Duncan’s awkward, funny, and sometimes painful summer vacation with his mother, Pam, her overbearing boyfriend, Trent, and his daughter, Steph. Although Duncan has a tough time fitting in and finding his place, he does find an unlikely ally and mentor in Owen, a carefree employee at the local water park where Duncan gets a job. Over the course of the summer, as his mother drifts further away, Duncan—with encouragement from Owen—begins to open up and come into his own.
Mining the caverns of human vulnerability for the humor necessary to make life bearable, first-time directors Nat Faxon and Jim Rash have transformed their terrific screenplay into a bittersweet comedy that is both charming and insightful. Boasting an extraordinary ensemble of some of the most revered actors working today, as well as a young actor destined to join their ranks, The Way, Way Back brims with nostalgia for the magical time of adolescence, as well as the great coming-of-age films of the 1980s that captured its wide-eyed confusion and wonder. Cast includes Steve Carell, Toni Collette, Allison Janney, Sam Rockwell, Maya Rudolph, Liam James
US DOCUMENTARY COMPETITION
American Promise – U.S.A. (Director Joe Brewster, Michèle Stephenson)
In 1999, filmmakers Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson turned the camera on themselves and began filming their five-year-old son, Idris, and his best friend, Seun, as they started kindergarten at the prestigious Dalton School just as the private institution was committing to diversify its student body. Their cameras continued to follow both families for another 12 years as the paths of the two boys diverged—one continued private school while the other pursued a very different route through the public education system.
American Promise is an epic and groundbreaking documentary charged with the hope that every child can reach his or her full potential and contribute to a better future for our country. It calls into question commonly held assumptions about educational access and what factors really influence academic performance. Stephenson and Brewster deliver a rare, intimate, and emotional portrait of black middle-class family life, humanizing the unique journey of African-American boys as they face the real-life hurdles society poses for young men of color, inside and outside the classroom.
Dirty Wars – U.S.A – (Director: Richard Rowley, Screenwriters: Jeremy Scahill, David Riker)
It’s the dirty little secret of the War on Terror: all bets are off, and almost anything goes. We have fundamentally changed the rules of the game and the rules of engagement. Prior to 9/11, it was customary for America to sound a formal declaration of war on a given country before attacking. Today drone strikes, night raids, and U.S. government–condoned torture occur in hidden corners across the globe, generating unprecedented civilian casualties. Investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill traces the rise of the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), the most secret and elite fighting force in U.S. history, exposing covert operations carried out by men who do not exist on paper and will never appear before Congress. No target is off-limits for the JSOC “kill list,” even if the person is a U.S. citizen.
Director Richard Rowley takes us on a chilling ride with fearless whistle-blower Scahill. Dirty Wars is a battle cry for the soul and conscience of an America few of us know exists
Twenty Feet from Stardom – U.S.A. (Director-Morgan Neville)
What would a pop song be without the riffs, refrains, and harmonies of its backup vocalists? Although these singers are usually relegated to the margins, and few, if any, become household names, their work has defined countless songs that remain in our hearts and collective consciousness. Twenty Feet from Stardom juxtaposes interviews with industry legends (Bruce Springsteen, Bette Midler, and others) and the relative unknowns who support them like Darlene Love, Merry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, and Judith Hill as they illuminate the art of melding their own distinct voices with lead vocals and reveal their desires for careers as solo artists.
Twenty Feet from Stardom traces the backup singers’ history—from those Phil Spector–produced pop tunes and soul-inspired British Explosion acts (Joe Cocker, the Rolling Stones) of the 1960s, to their reversal of fortune when the recording industry changed in the 1990s, and into today. Filmmaker Morgan Neville’s unprecedented look at the moving personal journeys of these normally uncelebrated artists pays tribute to their indelible role in popular music.
Gideon’s Army – U.S.A. (Director Dawn Porter)
In 1963, the landmark Supreme Court decision Gideon v. Wainwright guaranteed all defendants facing imprisonment the right to a lawyer. Now, every year millions of Americans facing trial rely on fewer than 15,000 public defenders, and the country’s justice system hangs in the balance. Gideon’s Army confronts this crisis head-on, tracking a group of young southern public defenders hell-bent on protecting the sanctity of human liberty.
Taut, visceral filmmaking plunges us into the unbelievably demanding lives of three fledgling public defenders in Georgia and Mississippi. Not only are they juggling hundreds of cases independently, but their offices don’t have adequate resources, and their salaries barely cover personal expenses—including six-figure law-school debts.
As all three lawyers harness ingenuity, perseverance, and adrenaline to fight for their indigent clients, we wonder: How long can they keep working in a constant state of emergency? Will they find the moral support to sustain this higher calling? And if not, what happens to our democracy?
God Loves Uganda – U.S.A. (Director- Roger Ross Williams)
A battle rages in East Africa, where crosses replace guns and shouts of prayer roar louder than missiles. American evangelical Christians have chosen Uganda, with Africa’s youngest and most vulnerable population, as their ground zero in a battle for the soul of a continent. American missionaries and religious leaders are working with African pastors in a radical campaign to eradicate sin through the most extreme measures. The stakes are nothing less than life and death.
Filmmaker Roger Ross Williams exposes the missionary movement in Uganda as an outgrowth of Africa’s colonialist past and a twenty-first century crusade to recreate a continent of people in the image and likeness of America’s most extreme fundamentalists. Williams captures vérité footage so shocking that viewers may be squirming in their seats. Masterfully crafted and astonishingly provocative, God Loves Uganda may be the most terrifying film of the year.
US Dramatic Competition
Ain’t Them Bodies Saints – U.S.A (Director- David Lowery, Screenwriter- David Lowery)
Bob Muldoon and Ruth Guthrie, an impassioned young outlaw couple on an extended crime spree, are finally apprehended by lawmen after a shootout in the Texas hills. Although Ruth wounds a local officer, Bob takes the blame. But four years later, Bob escapes from prison and sets out to find Ruth and their daughter, born during his incarceration.
The barren landscapes of David Lowery’s poetic feature evoke the mythology of westerns and saturate the dramatic space with fatalism and an aching sense of loss. Aided by powerfully restrained performances by Casey Affleck, Rooney Mara, and Ben Foster, Lowery incorporates an unnerving tension into the film, teetering it at the edge of violence.
The beautiful, irreconcilable dilemma of the story is that Ruth—compelled by the responsibilities of motherhood and her evolving relationship with the deputy she shot—remains haunted by her intense feelings for Bob. Each of them longs for some form of peace. Ironically, it’s Bob, the unrepentant criminal trapped in the romantic image of a bygone past, who is driven by an almost righteous sense of clarity. Following in the footsteps of Badlands and Bonnie and Clyde, Lowery’s humanism transcends the genre. Cinematography done by Middle of Nowhere’s Bradford Young
Fruitvale – U.S.A. (Director-Ryan Coogler, Screenwriter Ryan Coogler)
Oscar Grant was a 22-year-old Bay Area resident who loved his friends, was generous to strangers, and had a hard time telling the truth to the mother of his beautiful daughter. He was scared and courageous and charming and raw, and as human as the community he was part of. That community paid attention to him, shouted on his behalf, and filmed him with their cell phones when BART officers, who were strong, intimidated, and acting in the way they thought they were supposed to behave around people like Oscar, shot him in cold blood at the Fruitvale subway stop on New Year’s Day in 2009.
Director Ryan Coogler makes an extraordinary directorial debut with this soulful account of the real-life event that horrified the nation. Featuring radiant performances by Melonie Diaz and Michael B. Jordan as Grant, a young man whose eyes were an open window into his soul, Fruitvale offers a barometer reading on the state of humanity in American society today. Cast: Michael B. Jordan, Octavia Spencer, Melonie Diaz, Ahna O’Reilly, Kevin Durand, Chad Michael
Mother of George -U.S.A. (Director-Andrew Dosunmu, Screenwriter-Darci Picoult)
At long last, handsome Ayodele Balogun, owner of a small Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, will wed his beautiful fiancée, Adenike, and they will start a new life together in the United States. Their traditional Yoruba wedding culminates in a ceremony where Adenike is named for her yet-to-be-conceived son, George. But as the months pass without pregnancy, Ma George is torn between her Yoruba culture and her new life in America as she faces uncomfortable and unfamiliar choices in her struggle to save her marriage.
Director Andrew Dosunmu returns to the Sundance Film Festival (his film, Restless City, screened in 2011) with this astonishingly radiant portrait of Nigerian immigrant family life. Featuring soulful performances by Isaach De Bankolé and Danai Gurira, and opulent cinematography by the award-winning Bradford Young, Mother of George is a singular cinematic accomplishment that elevates this illustration of the complicated challenges of African immigrant life to a place of beauty and reverence. Cast: Isaach De, Bankolé, Danai Gurira, Tony Okungbowa, Yaya, Alafia, Bukky, Ajayi.
WORLD CINEMA DOCUMENTARY
Fire in the Blood – India (Director -Dylan Mohan Gray, Screenwriters- Dylan Mohan Gray)
In 1996, the development of antiretroviral drug therapies may not have cured AIDS, but the breakthrough made the disease treatable—if patients could afford the hefty price tag. For millions in the developing world, the cost kept essential medicines out of reach and meant they would continue to die. Hope came in the form of low-cost generic drugs manufactured in India and elsewhere, but pharmaceutical companies—favoring patents over patients and profits over the prevention of unnecessary deaths—threatened legal action against any company that dared circumvent their control of the market. The struggle to overcome this inconceivably greedy blockade—with literally life or death stakes—is at the heart of Dylan Mohan Gray’s absorbing documentary.
Gray uses the response to the AIDS crisis in Africa to reveal the power of the drug companies and the impact of their lobby on the federal government. The implications of their ability to effectively deny critical treatment based on economic inequities are more far reaching than any single disease.
The Square (El Midan) – Egypt/U.S.A. (Director-Jehane Noujaim)
In February 2011, Egyptians—particularly young ones—showed the world the way people demanding change can drive an entire nation to transformation. The result was a profound movement toward democracy that is still evolving across the Arab world.
The Square, a new film by Jehane Noujaim (Control Room; Rafea: Solar Mama), looks at the hard realities faced day-to-day by people working to build Egypt’s new democracy. Catapulting us into the action spread across 2011 and 2012, the film provides a kaleidoscopic, visceral experience of the struggle. Cairo’s Tahrir Square is the heart and soul of the film, which follows several young activists. Armed with values, determination, music, humor, an abundance of social media, and sheer obstinacy, they know that the thorny path to democracy only began with Hosni Mubarek’s fall. The life-and-death struggle between the people and the power of the state is still playing out.
The Stuart Hall Project – United Kingdom (Director-John Akomfrah)
A person’s culture is something that is often described as fixed or defined and rooted in a particular region, nation, or state. Stuart Hall, one of the most preeminent intellectuals on the Left in Britain, updates this definition as he eloquently theorizes that cultural identity is fluid—always morphing and stretching toward possibility but also constantly experiencing nostalgia for a past that can never be revisited.
Filmmaker John Akomfrah uses the rich and complex mood created by Miles Davis’s trumpet to root a masterful tapestry of newly filmed material, archival imagery, excerpts from television programs, home movies, and family photographs to create this lyrical and emotionally powerful portrait of the life and philosophy of this influential theorist. Like a fine scotch, The Stuart Hall Project is smooth, complicated, and euphorically pleasing. It taps into a singular intelligence to extract the tools we need to make sense of our lives in the modern world
Blue Caprice – U.S.A. (Director Alexandre Moors, Screenwriters –R.F. I. Porto, Alexandre Moors)
Blue Caprice is inspired by the Beltway sniper attacks during which two men, John Muhammed and Lee Malvo, conducted a siege of terror on the Washington, D.C., area. Their method: a series of random shootings in public places. Their weapon: a sniper rifle, fired from the trunk of a blue Chevrolet Caprice. The film investigates the genesis of those horrific events from the point of view of the two shooters, whose distorted father-son relationship facilitated their long and bloody journey across America.
Marked by captivating performances, lyrical camerawork, and a fractured structure, Blue Caprice documents the mechanisms that lead its subjects to embrace physical violence. Eschewing the conventional approach familiar to the genre, director Alexandre Moors utilizes a formidable cinematic lexicon to concoct a harrowing psychological exploration of the two cold-blooded killers that will make a forceful impact on audiences that remains long after the lights come up. Cast: Isaiah Washington, Tequan Richmond, Joey Lauren Adams, Tim Blake Nelson, Cassandra Freeman, Leo Fitzpatrick.
Milkshake – U.S.A. (Director David Andalman, Screenwriters-David Andalman, Mariko Munro)
While O. J. Simpson stands trial and a big beef brews between Tupac and Biggie, Al Jolson’s great-great-grandson Jolie Jolson reaches for a dream he will never achieve. What this white, well-to-do, magnet high school student wants with all his being is to be like the cool kids from the Maple Avenue projects. He wants to be a gangsta like Henrietta, his pregnant-with-someone-else’s-baby girlfriend on the down-low. So when Jolie makes the basketball team, he jumps for joy. In his mind, he has finally made it; he is practically black.
David Andalman’s clever dark comedy Milkshake takes aim at teen sex and racial identity during a time when Netscape was on the rise and the definition of cool morphed from big hair and skinny ties to gang tattoos and baggy pants. Acutely observed and hilariously performed, Andalman’s debut feature sheds light on a mentality that has now gone epidemic. Cast: Tyler Ross, Shareeka Epps, Georgia Ford, Eshan Bay, Leo Fitzpatrick, Danny Burstein.
Newlyweeds -U .S.A. (Director Shaka King Screenwriter, Shaka King)
Lyle and Nina are in love—with each other and with getting high, but not necessarily in that order. Wafting through aimless days in New York smoking weed whenever possible, Lyle makes his living repossessing rented furniture from the destitute before heading home to be with his girl. Though caught in a loop of self-medication, Nina yearns for more. When mistakes in judgment escalate out of control, the happy couple find the life they have built is quickly evaporating, and the hole they have dug for themselves is growing beyond repair.
Director Shaka King’s feature debut provokes a thoughtful meditation on the habits that hinder modern relationships, navigating through the perilous and comedic with a natural ease and restraint. Craftily luring the stoner-comedy into a meaningful examination of dependency in all its forms, King confronts a community that refuses to grow up and asks the audience what it really means to be an adult. Cast: Amari Cheatom, Trae Harris, Tone Tank, Colman Domingo, Isiah Whitlock Jr., Adrian Martinez
ANITA – U.S.A. (Director: Freida Mock)
On October 11, 1991, a poised young law professor sent shock waves through the nation as she sat before the Senate Judiciary Committee intrepidly testifying to the lewd behavior of a Supreme Court nominee. Twenty years later, Academy Award winner and Sundance veteran Freida Mock (Wrestling with Angels screened at the 2006 Festival) brings us ANITA, which crystallizes the sexist power dynamics in the room that day and unravels the impact of that lightning-rod moment on Anita Hill’s life and the broader discussion of gender inequality in America.
Contemporary interviews with Hill and her allies and unsettling archival footage reveal the way her attempt to report confidentially on Clarence Thomas’s conduct quickly became a perverse and vicious public attack on her character and credibility. With Thomas playing the race card and a bevy of male senators lobbing ideological bombs, Hill’s hearing became a charade of justice. Yet her audacity to speak truth detonated a national debate about sexual harassment that revolutionized gender politics. As girls and women express what Hill’s sacrifice has meant to them, we’re moved to shout, “We believe you, Anita.”
E.m-bed.de/d and Augmented Real – U.S.A – (Director Yung Jake)
Rap artist Yung Jake is Net art incarnate, flowing lyrics about tweet culture, datamoshing, hashtags, and memes as he blows up on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram in his HTML5 music video, E.m-bed.de/d. This rapper drops unexpectedly into your browser sessions, streams into Festival screenings, and pops out of walls and magazines in augmented-reality music videos. Experience an IRL sighting at the live performances at New Frontier.
Boneshaker – U.S.A – (Director, Screenwriter – Frances Bodomo).
An African family, lost in America, travels to a Louisiana church to find a cure for its problem child.
Datamosh – U.S.A – (Director – Yung Jake)
Rap artist Yung Jake is Net art incarnate, flowing lyrics about tweet culture, datamoshing, hashtags, and memes as he blows up on Twitter, YouTube, Tumblr, and Instagram in his HTML5 music video, E.m-bed.de/d. This rapper drops unexpectedly into your browser sessions, streams into Festival screenings, and pops out of walls and magazines inaugmented-reality music videos. (D, S, C)
Jonah – Tanzania /United Kingdom – (Director: Kibwe Tavares, Screenwriter: Jack Thorne)
When two young men photograph a gigantic fish leaping from the sea, their small town becomes a tourist attraction in this story about the old and the new. (S,C)
Iyeza -South Africa ( Director, Screenwriter – Kudzanai Chiurai)
An allegory of the Last Supper depicting the establishment of a new nation-state, Kudzanai Chiurai’s Iyeza explores the African condition by juxtaposing the past and the present of a continent in the grip of violent civil wars.
Black Metal – U.S.A- (Director: Kat Chandler, Screenwriter: Kat Chandler)
After a career spent mining his music from the shadow, one fan creates a chain reaction for the lead singer of a black metal band. (S,C)
30% (Women and Politics in Sierra Leone) -United Kingdom/Sierra Leone. (Director: Anna Cady, Screenwriters: Em Cooper, Anna Cady, Jenny Cuffe)
Oil-painted animation brings to life the stories of three powerful women in post conflict Sierra Leone, revealing the violence and corruption women face as they fight for fairer representation in governing their country. (S)
Record/Play – U.S.A– (Director: Jesse Atlas, Screenwriters: Aaron Wolfe, Jesse Atlas)
War, fate, and a broken Walkman transcend time and space in this sci-fi love story. (D, S)
The Roper – U.S.A. – (Director: Ewan McNicol and Anna Sandilands co-directed).
A black man with hip-hop and zydeco roots hard-grafts through the local, all-white rodeo circuits in the Deep South as he dreams of competing in the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas. (S)
Until The Quiet Comes – U.S.A. – (Director: Kahlil Joseph)
Shot in the Nickerson Gardens housing projects in Watts, Los Angeles, this film deals with themes of violence, camaraderie, and spirituality through the lens of magical realism. (D, S, C)
Hell Baby – U.S.A. – (Directors, Screenwriters- Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon)
Expectant couple Jack and Vanessa move into the most haunted fixer-upper in New Orleans—a house with a deadly demonic curse. When things soon spiral out of control, it’ll take the help of Vanessa’s Wiccan sister, a nosey “neighbor” who lives in their crawl space, two local detectives, and a pair of elite Vatican exorcists to save them—or is it already too late?
Revered as two of the minds behind the hilarious sketch television shows Reno 911!, The State, and Viva Variety and the screenwriters of big-budget comedies like the Night at the Museum films, comedians Thomas Lennon and Robert Ben Garant finally unleash their codirectorial debut. Featuring a seasoned comedic ensemble, including scene stealers Leslie Bibb and Keegan Michael Key, this raucous horror spoof sics the devilish humor of its creators on the most sacred of genre conventions: the haunted house, an exorcism, and one pissy demon child. Cast includes Rob Corddry, Leslie Bibb, Keegan Michael Key, Riki Lindhome, Paul Scheer, Rob Huebel.