Tag Archives: Sundance

18Feb/21

Sundance Film Festival 2021: Favorite Black Short Films and the Virtual Experience

Sundance Film Festival

The Sundance Film Festival 2021 presented its audience with not only some great new projects but also new experiences virtually. This year’s Black creatives gave us amazing content and compelling stories. Many of the projects had me sitting in my apartment in silence and reflecting on the stories being told. Below are a list of some of my favorite short films from the Festival and my interactive WebXR experience with the project Traveling the Interstitium with Octavia Butler.

Favorite Short Black Films of the Sundance Film Festival

Bruiser

Synopsis: After his father gets into a fight at a bowling alley, Darious begins to investigate the limitations of his own manhood.

Artist: Miles Warren is a filmmaker born and raised in New York City. Since graduating from Wesleyan University, he has directed various short films, music videos, and commercial content. 

My Thoughts: How do we define masculinity and what influences our definition of it? The answer to these questions is formulated from the time we are born until we leave this earth. Bruiser gives the perspective of a young man, attempting to define masculinity after he witnesses his father fighting. I loved how the filmmaker shows how quickly the father’s words and actions impact Darious. There are also lessons the father learns about the importance of his influences. Bruiser is a short I recommend watching.  

Five Tiger

Synopsis: A God-fearing woman in present-day South Africa finds herself in a transactional relationship as she tries to support her sick husband and daughter.

Artist: Nomawonga Khumalo is a writer/director from Johannesburg, South Africa. Five Tiger is her narrative film debut. Her feature film, The Bursary, will head into production in the second half of 2021.

My thoughts: This is another film that touches on masculinity in addition to gender roles, morality, faith, and forgiveness. So much is told in this short that I was really interested to see what happens with the lead character and what led to her husband’s sickness. The most surprising part of the film is the reveal of who is involved in the transactional relationship. I really felt for the lead character as she juggled so much and fought internally to provide for her family.

Lizard | Short Film Grand Jury Prize, Presented by Southwest  

Synopsis: Juwon, an eight-year-old girl with an ability to sense danger, gets ejected from Sunday school service. She unwittingly witnesses the underbelly in and around a megachurch in Lagos.

Artist: Akinola Davies Jr.’s work is situated between West Africa and the United Kingdom, as he identifies as a member of the global diaspora, being part of both worlds. His work navigates the collision of colonial and imperial traditions, as well as a return to Indigenous narratives. 

My Thoughts: This film reminded me of the childhood experiences and questions about the church. A journey with Juwon from the classroom to the church parking lot had me thinking, “ ]What is this little girl doing and why she is spending her church money on junk food?” Although she misses class exploring the church ground, she learns a lesson about cheating the church and God. This experience will for sure influence the moral compass of Juwon. What happens after the conclusion of the film? I wish the filmmaker would show us because it looked like there was going to be some real action. 

Black Bodies by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

Synopsis: SA Black man comes face-to-face with the realities of being Black in the twenty-first century.

Artist: Fyffe-Marshall is a director, screenwriter, and social activist whose work includes the award-winning short film, Haven (2018), and the two-part short film, Black Bodies and Marathon (2020). 

My Thoughts: This speaks volumes about present-day racism and expresses the frustrations of the Black community. I sat in silence and could feel every bit of the powerful poems by Komi Olaf and Donisha Prendergast. A speakeasy piece, imperative art, and perspective all in one, Black Bodies ends on a note we are all too familiar with. To learn that Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s film was inspired by a viral racial incident makes her work even more compelling. The filmmaker/activist spreading the word of equality while chipping away at injustice one film and project at a time.  

A Concerto is a Conversation

Synopsis: A virtuoso jazz pianist and film composer tracks his family’s lineage through his 91-year-old grandfather from Jim Crow Florida to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.

Artists: Ben Proudfoot and Kris Bowers. Proudfoot, an award-winning short-documentary director and entrepreneur, is the creative force behind Breakwater Studios. Bowers is a Grammy-nominated, Emmy Award-winning, and Juilliard-educated pianist and composer who creates genre-defying music that pays homage to his jazz roots—with inflections of alternative and R&B influences. 

My Thoughts: I really loved the conversation between Kris Bowers and his grandfather about their family history. Kris Bowers’s love for music and his grandfather’s love for his dry cleaning business, have similar success stories. I liked how the film displays the love and bond between the two men. It’s no surprise the short film added Ava Duvernay as executive producer and is an Oscar contender.

Want to watch this beautifully crafted short documentary click the link and watch below.

New Frontier: The Interstitium with Octavia Butler

The Sundance Film Festival, although virtual, still provided audiences with personal and interactive ways to experience the festival. COVID has prevented many from traveling to Salt Lake City but, with the virtual experience, audiences interacted with others via an avatar and watched films. I loved participating in the New Frontier world and hope it returns next year because it allows those who can’t travel to experience the Sundance film festival.

The Octavia Butler virtual experience was one of the biggest highlights of the Sundance Film Festival. I loved being able to see the project “Pluto” by one of my favorite artists, Sophia Nahli Allison. Fresh off her Netflix documentary, “A Love Song For Natasha”, the artist takes the audience on an expedition from death to birth with varying imagery and an original poem as a voice-over. The text, “it’s not dying that hurts it’s coming back to life that’s painful,” displays at the beginning of the project and is the question the woman asks, what seems to be, a higher being. I loved this work as I felt like I was hovering through time and existence trying to answer the questions of reincarnation. As always, this project is worth the experience and I look forward to Allison’s future work.

Secret Garden, by Stephanie Dinkins (not the song featuring El Debarge, Barry White, and Christopher Williams), allows the participant to walk around a garden where oral histories spanning generations of African American women live. I was intrigued by the stories and the ability to see the expression displayed by each woman. It was like going to a concert with multiple stages and listening to women tell stories ranging from surviving an enslaved boat to growing up on a farm in the 1920s.

Idris Brewster’s virtual experience had me getting GTA vibes, exploring an island first-person view. Each island had its own unique environment and soundtrack featuring Black artists. It’s a music and art lover’s playground. I visited the island three times to see if the atmosphere of the island changed, nothing changed but the time of day changed. The only thing that would’ve made the experience better is if I would have had the VR goggles to fully enjoy the experience – but that was my fault. Maybe I should use my stimulus check to get some VR equipment.

Terence Nance’s piece reminds me of the screensavers we had back in the late ’90s and early 2000s. The type of art that mold’s itself to the vibration of sound. In this case, it’s the sound of people’s voices that alter both the color and environment of the piece. To experience what I mean you can go here.

Sundance Film Festival 2021 was a great success in my opinion, not only was there a lot of Black art representation but the opportunity for many around the world to experience the festival virtual. The movie drive-ins are great to keep safe and within the experience. I really hope more people participate next year to see something more than what’s on the streaming services. Plus you can have your own snacks…legally.

26Oct/19

Exclusive: Harriet Director, Kasi Lemmons, Discusses Film, Eve’s Bayou and Candy Man

Harriet director Kasi Lemmons and actress Cynthia Erivo (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

This year, director and writer, Kasi Lemmons, will bring one of the most heroic and inspiring Black woman figures to the screen, Harriet Tubman.  The film, Harriet, stars Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr,. and Jonelle Monae. It is a biopic about the life of Harriet Tubman from her first escape to freedom to being the conductor of the Underground Railroad. The film premiere was held on Oct. 22, 2019 in Washington, D.C. at the Smithsonian African American Musem. Taji Mag was able to speak with the director, Kasi Lemmons, about her creative process and development of the film. 

Dapper Dr Feel (DDF): What was the importance of making this film and will this film impact the future of storytelling from the perspective of Black people? 

Kasi Lemmons ( KL): As filmmakers, we always ask ourselves, what are the great characters? I write from the characters all the time. Harriet Tubman was one of the greatest figures who has lived. So for me, the fact that no feature film has ever been made about Harriet and she is just such an important person for Americans, especially African American women… This hero needs to be brought to the world, a hero to me on the level of Mother Teresa and Gandhi. She’s a real superhero.

In terms of our future as storytellers, the more we can tell compelling stories that people relate to, the better. There are so many women directors right now and there are so many stories to tell, it’s always been a matter of is the industry ready to accept these stories. Now we are in a period where we can have a Black person as the lead and hero in a movie and bring characters like Harriet to the screen.   

(Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What makes this film different from the other films that are about Black slavery? 

(KL): Harriet, to me, has always been a story about freedom. If I were to ask you to tell me the story of Harriet Tubman, you would say that she escaped from slavery and then she went back to liberate others. To me, those were like the verbs, that is the Harriet Tubman story. 

(DDF): What was your reaction when you found out that you were doing this film? 

(KL): My heart started racing, they just kind of sprung it on me and I didn’t have time to think about it, which was good in a way because I went to a meeting and the producer said it in the room. They surprised me because I thought I was just going to a general meeting. I was able to check my pulse to measure my own reaction and, as I am experiencing it, I am thinking, “your heart is really racing, I think you are very interested in this!” 

(DDF): You have mentioned in one of your articles that this feeling of excitement is like falling in love. Can you explain?

(KL): Find a good film to work on is always like falling in love to me. There’s always a process of courtship; you’re getting to be friends and then all a sudden you fall in love. With this film, I was really intrigued by it from the very beginning. The love started in my research; she is an incredible presence in my life. 

Lemmons with her husband Vondie Curtis Hall and son. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): What was your approach to creating the premonition scenes that Harriet experienced? 

(KL): I went through a lot of stages with it, then boiled it down to its most simple form, because I felt like they were like flashes of inspiration. They took many different forms, she had dreams, trances, sometimes just flashes of premonitions, and seizures. So I started to think about what seizures felt like and tried to make a shocking type of image. 

(DDF): You did some very creative things to create the premonition scene with the various colors used. How did that come about? 

(KL): When I looked up seizures and really tried to read people’s experiences of what seizures looked like to them, I would find the word monochromatic over and over again. I thought that is what I was trying to make it look like. 

(DDF): “What is a man to with a woman touched by God” is a line in the script that stood out to me. How did you come up with it? 

(KL): It’s interesting, that is a scene that I wrote the night before we shot it. The producers and executive producers at Focus Features, wanted me to try and describe what it felt like to Harriet after her husband re-married. So we imagined a scene with Marie where she would tell her what it felt like to her. I put off writing it because it was a hurdle to me – how do you write what God feels like? Then I started to explore what it would it feel like to Harriet, I wrote it the night before the shoot and they (Cynthia Erivo and Janelle Monáe) did it in two takes. 

Janelle Monáe as Marie Buchanon. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): In the film, we see the evolution of the heroic woman icon, how did you go about the character development from Minty to Harriet? 

(KS): There is a huge arc that we felt in her character, she almost becomes different people. From an ordinary woman into this almost mythic side of herself, she names herself and she is apart of that. So we named them, Minty, Harriet, and Moses. Everybody participated in the character development; Me, Cynthia, and costume designer, Paul Tazewell.  We created her and it was a group effort to give you that arc. From Minty and her dress to when she becomes Harriet in her mission costume, it’s a big arc. 

(DDF): What advice would you give to your younger self at the time you made Eve’s Bayou? 

(KL): In some ways, I don’t know if I would give myself any advice. Now, where I am in life, I like the way that things unfolded. Take for instance, after I made Eve’s Bayou, I didn’t know if I was going to make another movie but that was a wonderful thing to think at that moment because I was going for broke. So I put everything into it. I’ve had ups and downs in my career. If I could talk myself through those, I would tell myself that you are going to have ups and downs but if you keep going, you get to travel the world, you’ll meet extraordinary people, you’ll work with some of the most talented people and you’ll have a great time. 

(DDF): You are also doing a CJ Madam Walker series, what brought you to do that project? 

(KL): I have been infatuated with Madam CJ Walker for 20 years. Literally 20 years ago, I was thinking, “You know, it would be dope if we did something about Madam CJ Walker!” So when that came about, I was super excited about being involved in it. Then, Octavia Spencer, she’s perfect for the role. It’s a story that has been interesting for a long time, she is the first self-made Black woman millionaire and you know hair is so special to us black women, we’ve got our own thing. I had a really good time working it. 

Kasi Lemmons on set. (Photo courtesy of Focus Features)

(DDF): Do you hope to bring more important black women figures to film or tv? Any ideas? 

(KL): Oh, I am sure I will do more films about important Black women figures. Do I have any in mind…maybe? (laughs) 

(DDF): You were in the horror films Candyman and Silence of the Lambs.  Have you had any input or help in the development of the new Candyman film? 

(KL): I have contributed to Candyman already in that I mentor the director for the film, Nia DaCosta, since her first Sundance film. She’s great!   

(DDF):  Will you make your own horror film?

(KL): There is something that I have in mind but I have to be careful because I am extremely sensitive. I have to protect my energy a lot and be careful of what I bring into my life. When I bring in truth, beauty, and righteousness, it’s a good feeling, so I am afraid and that’s the truth. 

The film Harriet was a great film with a lot of exploration of the characters’ bravery, selflessness, spiritually, and intelligence. It stands out as a story about the perseverance of the human spirit against discrimination. Creatively, it is a departure from the usual ‘slave cry’ moments that have become rhetoric in most of the blockbuster slave themed movies and I am thankful for that. Go see Harriet November 1st. 

Harriet

Directed by: Kasi Lemmons

Starring: Cynthia Erivo, Leslie Odom Jr., and Janelle Monae.