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August 2004
Film Festival: 2004 Urbanworld Film Festival Wrap-Up

2004 Urbanworld Film Festival Wrap-Up

by Niija Kuykendall

With the lack of funding and support for diverse, original, multicultural, "urban" films in mainstream Hollywood, the 2004 Urbanworld Film Festival was a refreshing look at the original work being independently produced in the urban community. With its mixture of Hollywood and independent, entertainment and political, domestic and international, the festival has evolved into a comprehensive, melting pot of the best of our creative work.

The festival's line up included such buzzed about, surefire hits as Hair Show, Hero and The Seat Filler. First-time director Leslie Small's Hair Show is a light hearted look at the world of black hair competitions. Mo'Nique stars as Peaches, a hair stylist from Baltimore who arrives in LA for her estranged sister's hair salon reunion. When Angela finds out Mo'Nique needs thousands of dollars to pay the IRS while a rival hair salon is sabotaging Angela, the sisters decide to join together and compete in the annual hair show to solve their problems. As usual, Mo'Nique is the most humorous and refreshing aspect of a film that could have been not too original, especially with all the hair salon/barbershop films buzzing around Hollywood. The director also does a good job at exhibiting the dramatic dynamics of a hair show. Esteemed Chinese director Zhang Yimou's Hero is an amazing historical saga telling the story of the first emperor of China. As with his previous films, Ju Dou and Raise the Red Lantern, Yimou uses beautiful cinematography, color contrast and special affects to make this film an engrossing adventure for the audience. The story is also a well-developed, fascinating tale of ancient China.

An enjoyable experience at the festival was the Closing night  film, The Seat Filler, a romantic comedy starring Duane Martin and Destiny's Child songstress Kelly Rowland. Martin is Derrick, a cash strapped law school graduate studying for the bar. When his best friend convinces him to be a seat filler at award shows for extra money, Derrick draws a lucky card and sits next to the beautiful superstar Jhnelle. The pair make an instant connection and embark on a romantic adventure when Derrick lies to Jhnelle and makes his identity a bit more successful. The film turned out to be a sweet, fresh romantic comedy that deserves accolades because of its lack of the regular black romantic comedy players. Duane Martin is funny and good-natured, his side-kick comedian DeRay Davis is HILARIOUS and Kelly Rowland makes an excellent big screen debut with her down-to-earth, sweet portrayal of Jhnelle.

The festival also exhibited excellent, diverse array of documentaries including, Negroes With Guns and Afro-Punk. Sandra Dickson and Churchill Roberts' Negroes With Guns is a comprehensive, engaging portrayal of civil rights figure Robert Williams. Williams' philosophy of armed self-defense as opposed to non-violent protest during the civil rights movement was a basic foundation for movements such as the Black Panther movement. Afro-Punk is a fascinating exploration of race identity within the punk rock scene. Director James Spooner grabs the audience with his portraits of four African American young folks who have dedicated their lives to the punk rock lifestyle. An entertaining yet political statement on the dynamics of racial identity in the arts of this country, this film is definitely a must-see.

The short film choices were wide, varied and pretty good in their production quality and story development. Alrick Brown's The Adventures of SuperNigger is an interesting, fantastical take on the issue of police brutality, using a superhero to tell the story of cases such as Amadou Diallo's. A study of relationships and divorce, Rosalyn Williams' Allergic to Nuts is a beautiful glimpse at the difficulties of life after marriage. Director Christopher Scott Cherot gives us two offerings with Andre Royo's Big Scene and The Male Groupie. The former stars Andre Royo as himself on his first acting gig in a major film and the hilarious results of dealing with an ego-tripping star. The Male Groupie is a humorous yet tragic look at the antics of a hip hop star's childhood friend turned entourage member turned male groupie.  Overall, this was an excellent film festival for film lovers and the general audience looking to be entertained.

2004 Urbanworld Film Festival Winners

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