Covering Cinema From All Across The African Diaspora

New York African Diaspora Film Festival

Certainly one of the more worthwhile black film festivals in the country. You're always guaranteed to find a wide variety of films from every segment of the Diaspora - both old and new. This year is no different, with around 100 films on the festival's schedule, from just about every continent, occupying its entire 2-week run to screen them all - November 28 to December 14.

Of particular interest to me:
  • The Prince of Broadway
  • An Ethiopian film titled 13 Months of Sunshine
  • Disappearing Voices - The Decline of Black Talk Radio
  • A Cameroonian Film called Paris A Tout Prix (Paris or Nothing)
  • Charles Burnetts's Namibia epic - Namibia: The Struggle for Liberation
  • Sexe, Gombo Et Beurre Sale (Sex, Okra and Salted Butter) - a French film by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun, who previously brought us the critically acclaimed 2006 film, Daratt
Go to the NYADFF website for a list of every film screening, accompanied by any relevant information (synopsis, dates, times, etc...).

Show your support! We say we want change; we cry out for it; now, here's yet another opportunity for all of us to affect it.

I'll certainly be there for some of the films, and will share my thoughts on my podcast.

Nigeria's Nollywood - Future "Oscar-Winning" Industry

Forget about trying to be an "Oscar-winning industry" and instead just focus on producing higher caliber projects. This need to seek approval from the west - essentially emulating style and even substance - shouldn't be the ultimate goal, and possibly hinders any opportunities Nollywood has to find an identity that's entirely its own - one that other industries will be forced to acknowledge and even reckon with.

However, it's great that the flurry of worldwide attention Nollywood has received in recent years has led to a "great deal of soul-searching" amongst those in the industry, and that there is a growing desire to evolve - possibly ensuring that, sooner than later, the kind of simplistic, sub-par productions that have almost always dominated the market, will become the exception. reports the following:
Nigeria's success with its Nollywood film industry is leading to a great deal of soul-searching. The country's censorship board NFVB has attempted to licence film distributors and is making pronouncements about how Nollywood films should reflect "a more positive Nigerian Image internationally". Kiszo DuFay learnt his film-making skills at the Hollywood Film Institute but he returned to Nigeria two years ago to make films in his home country and to launch the African Roving Film School as a way of raising skills locally. Russell Southwood spoke to him last week.

Q: What's your company Taradome Entertainment Group do?

It used to be a distribution company but now we do film productions. We want to tell African stories that are done well and we have various projects in development at different stages.

Q: What are the projects?

We've got three projects that we're hoping to realise starting next year. We've finished scripting two of them. One is Lagos Jumping, a buddy-style movie done in an African way. It deals with drug dealing via South Africa and narrated in the American style.

The second project is The Drive which is about three African doctors from different parts of the continent who are friends. They attend a medical conference and miss their flight but they have to get back to attend the wedding of one of them. They have to drive to the next country to get another flight and it's about the obstacles they encounter. It looks at the different prejudices there are about being different Africans.

The third one is an experimental project using Shakespeare's Othello to make a psychological thriller and we've not finished scripting it yet. It's a different twist on the relationship between Iago and Othello. We're trying to do all of them on internationally costed budgets and we're looking internationally as well as locally for the best possible persons to act and make them.

Q: How did the African Roving Film School come about?

It was born out of necessity. When I came back to do production, the skills needed were grossly wanting. I was trained in LA and I thought how can I have an impact on the industry? If you train someone, they'll never lose that.

Q: Where do you think the Nigerian film industry will be in five years time?

It will have produced an Oscar-winning product with great quality and talent. We have have the creative talent: the writers, the actors and the musicians. We haven't had the proper platform to showcase their talent. These are the kind of people we'd like to go after.
You can read the entire interview here: NOLLYWOOD WANTS AN OSCAR

Tyler Perry/WGA Addendum - Forthcoming Obama Movie

Was just over at Nikke Finke's website (Deadline Hollywood Daily) and read a lengthy piece on the WGA/Tyler Perry settlement. She's been covering this thing like a hawk.

Here is a bit of news I thought worth sharing:
The writer/actor/director/producer/author/playwright has been persona non grata after the Writers Guild filed charges of unfair labor practices with the National Labor Relations Board on October 2, accusing Perry of axing more than half his writing staff on the TBS sitcom House Of Payne because of their union activity, and bargaining in bad faith with the Hollywood guild. Dozens upon dozens of the biggest producer, writer and showrunner names in scripted television even went so far as to sign an open letter bashing him for his anti-WGA activity. And good thing Barack Obama declined Perry’s invitation to the grand opening of his Tyler Perry Studios production facility in Atlanta this month. Had he not, the Democrat endorsed by many labor unions would have been met by picket lines thrown up by the Writers Guild of America and supported by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. (Perry is one of the Democratic presidential candidate’s staunchest supporters and prized campaigners and even forthcoming film biographer...)
WHAT? Wait a minute... uh... "forthcoming film biographer???" Did I miss something? When was this initially announced? Further research revealed the following:
He (Tyler Perry) also has announced plans to make an Obama film. Perry told the press he is already writing, and plans to direct and produce as soon as late this year, a love story inspired by the relationship between Obama and his wife Michelle. (Perry has said he dreams of casting Denzel Washington and Angela Bassett in the lead roles.) It's not known if the Obamas are cooperating with the film, but the idea occurred to Perry after he heard their story when he had dinner with the couple as well as from his close pal, Oprah Winfrey, who is Obama's biggest showbiz supporter but whose own union track record is one of the worst [...] Perry told reporters about the Obamas, "They just inspired this amazing story. It’s a love story with a little political twist... It’s called For the Love of You and it’s about his love for his woman. It’s going to be amazing."
Ok, so it's not really about the Obamas, but rather a story inspired by their relationship? Right? If that's the case, then I suppose it's a little less of a cause for concern... not that I'll be rushing to go see it either way.

Also, I had no idea Obama was invited to TP's studio grand opening in Atlanta. In hindsight, it was probably a smart move to decline the invitation.

Stay tuned...

Sembene Doc Gets Funding

The Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program announced today the 20 film projects awarded financial and creative support from the Sundance Documentary Fund.

One of the projects is a documentary from filmmakers Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman, titled Sembene: Revolutionary Artist, about the late Senegalese "father of African cinema" Ousmane Sembene, who died in June of 2007. The film is described as "the story of independent filmmaker, Senegal's Ousmane Sembene, providing an alternate history of contemporary Africa and a window into world cinema."

I'm not aware of any existing documentaries on Sembene's life and work, so this is a welcomed effort, and I certainly hope it's fully realized.

If you haven't already, check out some of his work - starting with his first, the 1966 film Black Girl (La Noire De).

The full list of projects awarded Sundance support is available on the indieWIRE blog.

Here are the first 6 minutes of Black Girl:

'Payne,' 'Browns' Writers And Tyler Perry Reach WGA Deal

Who said the NAACP has become irrelevant?

Oh, and, damn Tyler Perry! They weren't asking for much - healthcare benefits, pensions and residuals. Glad an agreement was finally reached. Although I wonder how tensioned-filled the air will be once everyone returns to work.

Lastly, I can only hope that the writing on both shows improves with these new contracts.
Writers on Tyler Perry's "House of Payne" and "Meet the Browns" received an early Thanksgiving treat.

The WGA and Perry announced Wednesday an agreement was reached in the five-month negotiations over having the guild rep writers on the two shows.

Details of the agreement were not immediately released. It was the last outstanding union agreement for Perry and his studio, which had previously brokered deals with IATSE, SAG, DGA and others.

According to a statement, the NAACP Hollywood Bureau and its executive director Vic Bulluck played an integral part in the two sides reaching a deal.

"We are pleased to have come to a resolution with the WGA and thank the NAACP for their support during negotiations," Perry said. "We look forward to many years working with the talented writers who are members of the Guild."
In October, the WGA announced that four writers involved with an organizing effort for the showrunner's programs were fired. The guild claimed the problems began in April when the writers -- Kellie Griffin, Christopher Moore, Teri Brown-Jackson and Lamont Ferrell -- were among seven scribes seeking to negotiate a first WGA contact with Perry's production company, which is also called House of Payne. The agreement would give the scribes health-care benefits, pensions and residuals.
"The NAACP is a staunch advocate for workers rights, and for nearly 100 years has fought for greater minority representation and inclusion in Hollywood," said NAACP president and CEO Benjamin Jealous. "We recognize the unique and important influence writers have in our society. The NAACP will continue to work with the WGA to make sure their rights are protected and that all the networks and studios provide greater opportunity for minority writers."


Hoop Dreams 2

YAWN...! Read on and see why:
Lionsgate today announced that it has acquired worldwide distribution rights from St. V, LLC to the documentary More Than a Game. Directed by Kristopher Belman and produced by Harvey Mason Jr. and Belman, More Than a Game tells the true story of five talented young basketball players, including future NBA superstar LeBron James, and their remarkable journey from Akron, Ohio to the national high school championship series. It's a remarkable true-life coming of age story about friendship and loyalty in the face of great adversity. Coached by a charismatic but inexperienced player's father, and led by future NBA superstar LeBron James, the "Fab Five's" improbable nine-year journey leads them from a decrepit inner-city gym to the doorstep of a national high school championship.

Lionsgate in association with Harvey Mason Media and Interscope Records plans to release More Than a Game in Fall 2009. The film made its world premiere at the 2008 Toronto Film Festival, where the audience responded with a five-minute standing ovation. Lionsgate will be joined in marketing More Than a Game by the NBA and by LeBron James' brand partners, State Farm®, Nike and Coca-Cola.
Like I said... yawn...! I've had it with these so-called "uplifting" docu-dramas. Enough, please!

Bob Johnson Planning New TV Network

It will be called, the Urban channel.

*Collective groan*

My immediate reaction was, why create a new network now, especially after selling BET to Viacom in 2000, a move that was heavily criticized by many in the black community, labeling Johnson the proverbial "sellout?" TV-One, the other black cable TV network has yet to find itself; and the Black Family Channel is now defunct. And I hear BET is floundering. Clearly, black TV networks have yet to prove they belong.

Without seeing a list of potential programming it will carry, I can't imagine what this Urban Television Network will look, feel and sound like. I can only hope that it's not more of the same.

It seems completely unnecessary, and maybe even a risky investment in this climate. But Johnson is a savvy business man, so I assume he wouldn't be creating the channel if he didn't think there was a market for what he plans to offer (whatever that might be), and thus, money to be made. From where I'm sitting, I don't see it... unless it's something he hopes to create and then sell for a tidy profit eventually - meaning, this isn't necessarily about creating a strong, lasting brand, but rather a short term investment to cash out of later.

We'll see...

A thought: maybe "black" is no longer a niche, and it's time we put an end to race-based solutions to problems such as the dearth of programming featuring non-white talent in front and behind the camera. Maybe the wiser investment would be to focus in on a non-race specific niche, and exploit it, and attract an appreciative multicultural audience.

Here's the article:
Robert L. Johnson, the billionaire founder of the Black Entertainment Television, is looking to get back into television is a big way by programming at least one channel on the Ion Media's stations under unique "share-time" licenses.

Like BET, the programming would be aimed at black viewers.

According to FCC filings, Ion and Johnson are forming Urban Television LLC, a venture owned by Johnson (51 percent) and Ion (49 percent), and asking the FCC to grant Urban share-time licenses that would enable Urban to broadcast its programming on a digital channel of Ion stations in 42 markets.

"Under the terms of the share-time licenses, Urban would be authorized to operate on the same channels as the Ion stations on a shared basis," the filings say.

Johnson and Ion contend that the share-time license would entitle the Urban channel to must carry in all markets.


Sundance 2009 Leaks

Holy shit! Black Dynamite gets into Sundance!

I mentioned it during monday's Podcast.

Other notable mentions:

Brooklyn’s Finest - Training Day director Antoine Fuqua’s cop tale about three unconnected Brooklyn cops who wind up at the same deadly location after enduring vastly different career paths. The film stars Don Cheadle, Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke, Wesley Snipes, Ellen Barkin, Jesse Williams and Lili Taylor.

Living in Brooklyn, I heard so much about this, and the ex-transit worker turned screenwriter's sudden rise to stardom. Director Antoine Fuqua's last directorial effort was 2007's Shooter (Mark Wahlberg) which I didn't see. Box office receipts show a successful run, earning over $95 million on a $60 million budget. Critics were split however.

Warning: Red-band trailer for Black Dynamite below...