By Ricardo Hazell / [email protected]

*The Urbanworld Film Festival, sponsored by BET Networks and HBO, kicked in the door on its 15th anniversary at New York City’s AMC 34th St. theater.  As usual, EURweb.com was on the scene with coverage.  This year’s incredible slate of film’s were lead by such offerings as ‘Kinyarwanda,’ a film that takes a look at the people, instead of the horror, that surrounded the Rwanda genocide.

Then there was “Life, Love, Soul,” a film that was award with what may be the Urbanworld Film Festival’s most coveted honor, the Audience Award.  This year’s film offerings were fewer in number than in years past, but the quality was top notch and true to the tradition of excellence that Urbanworld has forged over the past decade and a half.

The red carpet was brimming with more A-list celebrity talent than ever before as Chris Rock, Spike Lee, 50 cent, Lynn Whitfield and an incredible gathering of talented directors and actors showed up to pay homage to the world’s premiere film festival geared toward showcasing the works of minority minds and themes.

The first individual with whom I was able to speak was a gentleman by the name of Jas Anderson. Recently he appeared in the urban thriller “Brooklyn’s Finest.”  This time around he had a major part in the short film “The Tombs.”  The gracious fellow had this to say about his role in the cinematic short “The Tombs”, which premiered at Urbanworld.

“My most recent role is in a film called “The Tombs”,” said Anderson.  “It is a character that is a ghost, he’s an apparition.  He’s a figment of a man’s imagination.  The story is about a guy’s journey through the tombs, and if you’ve ever been to New York you know what the tombs is. It’s just a great film.  Jody Lamar is just an excellent actor who took the time out to get to know me.   He kind of gave me the room to let me do what I wanted to do.  It was like the tango, and that’s how it should be.”

Jas is also working on a new television show called “2-2″ as Mo, a recurring character.  In addition to stories by brothers and sisters who are more aligned with American urban sensibilities, the Urbanworld Film Festival also had quite a few offerings made by, or about, individuals and subject matters with a decidedly international slant.

While on the red carpet I noticed a rather unassuming gentleman by the name of Aravind Ragupathi.  He looked more like a computer programmer, with his thin-frame glasses and Men’s Warehouse suit jacket, than someone in the film industry.

Upon approaching him I found out he was the producer and cinematographer for a film titled “Wolf Call,” about the lynching of Emmet Til. This fascinated me because, though he currently resides in Durham, North  Carolina, Mr. Ragupathi is originally from India and is interested in one of our most important stories and a gruesome chapter in American history.

“I’m originally from India and it’s interesting.  A lot of us hear a lot about African American stories, the culture and also the history,” said Aravind. “I met Mike Wiley, one of our co-creators whose already an expert on the subject. Once we started talking about Emmett Til’s story I became very fascinated and felt we needed to make this into a movie.

The international theme on the red carpet continued as Erin Li, a diminutive young lady with a big mind for film, approached. Her offering was “LA Coffin School”, which tells the story of an elderly Korean woman who has to start over after immigrating to the United States.

“My name is Erin Li, I’m the director, writer and producer of ‘LA Coffin School’,” said Li. “The idea actually came about after I read a blog entry that I had come across.  It was about an actual coffin academy in South Korea. Basically, as a student you have to reenact your own funeral to help them gain a new perspective on life. A lot of the students usually are going through some kind of trauma they’re trying to get over. Its almost like a self-help program in a way, very dark self help program.  The film is about an elderly grandmother who gets kicked out of her son’s home.  She’s a recent immigrant so she doesn’t know a lot of people and she doesn’t have access to a lot of resources.   To cope with this trauma she decides to enroll in a coffin academy.”

The international theme prominent throughout the film festival, and represented within each of the UWFF’s categories, was most powerfully illustrated with the film “Kinyarwanda”, winner of the World Audience Award at the Sundance Film Festival. This powerfully written film takes place with the Rwandan genocide as the backdrop.

Director Aldrick Brown really did his thing.

“I’m the writer/director of ‘Kinyarwanda’ and it’s a film about the Rwandan genocide,” Brown told EURweb.com. “However, we’ve taken a very different approach. We’ve taken a sort of ‘Pulp Fiction’ approach where a lot of different stories are intertwined to give the audience an idea of the life, the people and their love using the genocide as a back drop. Even in the midst of all the horrific things that were going on, life still went on.   People still had to live, there were still love affairs and we just try to focus on some of the humanity so we can humanize Rwandans instead of casting them off as evil or whatever.”

If you want to know more about “Kinyarwanda,” long on to www.kinyarwandafilm.com. We know some of our readership are sick of hearing the term real talk, but real talk?  You have to see this one.  Out of all the offerings

I would imagine this cinematic offering had to be the most difficult to write.  An incredible work of artistry.

“Love, Life, Love” is a selection by director Noel Calloway.  Unfortunately, I was working the red carpet and could not catch the screening.  According to media colleagues who were able to see the film, and the buzz that permeated the air as the audience exited, “Love, Life, Love” was one of the best films in the festival.  I had the chance to speak with media personality Egypt Sherrod who, to my surprise, is said to have really “put it down” in her role as the Aunt of the film’s protagonist, Roosevelt.

“It’s a little known fact that I went acting school before I started my career in radio and television and life has a way of bring us full circle sometimes,” Sherrod told EURweb.com. “It’s always been a passion of mine. I’ve done a lot of stage plays, I’ve even traveled to do a play.  But because of my television and radio commitments I really haven’t been allowed to do a lot of films, but I did have the opportunity to be a part of ‘Life, Love, Soul’ and thankfully director Noel Calloway believed in me and he was willing to think outside of the box.

In addition to Sherrod, “Love, Life, Soul” also stars a young brother by the name of Jamie Hector, the film’s protagonist. We saw him working the red carpet with the ill dark shades, the tapered pseudo fade and the suit and tie.  We had to step to him just for putting it down like that.

“I play the lead Roosevelt in the movie ‘Love, Life, Soul’,” said Hector. “My experience was phenomenal. I can’t emphasize how much I enjoyed myself while creating this film.  I learned a lot about myself.  There’s a great moral to the story and I can’t wait for people to see it.   Roosevelt is going through a lot of trials and tribulations.  I don’t really want to give away the movie but, in a nutshell, it’s about him losing close family members, moving with other family members and gaining his life back.”

As things began to slow down, and the celebrities slowed from a flood to a trickle on the red  carpet, I checked my watch and eyed the exit.  Reporters were waiting in order to get some pictures of Zoe Kravitz, daughter of Lenny Kravitz. I’m glad I did stay as well.  Just as the 3rd yawn escaped my lips a ebony-toned beauty turned the corner. She stars alongside Kravitz, Gabourey Sidibe and Tim Blake Nelson in the film “Yelling to the Sky”.

“Hello, my name is Yolanda Ross and I am in the film ‘Yelling to the Sky’,” said Ross.  “I play Maureen O’Hara.  She’s the mother of Zoe Kravitz’s character Sweetness O’hara. (Maureen) is a mentally unstable woman dealing with mental and verbal abuse from her husband. We are dealing two mixed race children in the film and it tells the story of how we deal with each other. There’s a disconnect in the household that’s seen in the film, but we end up coming together in the end.”

“Yelling at the Sky” is certainly not for the faint of heart, but the artistry amid realness embodied in the script, and allowed the manifest on the big screen, makes “Yelling to the Sky” another one worth a look if you can catch.

The field of 59 films was packed in 3 short days between September 14 through September 17, and we were privileged to see the great filmmakers of the future get their feet wet. Among this year’s UWFF award winners were “Mamitas”, written and directed by Nicholas Ozeki for Best Narrative Feature, “Wake”, written and directed by Bree Newsome won for Best Narrative Short.  Meanwhile “Zero Percent” won an award for Best Documentary Feature.   “Love Lockdown” got blessed with an award for “Best Documentary Short, while “After the Storm”, written by Cole Wiley, won for Best Screenplay.   Best Teleplay went to “Whitehall”, written by Dawn M. Green and Aliza Pearl Kennerly. The coveted Audience Award went to “Life, Love, Soul”, written and directed by Noel Calloway.

If you missed this year’s Urbanworld Film Festival then you missed a celebration of urban ideas, urban creativity, and urban genius. We can’t wait to go again next year and hope to see you in the spot as well.