By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
The 24th annual American Black Film Festival is in full swing virtually until August 30. The fest is usually held in Miami but is being offered online this year. I wrote about a few films in my August 22 column. I was able to screen a few more after Crusader press time, and I’m sharing a few thoughts on those for this online piece.
One that really struck me and will certainly be of particular interest to local readers is called “Growing Up Milwaukee.” This was a documentary that covered youth in that city who needed a bit of extra attention to excel in high school and with their dreams.
Three youth growing up in Milwaukee struggle with the daily dilemma of growing up Black and avoiding becoming just another statistic. Marquell, Brandon and Tiana were struggling due to a myriad of issues, whether they were disconnected families or simply the daily dilemma of growing up Black and avoiding becoming just another statistic.
All three were able to advance and get a bit closer to their goals with the help of many Milwaukee area organizations. This was a powerful documentary directed by Tyshun Wardlaw and the first feature-length film created under her production company.
Another full-length film was called “Asunder: One Flesh Divided,” which was written, directed, produced and starring Alana Barrett-Adkins. The emotional film focuses on the life of a successful, prospering, yet distant married couple—who are both attorneys—that is thrust into the den of conflict and potential divorce after an incident changes their relationship forever. Will they be able to come back together the way God intended, or will they allow their marriage to be torn asunder? The film uses humor, suspense, and drama to explore the concept of commitment, and what it means to choose love above all things.
This film found me rallying around the couple, once each revealed their demons, and loathing the antagonist that appears as an intern of the wife. Infidelity is a heavy issue for couples, and in this film Barrett-Adkins weaves a story and hope and commitment that overpowers distrust.
“Home” was written and directed by Adewale Olukayode. Two immigrant brothers from Nigeria suffer terminal consequences as the pursuit of the American dream defies their brotherhood. Femi is a Nigerian immigrant who must question his life values and family commitment when his older brother, Adeola, steals a large sum of cash one night from the store where both brothers work. This film was interesting in that it pitted two brothers in an already vulnerable situation who had travelled a long way to reach the United States and faced obstacles in making a living.
“The Ticket,” directed by Benjamin Abiola, Richard Cannon and Phil Flock, takes a look at a young man who has become the target of a secret underground world of parking ticket officers. He keeps getting parking tickets and the “posse” bombards him—always keeping him just a few steps from paying the meter. “The Ticket” is part of a web series.
“Loving in America,” directed by Jason Gudasz, is a cute look at a new immigrant who is fresh into her green card marriage. She works as a delivery representative for an adult toy company. This web series was fun to watch as the screenwriter, Bianca Cristovao, who also plays the main character, set up unique situations behind the door of each delivery. These eccentric encounters provide her with valuable lessons.
Star Victoria has written, produced and directed the short film “La Ruta,” which is screening in the Emerging Directors section of ABFF. Her timely and sensitive look at the migrant journey from Mexico into the United States is still extremely relevant and Star has a very interesting profile herself. She is a director mentee in Ryan Murphy’s HALF initiative and has previously shadowed veteran director Loni Peristere for an episode of Fox’s Scream Queens. Her professional mentors have included the late John Singleton, Steven Soderbergh, Robert Townsend and Nina Yang Bongiovi. This short film was so sad, as the main character’s journey forced her to sacrifice all she had, including her body, for an ill-fated trip into the country with her young daughter.
“Rudeboy’s Restaurant” is a Cosmic Otter Production, which is enjoying a world premiere this August at ABFF as part of the 2020 Emerging Director’s Showcase in the festival’s virtual edition. Directed by Philipp Yaw, a Ghanaian/Jamaican-American filmmaker, the iconic atmosphere of a Jamaican restaurant serves as the backdrop. Jamaican restaurants remain one of the most unapologetically Black spaces in America. These restaurants are rich in their own subculture, unwritten code of conduct, with a well-established hierarchy. The cashier is right at the top of the hierarchy playing judge, jury and executioner. This short shows what happens when a white customer is afraid that she’ll be negatively associated with unfavorable patrons and falsely claims to be the distant cousin of mid 2000s Dancehall super star Sean Paul.
“Pink Opaque,” directed by Derrick Perry. While working on his thesis documentary required to graduate, Travis Wolfe reconnects with his estranged uncle and navigates a budding romance against the wishes of his girlfriend’s older brother. Travis lives in a world all his own. He’s roaming the streets of Hollywood, struggling to finish his thesis documentary project for film school and out of a need for money to recover his towed car, he tracks down his uncle Robin, a veteran television producer on the wrong side of his career.
Travis attempts to unravel the mystery of his father’s suicide. A glimmer of hope is offered through his relationship with Kristen, a streetwise girl from Koreatown with big dreams of her own. As tensions begin to brew with her protective older brother Bobby and family secrets put his newly established connection with Robin to the test, Travis struggles to hold it all together long enough to figure out his future, as well as his past.
The themes of reconnection and assimilation in this film are really highlighted by the director. You feel sorry for Travis and are elated that he has connected with his seemingly wealthy uncle, but every good thing isn’t always as good as it seems on the outside.
“Farewell,” directed by Chris Chalk, lays out a weird night when Grace and Chance Charles have one last night with their best friends. What is supposed to be a celebratory send-off turns into a struggle to survive. The plot grows thicker with each moment. This is a good suspense movie with a surprising end.
“Frederick Douglass Boulevard aka Food & Drink Boulevard aka F.D.B.” is directed by Washington Kirk. Malcolm Jamal Turner, a Harlem transplant and struggling music writer from the Ohio suburbs, who is ambivalent about the neighborhood’s changing demographics (when not outright hostile), concocts a ludicrous scheme to de-gentrify Harlem. I simply loved this short and will probably watch it again before the festival’s end.
I was able to ask Kirk a few questions about his topic and his cinematic angle. “I didn’t grow up in a house filled with cinephiles, but my parents made it a point to expose us to Spike Lee’s films,” he said. “So, Spike is my most significant cinematic influence by a mile.” He continued: “Spike often expresses feelings of ownership over Brooklyn and New York City in both his art and life and I thought it’d be fun and interesting to explore similar feelings from a character influenced by him and who shares many of his political views within the context of gentrification.” We both agreed that this short is definitely a love letter of sorts to Harlem.
“Intolerance No More.” “Inspired by today’s news” is the opening title on the movie “Intolerance No More,” a film by Sergio Guerrero Garzafox (“A Day Without A Mexican”). It is a timely story involving police brutality and the social media chaos we live in. The film’s narrative takes place in real-time, after an African-American woman has an altercation with a white police officer that shatters her life, and irrevocably changes her destiny forever.
“The Available Wife” is directed by Jamal Hill. A beautiful and successful music CEO’s life is about to crumble in front of her. While having an affair with Kingston, the sexy artist on the rise who promises her everything, Nicole learns the hard way that looks can be deceiving and his motives are as dark as the secrets she keeps. What attracted me to this film were the two stars Clifton Powell and Roger Guenveur Smith. I admire both veteran actors’ work, and they didn’t disappoint. Smith played an attorney who at turns was as sweet as could be and as mean and vicious as possible. Powell played Nicole’s father, who was only trying to teach her that crime doesn’t pay.
“Junebug,” directed by Winter Dunn, is an exploration of the fierce love between a daughter and father, the complexities of an absence that words can’t touch, the power of music and wonderful memories. This is a sweet film that shows the love between a young girl and her father and expands that relationship as she, too, is an artist with fond memories of growing up and dancing around with her dad.
“LOLA” is a powerful female boxing feature film, enjoying its world premiere, which is written and directed by Antoine Allen, and is based on fictional characters. It’s an uplifting production on how Lola transformed her personality from being harassed to being a champion. Allen tells the inspiring story of Lola’s struggles, her triumphs, and her discovery of her talent, power, and voice. Lola couldn’t get a break at home or in her personal life, but her mastery of the art of boxing puts her in a ring to achieve great things.
“Basic Lee” is directed by Dane C. Collier and shows the life of a socialite who is only famous for being the son of a famous person. He is ex-communicated from his lavish lifestyle after publicly humiliating his mother. He goes from extravagant trappings and a lush social media presence to living in a motel. Funny look at what seems to be important to so-called social influencers these days.
“Black Boy Joy” is directed by Martina Lee and is an introspective slice of life story about two generations of Black men, living within the same household, juggling the demands of raising a young son with autism. This short was poignant in that it detailed the day of the funeral for the young boy’s mother. His father and grandfather have different opinions on how to let the young boy grieve his mother’s loss, while trying to be delicate with his feelings.
“Bee,” directed by Nick Brooks, tells the story of a young girl from humble beginnings who struggles to be accepted at her new affluent school of mostly white peers. This was sad viewing, in that you want joy and happiness for all young folks trying to navigate a new neighborhood and new school. Typical outcast behavior on the part of the white students, but even more shocking with Bee tries to connect with another Black student. In the end, though, she triumphs and finds her voice with encouragement from her mother.
Look for my column this week to be posted on Thursday or Friday, August 27 or 28, that highlights the film “Maurice Hines: Bring Them Back,” a great documentary about the 70-year career of Maurice Hines and the impact that he and his brother, Gregory, had on the arts.
For more information on how you can view films and panels with industry favorites until August 28, visit www.abff.com.
Elaine Hegwood Bowen is the author of “Old School Adventures from Englewood—South Side of Chicago.” For book information, visit https://www.lulu.com/spotlight/englewoodelaine or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.