Urbanworld, the largest competitive film festival designed to advance the presence and impact of diverse content creators, turns 20 this year. And before you try to wrap your head around the fact that institutional programs and festivals have been actively trying to redress “diversity” issues, rejoice instead in the eclectic roster of projects that will be playing in New York at the end of the month.
“In our 20th anniversary year, Urbanworld’s curated selections highlight content from around the world, enabling the festival to further expand the gaze on the many distinct voices that deserve to be heard,” said the festival’s director, Gabrielle Glore. “We are proud to be a welcoming home for filmmakers, film enthusiasts and industry partners, all of whom return to Urbanworld to celebrate the artistry and craft of filmmaking.”
As its centerpiece spotlight, for example, you’ll get to see Mexi-Kenyan Lupita Nyong’o in Queen of Katwe. The Disney-produced Mira Nair project tells the colorful tale of a young Ugandan girl who finds her life changed once she discovers chess. It’s but one of many stories that feature nary a white person; and of course, given the fest’s interest in intersectionality, there are lots of Latinos repping in plenty of homegrown projects. They run the gamut from documentaries about social inequality to sci-fi dramas about alternate realities. Find them all below in addition to one gender-bending short from Spain that looked too good to leave out.
Urbanworld runs in New York City from September 21-25, 2016.
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La Granja takes Puerto Rico’s economic crisis as the backdrop for a series of interconnecting stories à la Amores Perros. In this twisted take on a fictionalized Puerto Rico, drug addiction and economic depression are the order of the day. One vignette follows a middle aged ex-boxer who trains his ambitious son for a youth boxing championship while he struggles with a cockfighting debt; another follows a midwife desperate for her own child; and the last dramatizes a young girl’s attempts to win the attention of her drug-addicted older sister. In the fruitless pursuit of hope, all three characters are eventually pushed to the limits of desperation.
In the movies, as in life, it’s the journey not the destination that counts. In Sepulveda, three lifelong Latina friends decide on a whim to go on a road trip. They don’t have a destination as much as a road: the entire 72 miles of the longest street in Los Angeles. But as anyone who’s ever tried to spend so much time with friends or family in a crowded car can attest, the road soon begins to take a toll on the three girls. Directing his former high school students as fictionalized versions of themselves, Brandon Wilson (alongside his co-director Jena English) creates a vibrant look at this North East Los Angeles trio.
Destined is two stories in one. Cory Hardrict plays Sheed, a young man who’s earned his stripes on the streets and now runs a drug empire. But in another reality, Hardrict plays Rasheed, a young man who’s earned his college degree and now works at an architectural firm. With supporting roles played by Colombian-American actress Zulay Henao and Nuyorican La La Anthony, Qasim Basir’s film looks at the issue of destiny, exploring the lives we lead and the futures we envision as intimately tied to the choices we make.
Nina, a 9 year-old outcast girl with albinism, finds herself the target of Gloria, a jealous classmate’s witch hunt in this affecting short film. Playing Gloria’s mother is Orange is the New Black‘s Jessica Pimentel.
This short film is set in a small seaside village in Almeira, Spain. Victor lives with his mother and his girlfriend, but Victor yearns to experiment with gender, stuffing underwear and daydreaming about who the person staring back in the mirror really is. Once in town, protected by anonymity, Victor sets out to discover the identity within. But keeping this journey of self-discovery a secret won’t last long: Victor will have to confront both mother and girlfriend before they can see who he’s become.
And Nothing Happened
A young woman struggles to get through her morning routine in the wake of a surreal occurrence. With candor, this short film — shot in the director’s own bedroom, giving it a homegrown feel — perfectly encapsulates the after effects of sexual violence.
Following up his earlier documentaries on the growing inequality in New York City, Schmatta: Rags to Riches to Rags and Hard Times: Lost on Long Island, Marc Levin’s latest HBO doc focuses on one particular neighborhood in the Big Apple that exemplifies the class divide of the project’s title: Chelsea. On one side of the street you have Avenues: The World School, an elite private school. Across from it: the Chelsea-Elliot Houses, a public housing project populated by a mostly African-American and Hispanic community. And not that far off: the High Line, the elevated park area that is also ushering a new era of gentrification. Interviewing the young residents of the projects and of the school, Levin bears witness to the effects of rising inequality and stagnant class mobility.
Daddy Don’t Go
Daddy Don’t Go is a probing chronicle of the uphill battle men who are willing to straighten their lives fight every day. Putting a face to the “absent father” epidemic, Emily Abt’s documentary follows four young New York men trying to be there for their children. As one of them puts it: “I’m not gonna be no deadbeat father.” And while Alex, Omar, and Ray are all struggling to keep their children afloat (in their case, it’s the mother who’s MIA), Nelson Serrano is the only one also taking care of children who are not his own. “It’s not just me no more. I have my family,” he says.