Over the past 18 years, the Urbanworld Film Festival has given visibility to black and Latino filmmakers through a curated showcase of narrative features, documentaries, and short films that has caught the attention of Hollywood execs and other important cultural movers and shakers. Founded in 1997 by entrepreneur Stacy Spikes – who himself was a studio big shot before setting out on his own – Urbanworld is a low-key fest with some serious muscle from sponsors BET Networks and HBO. Their mission is simple: to provide a platform for content creators of color and advance their impact on the world of cinema.
Over five days, this New York fest also brings together the worlds of music and digital media, along with a screenplay competition that features staged readings from four finalists for a select audience of industry influencers. But don’t get ahead of yourself, five days goes by awful fast and there are a couple of dozen feature films you won’t want to miss. Here’s a rundown of the Latino films we can look forward to at this year’s edition.
Urbanworld runs September 23 – 27, 2015.
A potent mystery story from one of Mexico’s most original contemporary directors, Carmin Tropical follows a trans nightclub singer named Mabel who returns to her hometown to investigate the murder of her best friend, Daniela. As Mabel digs deeper into the details of Daniela’s past, she is forced to confront her own upbringing and come to terms with a world she tried so desperately to leave behind.
American filmmaker Michael Dwyer’s debut feature follows the story of Claudia, a young woman deported to Mexico after being convicted of credit card fraud in the United States. Sent to live on her estranged father’s ranch, Claudia has difficulty adapting to the way of life in a country she hardly knows. After falling in with a drug trafficker who promises to smuggle her back into the United States, Claudia finds herself caught up in a dangerous and complex web of betrayal and deception that will pit her own selfish needs against those of her family.
We Like It Like That
Latin boogaloo music in 1960s New York City takes center stage in this documentary from director Mathew Ramirez Warren. With musicians like Joe Bataan, Johnny Colon, and Pete Rodriguez taking the lead, Warren covers everything that was happening in the era through interviews, archival footage, and images of live performances. Journey through this musical revolution and learn about the performers whose rhythms got everyone on the dance floor and defined a new generation of music on the East Coast.
After suffering years of sexual abuse from his otherwise upstanding and highly respected grandfather, sixth-grader Jacky makes a life-changing decision in a moment of desperation. As the chaotic aftermath unfolds, it will be up to one special teacher and a tough female cop to save his life.
Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changed Lives
In the 1990s, Robert “Bobbito” García and Adrian “Stretch” Bartos emerged as two of the most influential hip-hop DJs in American radio with their quirky, offbeat nightly radio hour, The Stretch Armstrong and Bobbito Show, on Columbia University’s WKCR. From 1990 to 1998, the two friends gave savvy listeners their first taste of unsigned acts like Nas, Notorious B.I.G., Wu-Tang Clan and Big Pun. Directed by Bobbito himself, Stretch and Bobbito delves into the deep friendship that drove the show, as well as the unlikely cult following they developed along the way.
Miami-born actress, dancer, and choreographer Sophia Aguiar stars in this 21st century fable about an ambitious young dancer/choreographer who gets a taste of what it’s like to be an Internet celebrity. When her star (and YouTube views) begin to rise after years of struggle, Casey Wright must strike a balance between her Internet persona and her true self, or risk losing those who have been by her side since day one. Featuring original music from Executive Producer John Legend.
Primero de enero
Shot in the Dominican Republic and directed by Costa Rican filmmaker Erika Bagnarello, Primero de enero is a coming-of-age road movie that follows the journey of twelve-year-old Sebastián from his small provincial town to the big city of Santo Domingo. After his parents split up, Sebastián enlists the help of a small-time criminal to break into his mother’s house and teach his mother’s new boyfriend a lesson. When the criminal makes off with his father’s heirloom piano, Sebastián enlists the help of his best friend and a Haitian immigrant to get the piano back before January 1st.
Puerto Rico, 1979. 16-year-old Miguel is all but abandoned by his mother when she drops him and his sister off with their elderly grandparents in a small Puerto Rican surf town. Forced to take care of his sister in an unknown place, Miguel finds refuge in his fantasies of a local pin-up model. One day, Miguel is moved to steal his grandfather’s car and hits the road in hopes of tracking down the object of his obsession. Along the way, he finds love in an unexpected place.
Joseph is a lowly stockroom supervisor on the cusp of his 10-year anniversary on the job. Problem is, popular folklore dictates that anyone who spends more than 10 years in the stockroom will never leave. After a failed promotion, Joseph watches the clock tick as he struggles to make a decision for his future: will he finally pursue the career in standup comedy he’s always dreamed of, or will he join the weary ranks of stockroom lifers?
Anatomía de un vestido
Featuring interviews with some of the most renowned figures in Puerto Rican haute couture, this documentary traces the history of Puerto Rican fashion design from its origins in the island’s manual garment industry to the present day. Pausing for reflections on the cultural importance of fashion and its status as an art form, Anatomía de un vestido showcases the deep well of talent in Puerto Rican fashion design as well as the challenges faced by the industry today.