9 African Diaspora-Interest Feature Films To See At The Tribeca Film Festival (Opens Today)
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9 African Diaspora-Interest Feature Films To See At The Tribeca Film Festival (Opens Today)


The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival (TFF), presented by American Express, begins today at locations around New York City, with a lineup that includes feature films from 30 different countries, including 53 World Premieres, 7 International Premieres, 15 North American Premieres, 6 U.S. Premieres and 8 New York Premieres.

The 2013 film slate was chosen from a total of 6005 submissions.

A total of 113 directors will present feature works at the Festival, with 35 of these filmmakers marking their feature directorial debuts. 

And to help you sort through all those titles, I’ve identified 9 African Diaspora-interest feature-length films that you might want to add to your to-see list, if you haven’t already – assuming you’ll be in New York for the duration of the festival, which ends on April 28.

Without further ado, here they are:

1. What has been dubbed a definitive documentary on the man’s life, directed by Marina ZenovichRichard Pryor: Omit the Logic will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival on Tuesday, April 23rd.

And soon after that, it’ll head to the Showtime network, making its broadcast TV debut.

In the film, Whoopi GoldbergRobin WilliamsMel BrooksQuincy JonesLily Tomlin, Jesse JacksonGeorge Lopez, Bob Newhart, Mike Epps, Richard Pryor Jr. and others recount the culture-defining influence of one of America’s most brilliant, iconic comic minds.

Richard Pryor’s widow, Jennifer Lee Pryor, is a producer of the film, and she’s the one who calls it a definitive documentary.

Director Marina Zenovich was given access to estate photos and other materials, and many of Pryor’s friends and family opened up for the project, which will focus on Pryor’s transformation from successful but mild stand-up comedian to successful but dangerous social critic. 

The turning point happens in Las Vegas, where Pryor no longer feels comfortable in his own skin, for taking the safe route of punch-line comedy while leaving his past buried. “He just really got to see what the world was about,” says Jennifer Lee Pryor. “He was making good money. It was a case of learning from an answered prayer: ‘I got what I wanted. But what is it? Who am I?'” Pryor answered that last question with brutal honesty in his new brand of no holds barred stage humor. It rocketed him to superstardom, before the fire and fall. At that point, as therapy for his suicide attempt, he began writing a journal, which he kept private. The journal was used in the documentary, for the first time ever. “I think it allows insight,” his widow says, without offering specifics, for now. “I think it’s definitely meant to show publicly. There’s private stuff in there. But Richard was a very public person.”

No official trailer yet, but some footage is embedded below:

2. Last summer, despite some criticism of her use of the online crowd-funding website, Kickstarter, to raise funds for her Moms Mabley documentary, Whoopi Goldberg did reach her campaign goal, actually surpassing it, raising over $73,000, when her goal was to raise $65,000.

Goldberg had been working on a documentary feature on the life of

pioneering comedian Moms Mabley for at least 3 years, and she’s reached the tail-end of its journey, as the film will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Titled I Got Somethin’ To Tell You, here’s its official synopsis:

Having broken racial and sexual boundaries as a pioneering comic talent, the late Moms Mabley has long been an icon in the comedy world. Now Whoopi Goldberg takes a deep dive into Mabley’s legacy via recently unearthed photography, rediscovered performance footage and the words of numerous celebrated comedians. A true passion project for Goldberg, I Got Somethin’ to Tell You shows Mabley’s historical significance and profound influence as a performer vastly ahead of her time.

No trailer nor clips for Whoopi’s documentary just yet.

3. We featured its Kickstarter campaign, when the filmmakers (Deidre Schoo and Michael Beach Nichols) were trying to raise $40,000 to be used in post-production; they ended up raising over $44,000. Needless to say, the film is complete, and we’ll get our first look at it at Tribeca in a matter of days! 

The documentary is titled Flex Is Kings and is

described as a feature length social and cultural documentary about the

community behind the contemporary urban dance movement, called “Flexing,”

in Brooklyn, New York. The film explores the hopes and realities of

this under-acknowledged and totally unfunded group of Do-It-Yourself artists.

The project was selected as an IndieWire “Project of the Week” early in 2012 – a recognition that comes with digital distribution consultation from SnagFilms (parent company of IndieWire).

So congrats to the filmmakers on getting past this major hurdle and I’m

sure we’ll be hearing and seeing more of Flex Is Kings in the next

year, as it begins its film festival circuit travels.

A brand-spanking new trailer has been released, and is embedded below, so check it out:

4. The Trials of Muhammad Ali, the feature documentary from Kartemquin Films (the company behind a few documentaries we’ve covered here on S&A, like The Interrupters and the Bill T Jones profile A Good Man), will make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.

According to the company, the documentary is actually not a boxing film, as you might expect; instead it’ll cover…

… Ali’s toughest bout, his battle to overturn the five-year prison sentence he received for refusing US military service during the Vietnam War. Brash boxer Cassius Clay burst into the American consciousness in the early 1960s, just ahead of the Civil Rights movement. His transformation into the spiritually enlightened heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali is legendary, but this religious awakening also led to a bitter legal battle with the U.S. government after he refused to serve in the Vietnam War. This film reveals the perfect storm of race, religion and politics that shaped one of the most recognizable figures in sports history.

The film is directed by Bill Siegel (The Weather Underground) and executive produced by Leon Gast (When We Were Kings) for Kartemquin Films.

So a stellar group behind this project, which they state will show Ali “as a fighter fueled by defiance, faith and a quest for justice,” and which we are looking forward to seeing eventually. And now that it’s premiering in my backyard, I’ll most certainly be checking it out!

No trailer yet.

5. Chicago Bulls center Joakim Noah recently signed up to produce Lenny Cooke’s feature documentary about the former basketball phenom that’s called Lenny Cooke

The film will highlight the rise and fall of the high school athlete who was once thought to be the next Magic Johnson, only to lose it all before any of it became a reality.

In the early 2000s, Cooke was the top basketball prospect in the country. However, poor decisions and injuries sidelined him for good.

A brief from a 2012 New York Times piece:

What went wrong? How did he miss by so much? Stretched on the couch, glancing at a big-screen television, he shrugged and said, “You had a devil on one shoulder and an angel on another.” After arriving with a phalanx of relatives, Cooke’s mother, Alfreda Hendrix, explained that her son had heeded the wrong calling and had mistaken what was given to him as something he had earned. “He was a teenage kid, and every day, he had money in his pocket — and I don’t mean $200 or $300,” she said. “It was whatever he wanted, like the world was his, so he took advantage of it. I guess he didn’t figure that things were going to fall down because people kept telling him it was only going to get better and better. He made a lot of mistakes, but as far as his attitude, he’s changed now. He has matured a lot.”

A familiar story, which you can read in full HERE.

Set to make its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, the 90-minute film is directed by Benny Safdie and Joshua Safdie.

It was made with incredible access to Lenny’s story, from his run-down home in Bushwick, Brooklyn, to the New Jersey suburbs where he spent his high school career, through to the present day, with the friends and family who shared in his dreams and aspirations. 

Apparently, Joakim Noah (son of former professional tennis player Yannick Noah), played with Lenny Cooke, who was two years his senior, for the AAU team The Panthers in 1999.

6. Let the Fire Burn is Jason Osder’s feature film debut, which provides an unbiased and thorough account of the incidents leading up to and during the 1985 standoff between the radical African American MOVE organization and Philadelphia authorities. 

On May 13, 1985, Philadelphia police dropped two pounds of military explosives onto a city row house occupied by the radical group MOVE. The resulting fire was not fought for over an hour although firefighters were on the scene with water cannons in place. Five children and six adults were killed and sixty-one homes were destroyed by the six-alarm blaze, one of the largest in the city’s history. 

The film documents the personal stories of neighborhood residents, MOVE members and officials through extensive archival footage of court hearings, news broadcasts, home movies and interviews. 

The tragedy unfolds through what is being labeled an extraordinary visual record previously withheld from the public, and presents a graphic illustration of how prejudice, intolerance and fear can lead to unthinkable acts of violence.

The 94-minute doc will next screen at Tribeca; no trailer or clips yet however.

7. From directors Shawn Efran and Adam Ciralsky comes The Project, which profiles the precarious, real-life story of the Puntland Maritime Police Force, a group of Somali pirate hunters. Taking the hijacking of the African waterways and the kidnapping of innocent citizens into their under-trained hands, the PMPF face mutiny, death and a loss of corporate funding in their dangerous quest to free the Middle East shipping industry from piracy.

The Puntland Maritime Police Force is a secret paramilitary group of mercenaries, initially so undertrained and malnourished that members broke their legs during marching exercises. The group grows its numbers and hones its tactics under the watchful eye of former U.S. Army Special Forces operative Roger Carstens, on a mission wage war on the high seas to rescue dozens of hostages. 

Featuring interviews with controversial Blackwater founder Erik Prince and the UN’s arms embargo monitor Matt Bryden, along with firsthand footage from filmmakers embedded within the PMPF, The Project is said to be a gripping, real-life war thriller exposing an unknown, anything-goes battle for control of the seas in one of the most dangerous places on earth.

Hmm… so many films (fiction and non-fiction) tackling “Somali piracy.” We’ve covered a number of them. This one seems to specialize on the PMPF specifically, so it’s not a comprehensive document of events. 

No trailer yet for this one either.

8.  A Brad Pitt-produced feature documentary on the battle for oil in Western Africa (Nigeria and Ghana specifically in this film), written and directed by Rachel Boynton, titled Big Men.

The short story goes… in Ghana, a small American energy company fights to hold onto its discovery of oil just as a new government comes into power. Meanwhile, in Nigeria, where oil has already been discovered, the ramifications of the oil industry have taken their toll on the people, most notably those in the Niger Delta who have seen none of the benefits of this new wealth. 

As the American company falls under the scrutiny of the new Ghanaian government and the U.S. Justice Department, the contracts for the oil field languish. Jobs are lost, power plays are made and all the while, the Ghanaian people wait to reap the benefits.

Meanwhile, in the Niger Delta, pipelines are attacked and set on fire as militants continue to demand more of the wealth from their government. 

The film is said to have been made with unprecedented access and an unflinching eye, taking the viewer deep into the struggle for resources and the affect it has on those directly or indirectly involved, in both Ghana and Nigeria, delivering an exposé on ambition, greed and corruption.

Yet another documentary tackling oil in the Niger Delta. We’ve covered a few of those as well, although I can’t say that anyone in particular stands above the rest. But the set up for this one intrigues enough, so I’ll see it.

No trailer or clips for this one.

9. And finally, a *forgotten* classic – Charles Lane’s black and white silent drama Sidewalk Stories, shot and released in the same year as Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing. I plan to give this a separate thorough post all its own, so look out for that later today or tomorrow.

But that’s all for now – 9 features, primarily documentaries. It’s not that I intentionally left out fiction films – there just really aren’t any this year, unfortunately. 

Myself, Vanessa and Zeba will be watching most, if not all of these films, and others, and will provide coverage of them over the next 2 weeks of the festival.

In the meantime, visit the festival’s website HERE for information on individual screenings and purchasing tickets.

Shadow and Act is a website dedicated to cinema, television and web content of Africa and its global Diaspora. With daily news, interviews, in-depth investigations into the audiovisual industry, and more, Shadow and Act promotes content created by and about people of African descent throughout the world.

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