WATCH: Urbanworld Film Festival Draws Top Black Talent - Black Enterprise
Black Enterprise Magazine January-March 2019 Issue

On the opening night of the Urban World Film Festival, BET host Free, far left, joins the director and cast of Night Catches Us. (Photo by Terrence Jennings)

The 14th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival kicked off on Thursday with the movie Night Catches Us, starring Kerry Washington, Anthony Mackie, and Jamie Hector. The stirring drama, set in 1976, deals with a young man who returns to a race-torn Philadelphia neighborhood where he came of age as a member of the Black Panther Movement. The characters try to negotiate their past, present, and futures amidst complex political and emotional forces.

For more than a decade Urbanworld has been a venue for minority filmmakers who needed an outlet to showcase their work in an industry where few urban films receive distribution. Sponsored by HBO and BET this year, the festival plans to show more than 70 films.

Aside from Night Catches Us, the other standout films this year were: MOOZ-lum, a drama directed by Tanya Hamilton, starring Nia Long and Evan Ross, about a young man pulled between his strict Muslim upbringing and traditional teen social life he yearned to experience; and I Will Follow, a drama featuring Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Omari Hardwick that deals with issues of grief and family.

On opening night, we caught up with the director and cast of Night Catches Us and asked them to explain why film festivals like Urban World are important. Watch the video below to find out what they had to say.

(Producers: Marcia Wade-Talbert and Janell Hazelwood)

UrbanWorld’s founder, Stacy Spikes, also talked with about his inspiration for the festival, challenges for directors in the industry, and tips for up-and-comers. What inspired you to start the Urbanworld Film Festival?

Stacy Spikes: I was the vice president of marketing at Miramax at the time, and people were sending me films that weren’t in other festivals, and I thought these films needed to be seen. They weren’t showing anyplace else, and I thought we should have our own festival.

Why are film festivals like Urbanworld important?

We create an opportunity for exposure. We hold up the best of black films and that showcase gives them an opportunity to go on elsewhere to do great things. That is our purpose.

Why is it difficult for African American films to get widespread distribution?

It is difficult for all films to get distribution. You figure, the Sundance Film Festival gets 4,000 submissions and maybe 10%-15% will get distribution. That’s 1/10 of 1%. Our festival is not any different. One or two of these films might see distribution. Television is opening up a lot of doors with BET and HBO. They are often putting them there. But as far as theatrical it still is a really rough game.

In the last couple of years, what filmmaker has taken the most innovative approach to marketing and distributing their films.

Qasim Basir, the director of Mooz-lum in this festival had 70,000 Facebook fans. They sold out their screening in minutes. We had to have two additional screenings in the festival. That has never happened, ever, in the history of the festival. Their resourcefulness and resilience-I’ve never seen anything like it.

What tips would you give to African American filmmakers about managing the business of filmmaking?

We can rely on our community, because we go to the movies more than anybody else. You don’t need a distribution system. If you think like that it will help you to get where you’re trying to go. The industry needs us. We’re going to need a rebirth of the early ’90s and late ’80s that you saw in black films with House Party and all of those films. That is what we want to bring back; that resilience.[Back then] we just made films, we just got them made [raising money] from investors, family, bake sales. There are so many ways filmmakers hobble money together to get it done. All of those avenues they’ve got to pursue.

Visit later this week for one-on-one interviews with Jamie Hector, actor from The Wire and Heroes) and Ava DuVernay, director of I Will Follow.

Marcia Wade Talbert

Marcia is a multimedia content producer focusing on technology at Black Enterprise Magazine. In this capacity she writes and assigns stories to educate readers about social media; digital integration; gadgets, apps, and software for business and professional development; minority tech startups; and careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). In 2012, she received two Salute to Excellence Awards from the National Association of Black Journalists and was recognized by Blacks in Technology (BiT) as one of the Top 10 Black achievers in the tech arena for 2011 at SXSW in Austin, Texas. She has spoken about technology on panels for New York Social Media Week, at The 2012 Rainbow/PUSH Wall Street Summit, as well as at Black Enterprise’s Entrepreneurs Conference and Women of Power Summit. In 2011, chose her as one of 28 People of Color Impacting the Social Web, and through crowdsourcing she was listed as one of BlackWeb2.0's/HP's 50 Most Notable African American Tastemakers in Social Media and Technology for 2010. Since taking on the role of Tech editor in September 2010, she has conceived and produced five cover stories on Technology and/or STEM and countless articles, videos, and slideshows online. Before joining as an interactive general assignment reporter in 2008, she freelanced with Black Enterprise beginning in 2003 while working as the technical editor at Prepared Foods magazine. There she further honed her writing skills and became an authority on food ingredients, including ingredients used in food fortification and enrichment. Meanwhile, her freelancing with Black Enterprise and helped her stay current on issues pertaining to the financial and business welfare of African Americans. As a general reporter for Black Enterprise she attended and reported on the Democratic and Republican National Conventions, where she interviewed Valerie Jarrett, senior advisor and assistant to President Barack Obama and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder. Marcia has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture with an emphasis in food science from the University of Minnesota, and a Master of Science degree in journalism from Roosevelt University in Chicago. En route to her secondary degree, she served as the editor-in-chief of the Roosevelt University Torch, a weekly, student-run newspaper. An avid photographer and videographer, Marcia is one of several employees at BLACK ENTERPRISE who interned for the publishing company as a college student. She lives in New Jersey with her husband, a food scientist; her seventeen-month-old daughter; and “The Cat”, but still considers Chicago home.