*As one of the largest multi-cultural festivals in America, the Urbanworld Film Festival (UFF) has been shining the spotlight on emerging filmmakers for nearly 20 years.
The brainchild of entrepreneur Stacey Spikes, the 5-day New York City festival offers a smorgasbord of films, panels and live performances.
Slated for September 23 – 27, this year’s festival is expected to more than live up to its reputation for providing platforms that will entertain and educate its audience.
Robertson Treatment recently spoke with UFF’s longtime Festival Director, Gabrielle Glore to gain better insights on what to expect.
Robertson Treatment: What were some things audiences should look out for at the 2015 festival?
Gabrielle Glore: This year’s festival ambassador is Tyrese Gibson who is one of those rare multi-hyphenates who excels across acting, writing, and producing, as well as being a successful recording artist. We’re thrilled to have him represent the independent spirit of Urbanworld, as he really exemplifies the passion, ambition, and work ethic required to navigate the industry with success. On Saturday, September 26, we’ll have the honor of world premiering his short film Shame, which he wrote, produced alongside Denzel Washington, and stars in with Jennifer Hudson. This spotlight event will also feature a post film Q&A with Tyrese.
We have a film slate that I’m very excited about…quality films that really focus on the art of storytelling and the complexity of character. This year’s official selections tell a myriad of interesting stories, representing perspectives from around the world. So, I encourage film lovers to dive into our documentary films…we open and close our festival with two great docs — Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ and A Ballerina’s Tale, which focuses on the amazing prima ballerina Misty Copeland…two extremely inspirational figures. Some of our other doc highlights include Can You Dig This (Delila Vallot), Tap World (Dean Hargrove), In Football We Trust (Tony Vainuku & Erica Cohn), and We Like It Like That (Matthew Ramirez Warren).
There are 7 shorts programs in the festival that will take audiences on so many different journeys…our shorts collection is always a strong point for the festival and highly encouraged. And the narrative features continue to be elevated each year by submitting filmmakers…we are featuring a good number of Urbanworld alumni this year, including director Ty Hodge’s film, A Girl Like Grace; director Lanre Olabisi’s film, Somewhere in the Middle; director Victor Cruz’s film, The Stockroom; and director Jamal Joseph with Chapter & Verse. Each year, we welcome new filmmakers into the Urbanworld family from across the globe, with films like Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us) from South Africa (Ernest Nkosi); Pocha from Mexico (Michael Dwyer); Honeytrap from the UK (Rebecca Johnson); and January 1st from the Dominican Republic (Erica Bagnarello).
The full festival slate and film guide can be found at urbanworld.org, along with details on Urbanworld Digital (panels and presentations focused on the latest opportunities in the digital space) and Urbanworld Music, which highlights all of our after party and artist spotlights.
RT: How is the Urbanworld Film Festival distinctive from other similar events?
GG: Urbanworld is the largest multicultural festival of its kind. We work very hard to curate a slate of films that represents the broadest lens of diversity across story, characters, themes, and cultures. Each year, we seek to expose our audience to things that are new to them and/or unexpected. We seek to inspire them, to move them, and to engage them in the Urbanworld community. We fight tirelessly to expand the definition of “urban,” so that it’s not limited to false perception of being exclusively driven by ethnicity, but much broader to include sensibility, geography, and most importantly culture…the driver of it all. We are “the filmmakers festival” and “the people’s festival” and we strive to differentiate ourselves by creating a family of content creators that bring their boldness and irreverence to the forefront through their diverse artistic works.
RT: In what way has technology influenced the festival?
GG: Technology has evolved into an important part of our programming with the advent of Urbanworld Digital almost a decade ago. Today, our founding partner, HBO, presents and hosts Urbanworld Digital, a day dedicated to exploring the intersection of digital with content creation, marketing, and distribution. We want to ensure our filmmaking and industry community are exposed to the innovation and opportunity that exists and prepared to leverage digital platforms to amplify their work. This year, Urbanworld Digital will cover the world of virtual reality, the millennial mainstream’s love affair with digital video, disruptive distribution platforms, multi-platform music scoring, and the future of storytelling.
Additionally, you’ll also see technology impacting the physical and creative production of films curated in the festival. The democratization it lends to content creation is reflected in the end product of so many more films. Each year, the quality of submissions, particularly feature length films, continues to be elevated, which is exciting to see. Filmmakers are leveraging the opportunity that digital presents to create, as well as market and distribute their content. And lastly, technology even impacts our exhibition format for the festival…we historically screened films on formats including prints, HD-CAM, and Blu-Ray…this year, we exhibit exclusively on DCP (digital cinema package). All of our festival submissions are submitted electronically and all our festival jurors screen films online. Technology has indeed influenced and impacted Urbanworld.
RT: Does Urbanworld engage in programming outside of the festival?
GG: Yes, we do opportunistically with our various partners. Most immediately, we are partnering with NewFest, the east coast sibling of Outfest and NYC’s premiere LGBT film festival. We’ll be co-presenting a film at their upcoming October film festival and exposing our audiences to another great festival in the big apple. Collaboration with like-minded partners is an instrumental part of how Urbanworld operates, so we embrace these opportunities and will be doing more in the future, as we lead up to our 20th Anniversary in 2016.
RT: What steps are you taking for greater diversity?
GG: As I mentioned previously, diversity encompasses a broad definition for Urbanworld — it’s cultural reference points, it’s gender, it’s geography, it’s tone and style, it’s subject matter, it’s sexual orientation, and diversity of thought and ideas. Our programming team works hard to be as inclusive as possible, curating a selection of films that share universal themes from a variety of different vantage points. For example, we have a short film from Denmark that is a teen drama focused on identity, with a very urban sensibility having nothing to do with race — we have the opportunity to show our audience what’s happening on the other side of the world, with all of the similarities and differences. We want all communities to know we are committed to providing a platform for their fresh voices and unique stories. We are consistently walking through the world, throughout the year, with our eyes wide open, looking for what moves us in the most interesting and unexpected ways.
RT: What are some of your ventures away from the festival?
GG: My passion is around curating content and conversations. What are people seeing and talking about…what is inspiring and informing people? How can I creatively contribute to how things are shaped and interpreted? That’s what I get excited about. So, I work with various companies, ranging from entertainment brandso nonprofit organizations that allow me to live out that passion and support their goals and objectives in the process. Separately, I am currently developing a narrative feature project as a creative producer, and looking towards expanding my time in that world. All of my “ventures” are adventures, with the focus being on fun and fulfillment.
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