A colleague recently bemoaned the fact that Black films suffer from a limited outlay of subject matter. Once you get past the repetitive yarns of “gangsta” stories and urban melodramas, the “chick flicks” and redundant romances, and so forth, there is very little to choose from.
People like Spike Lee have also remarked on the lack of opportunities for filmmakers of color, and the movie industry’s inability/unwillingness to nurture Black talent. With these realities as a backdrop, it was a rare treat this past Saturday to catch a glimpse of neophyte directors and crews making those first tentative steps towards mastering the art of the moving image at the Reel Black Men Short Film Showcase at Raleigh Studios in Hollywood.
The showcase is an annual endeavor by the nonprofit Black Hollywood Education and Resource Center (BHERC), and the films at this year’s screening were completed with budgets ranging from $2,000 to $20,000.
Take a quick look at the following offerings:
“Past Tense,” the saga of platonic/unrequited love by Reuben Johnson, is a tale of linear story telling. Since conflict is an essential ingredient of dramatic presentation, this film might have benefited from the insertion of additional discord between the protagonists. That said, the cast members are adequate within the context of their characterizations, a notable exception being Kinnik Sky who radiates warmth and charisma in her role as the lead female, in a script that could stand a little more complexity.
Possibly the most professionally mounted production of the evening, “Chriss Briss” benefits from director Delmar Washington’s natural facility with comedy. In this instance, the USC cinema arts grad is more than amply aided by veteran actor Shelly Kurtz, as the prospective father-in-law/rabbi who insists that his daughter’s suitor conform to the intimate tenets of his religious faith. Competent photography, always a compelling component of any film, is a positive addition to the amusing plot in this economical 12 minute tale.
Fulfilling the prerequisite element of discord present at the core of its storyline, “The Conversation” struggles to come through on its intriguing premise. The edgy subject of life conceived in sin is by no means an original one, but in this case is chronicled through the narrative effect of flashback, an effective counterpoint to the idyllic tone which opens the film. Director Chris Reese’s strong suit appears to be his writing skill, a talent that is not quite matched by his facility with the technical end of filmmaking.
One of the biggest hurdles any filmmaker must overcome is to present a coherent story without the benefit of dialogue, which is a major reason why it is so seldom done. In “Bored of the Rings,” director Rashim Cannad manages to achieve this while mounting a successful comedy in the process. Owen Smith, Tarina Pouncy, and the exquisite Sharae Nikai contribute to this humorous tale of deception and infidelity in a framework of 20 minutes. Already a seasoned pro with several credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Cannad is a talent deserving future attention from the film-going public.
Given the prominent role Christianity often plays within the African American community, it is no surprise that faith-based themes are frequently used by the Black movie-making community. As with all “message” projects, a primary stumbling block is the difficulty of presenting a compelling story without becoming overly “preachy” or over moralizing. In “Brotherly Love,” the well-honed genre of gang warfare within the ’hood is given a fresh take as three talented actors (Choice Skinner, Sheldon A. Smith, and Farley Jackson) explore the family dynamic of survival within the reality of the ever-present dangers of the inner city. Skinner, an acting coach and martial arts instructor, is especially effective as an overbearing physical presence who reminds this writer of Joe Adams, best known as Ray Charles’ manager (see him as the champion prizefighter Husky Miller in the “Carmen Jones” in 1954). Adams displayed an overwhelming masculinity as an actor, which may explain his paltry resume of just six movie roles in the racially sensitive 1950s and ’60s.
Life is often a long succession of personal humiliations, not least of which is old age. Or, as program moderator Kris Keiser said, “As soon as you reach 50, AARP is at your door.” In the child/parent relationship, there comes a time when the tables are turned and the roles of caregiver/custodian and dependent are reversed. With this in mind, the generation gap is effectively flipped upside down in “Sanford and Son” (not to be confused with the long- running Redd Foxx sitcom of the 1970s). A crowd favorite carried by the charismatic presence of Ernest Harden Jr., a veteran performer with 56 IMDb credits under his belt, this film is written and directed by Moe Irvin, another prolific actor best known for his role as Nurse Tyler on the TV drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” The 25-minute yarn makes very few missteps as it chronicles the trajectory of an uptight adult’s reaction to his father’s efforts to remain current with contemporary trends.
The Reel Black Men Short Film Showcase is an annual event mounted by the BHERC, which will also present the African American Film Marketplace, a cinematic festival slated to take place Dec. 5-7, at the Raleigh Studios. Aspiring filmmakers seeking to gain exposure for their work are encouraged to contact BHERC at email@example.com, for details on deadlines, film submission forms, and other entry requirements.