Archive | FILMMAKER’S DIARY RSS feed for this section

My Thoughts on the Passing of Chuck Berry

19 Mar

 

In the coming days, many attempts will be made to diminish Chuck Berry’s musical legacy through faint praise. But don’t be fooled. The mason who expertly crafted the only thing besides the Constitution that America is truly, deeply proud of has just died. Sex, drugs or the music itself didn’t kill Chuck Berry. He passed away at a ripe old age that those whose lives and careers are fashioned after his music rarely get to see. Chuck Berry’s innovative guitar, songwriting, vocals and dance have influenced everyone who witnessed his work. So much so, that he would arrive into the places he played at as a lone star, and his band was universal: it was the local musicians in every city or town he played in, whom he required nothing of except that they know his music. In turn, the one thing that could make rock musicians into legends was to be the closest thing possible to Chuck Berry, minus the African ancestry. His existence was so fundamental to the making of rock ‘n’ roll that submerging his legacy was fundamental to its myth. The problem was that Chuck Berry just wouldn’t die. Through each attempt of this culture define what rock ‘n’ roll is and who created it, Chuck Berry was still around to negate the lie. They even had to invent a future with a Marty McFly in it to travel back in time and teach Chuck’s fictitious cousin Marvin the “new sound he was looking for.” But Chuck Berry can never truly be diminished nor can he really die, because his music lives. And every time they try to crown a king of that music, the Pharaoh’s legacy becomes unearthed. xo

 

by Olufunmilayo Gittens

March 19, 2017

Advertisements

“Choices” to Screen in Links WADFF Film Festival

1 May

Screening of CHOICES web series Webisodes 5 and 6

Image

 CHOICES will be showcased during the 2:45 pm Narrative Shorts: New Visions program block of the The Brooklyn Chapter of the Links, Inc. annual Women of African Descent Film Festival (WADFF) at LIU Brooklyn, at Flatbush & DeKalb Aves. The Festival runs all day on Sat, May 3 2014 from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm

Link at http://tinyurl.com/lvum75e

The Festival is in its 13th year, and features a wonderful array of documetnary, narrative and animated films by African American women, and a special Youth Film Festival.

The event is free and open to the public; no RSVP required.

Choices – The Series (Webisdes 5 and 6) CHOICES (choicestheseries.com) is an award-winning web soap opera, told in the form of short dramas with intertwined story lines. In these two webisodes, manicurist Cathy and long-time customer Shanelle wrestle with ethical questions surrounding their pregnancies. Meanwhile at a fancy boutique, Shervonne, a nanny’s daughter, reconnects with Regan, the woman her mother took care of as a child, and find out they have very different ideas about this woman who was “the help”. We also meet business magnate Chapman and social activist Motulsky, two old prep school buddies who reconnect on the cusp of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Starring: Kristen Hung as Cathy, Danyel Fulton as Shanelle, Kianne Muschett as Shervonne, Elisa Pupko as Regan, Scott T. Miller as Chapman and Joshua Feinberg as Motulsky.

Production wraps on ‘Brothers on the Phone’

4 Mar
Corwin Moore

Comedian Corwin Moore

This weekend, we wrapped production on the short film Brothers on the Phone: What About Her? written and executive produced by comedy writer Corwin Moore (Saturday Night Live, Uptown Comedy Club) and directed by yours truly. Brothers on the Phone: What About Her? is the first in the Brothers on the Phone series, and it centers on two best friends, a likeable homeboy who is single and his best friend, a married guy with an “I don’t give a f*” approach to life. These two brothers on the phone talk about the single guy’s tough time finding Ms. Right, a new spin on the topic of finding The One, with flashbacks to his experiences with different women.

After meeting with Moore and finding out what he wanted to accomplish with the piece, I was excited to once again direct comedy. For those who’ve been following my work, you know that last year I directed the comedy thriller Trust No One.  As a director whose authored work is dramatic, I enjoy these opportunities to direct comedy. The two genres actually have some similarities when it comes to directing (more on that later). What’s best is the chance to make people laugh.

-O.G.

Brothers on the Phone: What About Her?  Executive Producer Corwin Moore. Producers Ty Powell and Nicole Sylvester. Directed by Olu Gittens. Starring Corwin Moore, Shanise Beck, Mia Anderson, Mieke Stapelton, Afiya Wilson and James Egbute.

Cultural Entrepreneur Roland Lair passes

14 Feb

Roland LairdI was saddened to find out about the passing of Roland Laird, CEO of MIST (My Image Studios) a multi-million dollar, state of the art film center in Harlem, and co-owner/founder entertainment firm Posro Media, which promoted positive images of African Americans though a number of multimedia initiatives. Roland was a fellow alum of Brown University whom I met through our Inman Page Council, Brown’s African American alumni network. A genuine person with a passion for film, Roland took an interest in my work and offered advice and encouragement. Roland was an entrepreneur, author, activist, supporter of the arts, family man, and friend to many.

He leaves behind his wife Taneisha Nash Laird, with whom he co-founded MIST and Posro, and two beautiful daughters. He will be greatly missed.

-O.G.

LINKS:

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/uptown/uptown-roland-owen-laird-harlem-mist-dead-age-52-article-1.1266559

http://www.trentonian.com/article/20130208/news01/130209627/laird-146-s-passing-mourned-in-two-cities

http://www.posro.com/?page_id=75

http://www.blacksci-fi.com/news/article/the_industry_remembers_roland_laird/

BABY OF THE FAMILY project website

22 Sep

Check out the website for upcoming feature film BABY OF THE FAMILY (babyofthefamily.com), a family drama I am co-producing with Nicole Sylvester and Rahsan Lindsay; each of us brings a decade of industry experience to the table.

BABY OF THE FAMILY is the story of the Douglas family who come together for Thanksgiving Day, when a newborn is left on their doorsteps. This uninvited guest brings to light family secrets, sibling rivalry and infidelity, forcing them to face the unpleasant truths about their lives.

Soulful, funny, sad and triumphant, BABY OF THE FAMILY will have all the elements of a classic film that will be cherished for years to come.  This is the kind of film that will draw audiences who support entertaining, compelling black films.

BABY OF THE FAMILY’s website features team bios, promo videos and our Director’s Look Book, a visual presentation of the film’s characters and imagery.  Take a look — I am sure you will become as excited about this project as I am!

-O.G.

LINKS:

BabyOfTheFamily.com

BABY OF THE FAMILY Director’s Look Book

20 Sep

Check out the Director’s Look book for BABY OF THE FAMILY, my feature film in development. I was inspired to create a Director’s Look Book after attending a NYWIFT (New York Women in Film and Television) sponsored case study on the groundbreaking film Pariah led by Pariah’s writer/director Dee Rees.  Look Books, whether in fashion or film, are a collection of images and  visual ideas that convey what the designer or director wants to achieve for that project.

BABY OF THE FAMILY Director's Look Book

I had actually compiled the images over a year ago, to give my Cinematographer a sense of what the film would be like visually. Developing the images into a Look Book took this process to the next level, as I added visual character sketches and location ideas to the visual motifs I had compiled. Valuable feedback from BABY OF THE FAMILY producers Nicole Sylvester and Rahsan Lindsay helped me to hone what I was trying to get across.  Filmmaking is  a team effort that takes planning…in addition to picking up a camera and going for it!

-O.G.

LINKS:

BABY OF THE FAMILY Director’s Look Book at Scribd.com

BABY OF THE FAMILY Director’s Look Book at babyofthefamily.com

Talking film “The Intouchables” with LET’S TALK FILM

26 Jun

I had a fun time joining the women of Let’s Talk Film, a television series where contemporary women get a chance to have their voices heard on the latest film releases. Hosted by Stefanie Alleyne and produced by Denise Goines, Let’s Talk Film is broadcast in Manhattan on MNN-TV and its full episodes are also posted online.

The Intouchables film

The Intouchables starring Omar Sy and François Cluzet

My co-panelists and I munched on macroons at the Love Peace Cafe in Tribeca as we mulled over this moving film told with a light touch and interesting insights on race and class in contemporary Paris. Directed by Eric Toledano and Olivier Nakache with great chemistry and wonderful performances by  François Cluzet and Omar Sy (winner of France’s prestigious Cesar award), The Intouchables was a huge hit in France but hasn’t really gotten its footing among audiences in the U.S.

Let's Talk Film-The Intouchables

Let’s Talk Film host Stefanie Alleyne and panelists Valerie Peterson, Olu Gittens and Yael Reed

Word of a Weinstein Brothers remake has peaked some interest; I wonder if the cultural nuances and emotional integrity of the original will translate?

I recommend seeing this gem in its original form when it comes out on home video; The Intouchables DVD release date to be announced.

-O.G.

LINK:

Review of The Intouchables at Let’s Talk Film

Neema Barnette zooms in on gospel cinema

30 Mar

If you’re a fan of gospel cinema, you know it’s a genre of film that fuses elements of African-American culture, tenets of Christian faith, and themes of family. These films, also known as faith-based or inspirational movies, bring strong melodrama, heart-breaking scenes that show characters falling to their knees or coming home to the church, emotional climaxes with rousing songs by gospel choirs, and of course, that one character representing the voice of wisdom.  Gospel cinema’s  titles include The Gospel, Woman Thou Art Loosed, Not Easily Broken, Preaching to the Choir, Blessed & Cursed and Preacher’s Kid, and its influence is seen in more entertainment-oriented, mainstream works like Jumping the Broom, Joyful Noise, Fighting Temptations, and many of Tyler Perry’s films.

While gospel cinema often has women protagonists and a loyal following among female audiences, it is as rare to find a woman in the director’s chair as it is to find one at the pulpit.  So as you can imagine, it’s an exciting development to see a female director behind this latest gospel cinema film, Bishop TD Jakes’ Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day. And it’s all the more exciting that the woman in question is as noteworthy and sought-after as director Neema Barnette.

Neema Barnette is the most prolific black female director to date, having helmed TV episodes, films, and TV movies going back three decades.  Barnette’s career has inspired many black female directors, including myself, to work in this field. In the 90’s, it was Neema Barnette on the mainstream tip and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust) on the indie, showing the world that black women can make movies. Fast forward to 2012 and Neema Barnette is adding her vision and talent to the world of gospel cinema.

I got to catch a special preview screening of On the 7th Day – Neema Barnette in appearance, moderated by black film pioneer Warrington Hudlin – at the Museum of the Moving Image in NYC.  On the 7th Day is described as “a gripping thriller and family drama, filmed on location in New Orleans, about a husband and wife who find themselves in the midst of a crisis when their young daughter is kidnapped. The kidnapper is supposedly a serial killer who murders his victims ‘On the 7th Day.’ During their desperate search, a series of deep secrets unveil a troubling past, putting the marriage and their futures in jeopardy.”

For gospel cinema fans, On the 7th Day delivers big time, showing Sharon Leal (Why Did I Get Married) and the iconic Blair Underwood as the embattled husband and wife, with appearances by Pam Grier, Nicole Beharie and Bishop TD Jakes. The  insights that Barnette brings as a black female director add social relevance and cultural sensitivity to the work, while the story takes the genre in a new direction as an intense suspense thriller. Tears will roll as the characters’ faith is tested and, ultimately, restored.

Will this couple’s daughter survive the kidnapping? Check out Woman Thou Art Loosed: On the 7th Day, which opens in theaters April 13, to find out. Distributed by Codeblack Entertainment.

-O.G.

Aaron Ingram, a champion of black independent film

22 Mar

From ActNow Foundation:

It’s with a heavy heart that we announce the passing of Aaron Ingram, our Founder and Executive Director, our brother and dear friend.  He passed away after a long, tough battle with cancer. Please pray for his family during this bereavement and know that they and many loved ones were by his side during his final days and hours.

Though we use this time to grieve, remember Aaron for his love of people, his love of the arts, his achievements as an actor, as a director, as a visionary, and as founder of one of the leading black theater and film institutions in NYC. His legacy lives on through ActNow Foundation with the continuation of great programs like New Voices in Black Cinema, New Voices in Theater, and the program that started ActNow, the ANF Short Film Collective.”

* * *

Aaron Ingram (2nd from right) with Celia Peters, Bill Johnson and Olu Gittens

Aaron Ingram (2nd from right) with Celia Peters, Bill Johnson and Olu Gittens

Aaron Ingram was a dear colleague who worked tirelessly to highlight the work of black independent filmmakers. Aaron showed my film “Lucky” many times and helped it garner a strong following. Aaron stressed partnerships with local businesses, holding screenings at Brooklyn’s NY Perks for years.  When ActNow Foundation got their space at South Oxford, it was like a dream come true. With the new space, venues such as BAM (Brooklyn Academy of Music), and support from New York City Council Member Letitia James and others, ActNow Foundation has truly taken flight to showcase the works of black filmmakers. Serious, soft-soken, determined and kind, Aaron was a powerful force in the promotion of black film — a champion.

Aaron, you will be greatly missed!

-O.G.

Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door: Are Open Letters to Hollywood Good for Black Film?

4 Mar

Russell SimmonsIt all started way back in ’86 when actress Margaret Avery penned an open letter that began “Dear God, I knows dat I been blessed…” Writing in the voice of The Color Purple’ s  Shug Avery character — by way of an ad in Variety magazine — the Best Supporting Actress nominee for that year’s Oscar gave a gentle nudge to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to consider her for their prestigious Award. And thus the Black Open Letter to the Gatekeepers of Cinema was born.

Ava DuvernayFast forward to May 2011, and African American filmmakers have been finding the independent film world to be as racially exclusive as the Hollywood establishment. Trailblazing filmmaker and self-distributor Ava DuVernay penned an open letter to the independent film community in a guest post in the Hope for Film section of IndieWire. In her letter to “the Tribeca-Indiewire-IFP-FilmIndependent-SXSW-Lincoln Center gate-keepers [of] mainstream indie treasures,” DuVernay created a call-to-action for honest dialogue between the indie establishment and filmmaking communities of color.

Tyler PerryIt’s only March and already 2012 has seen two more high profile black letters to the film community. Super-successful stage play director-turned-entertainment magnate Tyler Perry wrote an open letter on his website thanking George Lucas for making the high budget, special effects-laden historical film Red Tails.

And now hip hop icon and entrepreneur Russell Simmons has written an open letter to the Academy in The Hollywood Reporter and his own Global Grind website in disappointed reaction to this year’s Oscar Awards show. In essence, Simmons asserts that Hollywood, despite its liberal leanings, is not keeping pace with the emerging post-racial sensibilities of America’s audiences.

Each of these open letter writers reflects their times: a Best Supporting Actress hopeful, an emerging filmmaker, a stage play director-turned-one man media empire, and a hip hop mogul seeking to translate music industry norms and demographic realities to the film industry. And all their letters beg the question: are open letters to Hollywood, or indie-wood for that matter, good for black film?

Margaret Avery letter to GodWhile Margaret Avery received a backlash from many in the black community who cringed at her use of ebonics and noticed that she received, in the end, no Award, she continued to pave the way for Whoopi Goldberg’s 1991 Best Supporting Actress win for Ghost and Octavia Spencer’s 2012 win for The Help. Ava DuVernay managed to generate honest dialogue and bring attention to her work; months later, she became the first black woman to win the Sundance Film Festival’s Best Director Award in the U.S. Dramatic film competition for her feature Middle of Nowhere. Tyler Perry helped generate black community support for Red Tails, which reached number 2 at the box office its opening weekend despite mixed critical reviews. And though the results of Russell Simmons’ letter have yet to be seen, it bears saying that the Best Documentary winner of that very same Oscar ceremony was Simmons’ music industry compatriot Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

Of course, these letters are just words and words in themselves don’t make strides, people do. But these open letters can be seen as spoken wishes for the world of cinema to deliver to black people some small proof that our support and longings would not go unrequited. We should realize, though, that while those prayers went out to the gatekeepers of cinema, it was black talent and audiences who answered them.

-O.G.