The UrbanWorld Film Festival is back in the big apple!
The annual UrbanWorld Film Festival is back in New York City this weekend to grace the city with epic narrative features, documentaries, short films and spotlight screenings. The festival premieres some of the industry’s most promising and creative filmmakers along with interactive panels and fun parties.
We got the chance to chat with a few of the creative minds behind some of the premiering films including featured film Title VII’s lead actress Chicava HoneyChild, the director of Title VII Nicole Franklin, Orange is the New Black’s Vicky Jeudy, creators of the feature film Sepulveda Brandon Wilson and Jena English, director of Queen of Katwe Mira Nair and star of Queen of Katwe David Oyelowo. This artistic bunch gave our reporter Sade Graham the inside dish on challenges in making their movie and playing a role, the importance of music and much more!
Tell us what is happening with you these days. I heard your coming out in a new movie Title VII.
Chicava HoneyChild: Yes I’m in Nicole Franklin’s Title VII. I play Hilary Kelsey, she is the CEO of a company and she has a little problem with same race discrimination because of how she was raised. That comes to ahead all in one day and it expounds on some lessons that I hope really creates conversation and feed dialogue and fosters feeling.
As a black woman yourself, what kind of challenges did you face when playing this role or dealing with this subject overall?
Chicava HoneyChild: As a black woman I’m glad to put the story out there, so that we can tackle it and progress our evolution and move out of this. We’re working on things externally people are taking to the street, people are taking community action and at the same time we are also working on things internally to heal ourselves from black self-loathing and this post dramatic stress. As a black woman that’s what it means to me and as an actor the role is just hella fun.
Can you tell me a bit about your film and the day you decided to bring this together?
Nicole Franklin: I do films on the black community as a documentarian and then I wanted to do my first narrative feature and I knew it was going to be a micro budget, so a really small budget character piece that’s where you got to go first to get it done. So what characters? I read this wonderful book by Daisy M. Jenkins it was her first and it was about a black male CEO who didn’t like being black at all, so he kept all black people away from the firm, a very prominent firm. Fast forward after the script had gone through several drafts I brought on Greg T. Williams as a screenwriter and we flipped the role. He’s like, “Nicole’s a woman lets make this a woman.” So a black female CEO now takes that on and it is a really bad day at work, Title VII. If you bring that awfulness within you to the office and your putting everybody in their place with the wrong agenda starting with your heritage things are going to go bad. It’s a dark dark film. I got to warn people it’s not for children. I’m being serious about that racially and sexually things go really bad.
What kind of challenges did you have putting the film together, picking the characters and choosing the topic overall?
Nicole Franklin: We had a lot of challenges cause we were micro budget. We filmed it in eight days. We filmed a feature film in eight days and I’ll be teaching a class on it actually I have a hash tag, #filmafeaturein8days please look that up. Some people didn’t think we could do it so we had to say goodbye to them and they said goodbye to us; then we had to get a whole new cast in a month to memorize these lines and get in character. When you see Chicava HoneyChild’s performance as Hilary Kelsey the script supervisor even said this was written for her. She just got it. We’ve been friends for a very long time and it worked out.
Tell us why you’re here tonight and how it feels to be in this arena of creators and talent in today’s world?
Vicky Jeudy: I think it feels great. I feel like this is a great venue where all of us can gather together and we can support each other and we can tell the stories that we want seen on the big screen. I think that it starts here I feel like this film festival is so important and I just love the fact that it keeps growing and it gets bigger and bigger. It’s funny today I was looking at the internet and I think Aaliyah was here during like the fourth annual and I just started thinking about her so its good just to see how far it’s come along.
What’s going on with you right now? Anything interesting?
Vicky Jeudy: Well I’m shooting season five. It’s pretty much taking all of my time and yeah we’re shooting for like the next six months. Season four was really good it went in a completely different direction. I think season four is the best; season five is really good too.
Are you planning on being part of Urban World and film festivals in the future? Is there anything that you’re personally working on outside of Orange is the New Black?
Vicky Jeudy: At the moment there is something I’m working on I can’t say too much about it.
I heard this movie was improvised. Can you explain that?
Jena English: So we had a story and we had the scenes blocked out, so we know what’s supposed to happen each scene and then we just let the actors kind of do their thing. They were really playing themselves, the three leads, we have actors as supporting cast members, but we put them in a scenario and they really just played themselves. We basically had to kind of shoot it and edit it like a documentary.
Can you guys tell me about the conception of the whole thing and how it all came together? How you guys all came together to create it?
Brandon Wilson: It’s a road trip movie except they really never go to another place. It’s really just about going down this particular road, which is the longest street in southern California, one of the longest streets in America. Music is really important which is where Melinda comes in and they had to have a really killer soundtrack if they were in the car the whole time. The music really complements the film and sort of speaks to where they’re at emotionally and it brought a lot so we’re really grateful for Malinda and all the artist who contributed.
Can you talk about the music really quickly? How was the process of putting that all together?
Malinda LeBeau: It actually was predestined. The music just fit the film and the vibe of the film. “Loud Love” and “Ariel’s Verse” are two of the records in the film and it just works with the theme of Sepulveda and it was God.
Jena English: I actually know, from college, her producer that works with her and I reached out to him and I said, “Hey do you have any artist that would love to have their music in a film” and he hooked me up with Melinda and we all, the cast and me and Brandon, just fell in live with her music and picked two songs to be in there.
Has it played here yet already?
Brandon Wilson: No. This is its world premiere and the only time its scheduled to play. This festival we will be sending it out and hopefully get invitations from a lot more. Hopefully it will be kind of set in the city and then well see down the road what happens as far as the bigger distribution.
Can you speak on working in Uganda for this film and the cast?
Mira Nair: Well Uganda is my home for the last 27 years so it was a real joy and a privilege to make this film from inside, from within. The color of Uganda, the redness of the earth, the green of the flora, the sassiness of the prints that people wear, the style and the dignity of its people. It was a total joy to capture that and all that sass and that life is quality that whatever little you may have you are going to live fully. That is what the Queen of Katwe captures in the story of this 10year old plucky girl who has a gift for chess.
What does it mean for you to be here tonight?
Mira Nair: I’m thrilled to be here in my other home of New York City. Especially at the Urban World Festival because the festival reflects the world I live in. I am part of that urban world and Queen of Katwe is very much front and center in the urban world except set in Africa my other home in Kampala Uganda so welcome to Queen of Katwe.
I know that you are very selective with your roles so can you tell us about your character Robert? How did you decide to take on the role?
David Oyelowo: Robert is a chess coach who discovers this girl, Phiona, who has this incredible chess playing talent and helps guide her towards becoming a champion. I just felt reading it that this is a love letter to my daughter its something I would want her to know, which is that no matter who will try to marginalize her no matter her circumstances she can go on and achieve anything she can as long as she applies herself. I think that that is a great message to be coming out of Africa because it’s a universal one and it is certainly one that I am a fan of as a father.
Has your appreciation for chess grown since doing this film?
David Oyelowo: Yeah it has because as illustrated in the film chess is very much a metaphor for life. You know your goal is to get to the king but if you try and get there too soon you’ll get picked off and you have to anticipate your opponents move, you have to think a couple of moves ahead in order to succeed and I think that definitely applies to life.
David Oyelowo: As we know intolerance is something that is very much at the fall at the moment and I think the way you break down intolerance is understanding. Intolerance and prejudice is based on fear, but if you can relate to a young black girl from Uganda because she goes through journey that is a kin to yours then I think that breaks down prejudice. It illustrates that we are more alike than we are different and I think that that helps it’s a bond in the times were in right now.
The film festival is presented by HBO and Revolt.