Vishnu Seesahai screened his thriller Candid at UWFF

DZI: The Voice was very privileged to cover the 16th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival- the nation’s largest competitive multicultural film festival. Founded in 1997 by Stacy Spikes and presented by BET Networks, the 5 day festival took place from September 19-23 and was held in New York City at the AMC 34th Street Theatre. 49 movies were screened- 17 of them world premieres- including narrative features, short films, and documentaries. Panel discussions and live staged screenplay readings also took place. Urbanworld presented seven awards to winning films that included Best Narrative Feature (Four) and the Audience Award (Doin’ It In The Park).

Gabrielle Union hits the red carpet

The opening night film was Being Mary Jane starring seasoned actress Gabrielle Union, written by Mara Brock Akil (creator of the t.v. show Girlfriends and the current smash The Game), and directed by Akil’s husband Salim Akil (director of Sparkle starring the late Whitney Houston). Co-stars Tiki Sumpter and Richard Brooks ascended the red carpet alongside the Akils with the dazzling star of the night, Gabrielle Union, for the premiere of the movie.

BET President Debra Lee, Director Salim Akil, & Screenwriter Mara Brock Akil

The second day of the festival had an array of celebrities including Rosie Perez and Lance Reddick of the education drama Won’t Back Down. Directors of the documentary Benji, Coodie and Chike, director Bobbito Garcia of the street basketball documentary Doin’ It In the Park, and ex-basketball player Larry Johnson came out to promote their respective films.

Directors Coodie and Chike

Closing night’s film was Middle of Nowhere starring wonderful newcomer Emayatzy Corinealdi and directed by Ava DuVernay. DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere earned her the honor of becoming the first African American woman to win “Best Director” at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival earlier this year. A stunning Corinealdi stole the show as she made her appearance on the red carpet.

Actress Emayatzy Corinealdi & Director Ava DuVernay

3 Standout Movies from the Urbanworld Film Festival:

Being Mary Jane

Being Mary Jane starts out with a sad statistic: 42% of Black women will never marry. Welcome to Mary Jane Paul’s world.  Gabrielle Union plays Mary Jane– a popular talk show host who is successful in her career but in her dating life she is anything but. Her romantic catches range from: a married man whose ring she finds on the floor after a romp in the sack, to an old ex who is now just interested in the casual hook up. To make matters worse, Mary Jane is trying to be the rock to her family of a moocher brother (Richard Brooks), apathetic father (Richard Roundtree aka Shaft) and sick mother (Margaret Avery). To top off her anguishes, her boss won’t let her give a rebuttal to a magazine article that suggests Black women are unattractive.

Being Mary Jane is written with such truth by Mara Brock Akil, and the main character is played painstakingly unfulfilled by Union. Mary Jane begins to see that the only way to her happiness and to start the family she craves is to dump the man, but steal his sperm before she does so. Being Mary Jane is actually being turned into a television series on BET – still starring Gabrielle Union- so stay tuned to follow Mary Jane and her trials and tribulations of being a single woman.

Check out a Q&A with Being Mary Jane’s actress Gabrielle Union, writer Mara Brock Akil, actress Tiki Sumpter, & actor Richard Brooks:


Vishnu Seesahai wrote, directed, and stars in Candid.  Seesahai plays Jim, a troubled voyeur who follows unsuspecting women around NYC with his DSLR camera. Jim eventually befriends the wrong woman- a model who is not only an exhibitionist, but also a serial killer. Jim’s constant videotaping gives Candid a realistic creepy feeling as the audience truly watches him intrude on other people’s privacy.

Toni Busker is amazingly chilling, yet vulnerable, as regular-girl-turned-rape-victim-turned-avenger, Samantha Birch. Samantha justifies her violent actions because she proclaims murder is her medicine. Rather than the  cliché approach of having Jim stalk and kill women, seeing Samantha hunting and murdering men is incredibly refreshing. Candid is a twisted “love story” that you’ll want to look away from but Jim’s lens won’t let you- and neither will Samantha’s handiwork with a knife.

Check out the trailer for Candid and a Q&A with writer/director/actor Vishnu Seesahai::

Middle of Nowhere

Emayatzy Corinealdi  has the potential to become “the next Halle Berry.” Just as gorgeous and a capable actress, Corinealdi outdoes herself in her first feature film as Ruby- a married woman torn between loyalty to her husband Derek (Omari Hardwick) who’s been in jail for 8 years and a new man, Brian (David Oyelowo), who comes into her life just at the right time. Corinealdi is strong and elegant in her role as the medical student in love with two men. Rudy’s journey also forces her to evaluate her own inner self and strained relationship with her mother (Lorraine Toussaint). Just her second feature film, Ava DuVernay beautifully directs this love triangle. More awards will most definitely follow in DuVernay’s career.

Check out the trailer for Middle of Nowhere and a Q&A with actress Emayatzy Corinealdi, director Ava DuVernay, producer Paul Garnes, & cinematographer Bradford Young:

For the complete list winners of the 2012 Urbanworld Festival  click it.

All festival photos by Sidra Lackey for DZI:The Voice