Harlem’s Hip Hop Film Festival Provides A Safe Space For Black Creatives

Harlem’s Hip Hop Film Festival Provides A Safe Space For Black Creatives

This intimate, but impactful, film festival was a much-needed gathering for New York’s Black film community.

Published 1 week ago

Written by Bernadette R. Giacomazzo

Historically, film festivals have not been as receptive to Black creatives as they are to white creatives. Recently, of course, the tenor of film festivals — and of Hollywood — has changed dramatically. Increased social awareness, thanks to both the #MeToo movement and, to a much greater extent, the #OscarsSoWhite movement, has created a space for new voices to enter the entertainment fray. Black voices are being amplified at festivals like ABFF and given space to tell their stories.

For creatives that are looking to be seen, and heard, by other creatives and professionals that look like them, the Hip Hop Film Festival proves another much-needed reprieve from a “nearly all white” entertainment world. The tenor of the festival, too, proved much different than others. Free from the constraints of code-switching and other forms of standing on ceremony, the Black creatives in attendance almost unanimously cheered the “safe space” provided by the festival — a place where they could all be themselves, speak their language and celebrate their culture in an open, honest way.

The festival, which took place from August 1 to 4 2019, was hosted at the historic National Black Theater in Harlem, New York, and was specifically designed for writers, directors and producers who grew up in the global culture of hip-hop. And, as a testament to the global nature of hip-hop, the festival boasted an audience of over 100 directors, producers and screenwriters from the United States, France, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Canada, the UK, Russia, Switzerland, South Africa, India, Japan, Portugal and Argentina.

“The Hip Hop Film Festival is committed to empowering filmmakers and movie lovers that grew up in the universal culture of hip-hop,” said HHFF founder CR Capers, who spent most of the festival being hands-on with as many creatives as she possibly could, all with a warm greeting and a welcoming smile.

But more than a kind word, Capers and the Hip Hop Film Festival offers unparalleled opportunity. Aspiring documentarians, for example, had a chance to showcase their offerings to earn an acquisition meeting with REVOLT TV executives.

 

Dapper Dan being interviewed at Hip Hop Film Festival.

For Thomas Freeman Jr., the opportunity to potentially have his documentary, The Great Hip-Hop Migration, picked up by such a large conglomerate was one worth striving for. “The Hip Hop Film Festival was the perfect place to showcase my film,” he said. “You know, even though filmmaking is changing, a festival like this provides something valuable. Namely, it provides the exposure, and most importantly, the access, for filmmakers like me that may not have the resources to get it any other way.”

Roland Lane, an actor best known for his work in The Long Goodbye — and who was at the Hip Hop Film Festival to promote his appearance in the television series Sauce, which was also showcased at the Festival — agrees. “For me, I got a lot out of this — namely, in the form of access. I’m seeing my whole creative network here — the actors, the writers, the directors I’ve worked with in the past — and they’ve introduced me to a whole new subset of actors, writers, and directors. A lot of the opportunities that I’ve gotten, especially in the past couple of years, has all been because of my network. It’s all been because of the people that I’ve met — the people I’ve collaborated with — or even just some degree of separation where someone has referred me to someone else. It’s all been invaluable to me.”

Past submissions and winners have generated great success for the festival. For example, Stefon Bristol’s film See You Yesterday was screened at a previous edition of the Hip Hop Film Festival, and that screening resulted in Spike Lee — and later, Netflix — negotiating a prominent deal for the young filmmaker. And that example was far from the first of its kind: both the festival and the featured filmmakers received worldwide press, and many went on to be invited to other festivals, offered world tours and obtained distribution deals.

 

'Master Cypher' with Stefon Bristol and Bruce Cohen at Hip Hop Film Festival

It’s the hope of this type of success that brought New Orleans native Courtni Saizon and her Brooklyn-based filmmaking partner, Brittany Heyward, to the festival. Saizon & Heyward screened their web series, Prospect Park, for the Act Up mini-workshop, and the experience was, for them, a refreshing one.

“We wouldn’t mind giving up some creative ownership of our product,” said Heyward. “At least, I wouldn’t mind — because at the end of the day, something good, something bigger, is going to come out of it. We just really want to share our vision — and get our project out there.”

“What Hip Hop Film Festival is about — and what it’s doing — is so important,” added Saizon. “Their inclusivity, as I mentioned earlier, is what makes it so great. It’s rebellious. It’s mainstream. It’s made such an important impact, not just on us, but on culture in general.”

Aware of the impact that hip-hop has had on the culture as whole, the Hip Hop Film Festival organizers made the even bolder decision to give their prestigious G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) award to the late John Singleton, an award that included several special events honoring the director, including entertainment inspired by the movies of Singleton at the festival’s two-story art gallery.

It’s a decision that was well-embraced by all in attendance, including the mononymic Shefik, whose bold screenplay, One Soul Word, was prominently featured and was a finalist, as well, at the festival. “The philosophy is four pillars — peace, love, unity and respect,” he said, speaking of both his film and the tenor of the festival. “It’s about trying to find themselves — about trying to capture their identity — and it’s about acceptance and love.”

 

Here is a full list of the 2019 Hip Hop Film Festival winners.

BEST OF THE FEST

WINNER: Pas Honteux

Nominees:

Kasala!

Outgrown

Underdogs

The Closet B.I.T.C.H.

 

BEST FEATURE

WINNER: Contents Under Pressure

Nominees: 

Scam Republique

Regret

Kasala!

 

BEST DOCUMENTARY

WINNER: Underdogs

Nominees:

Nowhere Bastards

The Process

The Killing of the Fifth Element

Shadows In The Box

 

BEST SHORT

WINNER: Pas Honteux

Nominees:

God Bless You

The Hip Hop Kid

 

BEST WEB SERIES

WINNER: The Closet B.I.T.C.H.

Nominees:

#Washed

Bad Web Series

Basic Lee

Sauce

 

BEST MUSIC VIDEO

WINNER: El Chapo

Nominees:

The Process presents Rasheed Cambell

OG Bobby

Rebirth of Slick

Know Me So Well

 

BEST DIRECTOR

WINNER: Jamal Hodge – A Happy Divorce

Nominees:

Michael Pickney – Blue Flame

Teo Frank – Underdogs

John Tucker – Pas Honteux

 

BEST CINEMATOGRAPHY

WINNER: To The Madness

Nominees:

Nana’s Room

Sauce

The Hip Hop Kid

 

BEST SFX/EDITING

WINNER: The Closet B.I.T.C.H.

Nominees:

I am Hero

The Process Presents Rashad Cambell

Loose Lips

 

BEST SCREENPLAY

WINNER:  God Bless You

Nominees:

Existenital Donut

Winston

Keep It Movin

How to Cash Your Life Insurance In 30 Days

 

BEST COMEDY

WINNER: Bad Web Series

Nominees:

To The Madness

FAM Club

Rhonda Mitchell MD

 

BEST ACTRESS

WINNER: Shana Solomon – The Closet B.I.T.C.H.

Nominees:

Samantha Lopez – Me 3.769

Mitch Roberson – Nana’s Rooom

Regine Mont Louis – How To Cash Your Life Insurance in 30 Days

Erica Bowman – Basic Lee

 

BEST ACTOR

WINNER: Kyvon Edwin – Winston

Nominees:

Travis LaBranch – Pas Honteux

Philip E. Walker – The Hip Hop Kid

Guyviad Joseph – God Bless You

Dimitri Carter – Showtime

 

BEST SOCIAL JUSTICE FILM

WINNER: Causalties of WAR

Nominees:

Four Points

The Color of Skin

The Interview

Pride Is Costly

 

BEST COSTUME DESIGN

WINNER: Mr. & Mrs. Jackson

Nominees:

Outgrown

Blue Flame 

Sauce

 

BEST ORIGINAL SCORE / SOUNDTRACK

WINNER: Nana’s Room

Nominees:

#Washed

Keep It Movin

Pas Honteux

Lionel Fantom

 

BEST OF THE FEST INTERNATIONAL

WINNER: Kasala!

Nominees:

1 World Under A Groove

Kangol: Hip hop University

Scam Republique

 

BEST OF THE FEST – AUDIENCE FAVORITE

WINNER: #Washed

Nominees:

The Closet B.I.T.C.H.

Keep It Movin

Bad Web Series

FAM Club

 

BEST OF THE FEST – SCREENWRITER’S COMPETITION

WINNER: Prospect Park

Nominees:

The Actor

Still Got The Juice

Toyz On Demand

 

BEST OF THE FEST – NEW JACK WINNER :

Shawn Antione II – Showtime

 

BOSS PITCH WINNER : PROSPECT PARK

 

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