Sundance ’14 | Black Film Preview

White People 1

We’re less than two weeks away from the kick-off of the 30th Annual Sundance Film Festival and the cinematic pace-setter has an impressive slate, including some intriguing films featuring people of African descent.

This year’s festival will feature more than 200 films from around the world beginning on January 15 through the closing date on January 27. Out of this slate are 15 films spotlighting people of color, including some shorts, features and world premieres.

Among the films screening is the return after 20 years of the acclaimed documentary, Hoop Dreams, as well as several other interesting titles from filmmakers around the world looking for distribution. Let’s take a look at some of the films that may show up in theaters later this year.


Afronauts 2

It’s 1969 and the United States are preparing to launch a man into space on Apollo 11. While that event garnered worldwide attention, little did anyone know that on the other side of the world the Zambia Space Academy was also trying to send someone to orbit in Afronauts by Ghanaian writer/director Frances Bodomo. The cast includes Diandra Forrest, Yolonda Ross and Hoji Fortuna.

Best 1

With his wedding only moments away, a man and his best friend confront their future. Brit William Oldroyd directs from screenwriter Adam Brace’s script. The film stars Jotham Annan and Terry Doe.


The Bravest, the Boldest
Two army casualty-notification officers arrive at the Harlem projects to deliver some news to a grief-stricken mother about her son serving in the war overseas. But whatever it is they have to say, she ain’t willing to hear it. Moon Molson co-wrote and directs this intense drama, which also stars Carlo Alban, Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris, Hisham Tawfiq, Venida Evans and Dante E. Clark


The End of Eating Everything
Kenyan-born Writer/director Wangechi Mutu’s short traces the journey of a flying, planetlike creature navigating a bleak skyscape. This sick soul is lost in a polluted atmosphere without grounding or roots, led by hunger toward its destruction. Singer/songwriter Santigold stars.


Rat Pack Rat
A Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator, hired to visit a loyal Rat Pack fan, finds himself performing the last rites at the boy’s bedside in writer/director Todd Rohal’s emotional short. Eddie Rouse, Steve Little and Margie Beegle star.


This documentary explores the iconic “untucked” jersey worn in 1977 when Marquette University won its first and only national college basketball championship. It was designed by one of Marquette’s players, Bo Ellis, under the fearless leadership of Coach Al McGuire. Marquette alum and actor Danny Pudi makes his directorial debut with this doc.



Concerning Violence
Three years after his wildly-successful documentary, The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975, director Göran Hugo Olsson returns to the Sundance Film Festival with a bold, fresh, and compelling visual narrative about the African liberation struggles of the 1960s and 1970s. Concerning Violence combines newly discovered archival material depicting some of the most daring moments in the confrontation with colonial power, accompanied by singer Lauryn Hill’s searing narrative and drawn from psychologist/philosopher Frantz Fanon’s seminal anticolonial text, The Wretched of the Earth.

White People 2

Dear White People
One of the films that is getting the most pre-festival buzz is this satirical story about a biracial student at a prestigious university whose actions on her radio show set a series of dominoes that skewer everything from our views on race, how we are perceived by the mass media, while poking fun at reality TV in this thought-provoking film. With tongue planted firmly in cheek, writer/director Justin Simien makes an auspicious debut with Dear White People, a witty and whip smart satire about black militancy, postracial fantasies, and the commodification of blackness. Nothing is black and white in this playful portrait of race in contemporary America. Stephanie Allain-Bray produces and the film stars Tyler James Williams (Everybody Hates Chris), Tessa Thompson (For Colored Girls), Teyonah Parris and Brandon Bell


This film follows a common practice and the oldest tradition in Ethopia, yet foreign to most Westerners – abduction into marriage. A young girl’s defiant stand finds her on the stand for her life. Aided by a tenacious young lawyer, her defense shines an uncomfortable spotlight, while putting both of them on a collision course between enforcing civil authority and abiding by customary law. Beneath the layer of polite social customs, an aggressively rooted patriarchy perpetuates inhospitable conditions for women in this engrossing and significant film, based on a real-life story by Ethiopian-born writer/director Zeresenay Berhane Mehari, making his feature-film debut; Meron Getnet and Tizita Hager co-star.


Fishing Without Nets
Co-writer/director Cutter Hodierne’s personal story centers on a principled, Somalian young husband and father Abdi turns to piracy to support his family. While his wife and child wait for him in Yemen, an outdated and fragile satellite phone is his only connection to all he truly values. Abdi and his fellow pirates hit the high seas and capture a French oil tanker, demanding a hefty ransom. During the long, tedious wait for the cash to arrive, Abdi forges a tentative friendship with one of the hostages. When some of the pirates resort to violence, Abdi must make dramatic choices to determine his course. The film stars Abdikani Muktar, Abdi Siad, Abduwhali Faarah, Abdikhadir Hassan, Reda Kateb and Idil Ibrahim.


Imperial Dreams
Malik Vitthal’s radiant debut feature leavens hardcore gangster life with a warm and earnest humanity. Bambi wants to publish his credos and chronicles and start his career the way any other normal young writer would. For Bambi, however, normal is the quandary. “Normal” means returning to Watts, Los Angeles, after a 28-month jail stint to find his young son playing next to his strung-out grandmother. It’s normal for the patriarch of his family to offer Bambi pills, guns, and a drug-running job as a way to welcome him home. A normal visit from his cousin involves Bambi and son performing minor surgery to extract a bullet from his arm. Bambi meets this surreal, ghetto normal with equanimity, but he knows life can’t be “normal” like this for long. Two-time Black Reel Award winner John Boyega headlines this talented cast, which includes Rotimi Akinosho, Glenn Plummer, Keke Palmer and De’aundre Bonds.


Writer/director Tim Sutton crafts an impressionistic folktale framed around the enigmatic musician/poet Willis Earl Beal and the city of Memphis in this story of a strange singer with God-given talent drifts through his adopted city of Memphis. With its canopy of ancient oak trees, streets of shattered windows, and aura of burning spirituality the film is an elusive document of myth-making and the sources that feed those myths. Beal, Lopaka Thomas, Constance Brantley, Devonte Hull, John Gary Williams and Larry Dodson star.


White Shadow
Alias is a young boy growing up in the central African bush. An albino, he is the subject of taunting and also vulnerable to a terrible danger: the belief among witch doctors and people of the region that the bodies of albinos offer magical powers. As a result of this belief, many albinos are murdered or mutilated for the prize of a charmed body part. Director Noaz Deshe draws a raw, emotionally shattering performance from Hamisi Bazili as Alias and powerfully renders his character’s world of interlocking hells. Through precise, expressionistic visual and aural atmospheres that heighten the theme of darkness in the film, the audience is witness to a boy’s plight and how he fights his way to justice and transcendence. The film stars. Hamisi Bazili, James Gayo, Glory Mbayuwayu and Salum Abdallah.



Finding Fela
No individual better embodies African music of the 1970s and ’80s—and its pivotal role in postcolonial political activism—than Fela Kuti. After quickly taking his native Nigeria by storm, the pioneering musician’s confrontational Afrobeat sound soon spread throughout the continent and beyond, even as it made determined enemies of the repressive Nigerian military regime. As a result of continued persecution, increasingly unorthodox behavior, and, eventually, complications due to HIV, Kuti’s final years saw his musical output and influence wane. Academy Award winner Alex Gibney directs this story with music composed by Fela, himself.


Hoop Dreams
That Roger Ebert selected this three-hour documentary as the best film of the 1990s is just the first of many remarkable things about Hoop Dreams. Steve James’s insightful and compassionate film follows two teenagers who hope to escape their inner-city Chicago neighborhoods by parlaying their basketball skills into NBA careers for five years. Arthur Agee and William Gates both receive scholarships to St. Joseph’s, a suburban Catholic high school with one of the best basketball programs in the state. When Agee leaves for financial reasons to attend Marshall Metro, his neighborhood high school, the film counterpoints their stories as they try to lead their teams to the state finals. Directed by Steve James, Hoop Dreams won the documentary Audience Award at the 1994 Sundance Film Festival and made more top-10 lists than any other film that year. This year will feature a newly restored, high-definition digital print.


No No: Dockumentary
The story of the pitcher who threw a no-hitter while tripping on acid—known by fans and nonfans alike—has become emblematic of professional baseball’s excess in the 1970s. However, that pitcher, Dock Ellis, had a career and a life that transcended one use of LSD. Director Jeffrey Radice’s film provides the backstory to an outrageous anecdote by presenting the full life—warts and all—of a unique baseball player and human being. From Jackie Robinson to Donald Hall, Ron Howard, and others, Dock Ellis touched the lives of many people, as told in this surprising story of redemption. Beastie Boy founding member Adam “Ad-Rock” Horovitz composed the score.


We Come as Friends
As war-ravaged South Sudan claims independence from North Sudan and its brutal President, Omar al-Bashir, a tiny, homemade prop plane wings in from France. It is piloted by eagle-eyed documentarian Hubert Sauper, who is mining for stories in a land trapped in the past but careening toward an apocalyptic future. Like his flying machine, Sauper intuitively zooms in for close-ups and out for perspective, yielding shocking and profound insights about the contours of contemporary colonialism. Brimming with visual metaphor and grounded in honest human contact, We Come as Friends is an electrifying collage of horrifying, but sometimes poetic, contradictions.