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Urbanworld Film Festival begins this week

CRAIG D. FRAZIER Special to the AmNews | 5/23/2013, 2:52 p.m.
Urbanworld Film Festival begins this week

Heralded as the nation's largest competitive multicultural film festival, Urbanworld takes place through Sept. 23 at Manhattan's AMC 34th Street. This year's festival will screen 49 films, including 17 world premieres. This year's films reflect Urbanworld's ideology that "urban" is more of a mindset, lifestyle and behavior rather than a racial indicator.

"Urbanworld is really about providing a platform for films by and about people of color--being able to expose them to not only our community but to a larger community," explains Gabrielle Glore, executive producer and head of programming for festival. "To have the opportunity to help shape people's perception about the quality and content that we as a people of color can create is personally rewarding to me."

Glore said that throughout the years Urbanworld has brought hundreds of multicultural films to light and connected countless filmmakers with audiences around the world. It continues to be a vehicle for diverse filmmakers to tell their stories, while expanding the perception of the "urban" sensibility.

"This takes place in many different ways. You can have a film directed by a white director whose subject matter has Black themes and characters that fit our criteria," Glore said. "You can have a person of color who writes and directs a feature, but has a story and cast that doesn't necessarily constitute an all-Black cast, but is much more of an organic reflection for what America looks like today."

The five-day festival includes narrative features, documentaries and short films, as well as panel discussions, live screenplay readings and the Urbanworld Digital track focused on digital and social media.

"Urbanworld is the people's festival. We are very grassroots. Very high touch with the filmmakers and sponsors who have made a commitment to our organization," noted Glore. "They have the desire to make sure that creators of color, stories of color, characters of color are shown and exposed, not just to the people that look like us but also to the broader community. Along with that authenticity, you get universality of themes."

BET Networks returns for a fifth year as presenting sponsor, along with founding sponsor HBO, which will host the Urbanworld Digital program again this year. The festival starts Thursday, Sept. 20, with the premiere of the BET film "Being Mary Jane" which stars Gabrielle Union, Lisa Vidal and Richard Roundtree. The film is written and directed by the powerhouse couple behind "Sparkle" and "The Game," Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil.

Highlights of Urbanworld 2012 include "The Girl Is in Trouble" (starring Columbus Short and Wilmer Valderrama); "Won't Back Down" (starring Viola Davis, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Rosie Perez); "Doin' It in the Park" (co-directed by Kevin Couliau and Bobbito Garcia); and narrative shorts by Actors Salli Richardson-Whitfield and Hill Harper making their directorial debuts.

Filmmaker Ava DuVernay closes the festival Sunday night with her latest, "Middle of Nowhere." Urbanworld's successful alumni include Tim Story ("Think Like a Man") and Malcolm Lee ("The Best Man").

A program overview is available on the Urbanworld website, urbanworld.com. Online RSVP required.