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How Samuel Bazawule overcame fear while making The Burial of Kojo

During his TED Talk in 2016, Samuel Bazawule, better known as the Ghanian-American rapper, visual artist, turned filmmaker, “Blitz The Ambassador,” declared in his talk that “innovative ideas are best fostered outside of conventions.”

Bazawule made this statement in the context of describing his ingenious music career, where he has managed to masterfully blend the African sounds of Highlife and Afrobeat with hip-hop; a dazzling sound which has garnered fans from around the world.

In our interview, Bazawule noted that he grew up in “a typical Ghanaian household” and recalled spending his younger years endlessly painting and drawing.

With parents who supported his budding artistry, Bazawule was ultimately able to evade what he cited as the conventional career trajectory for many in people who reside on the continent; a doctor, a teacher, or for Bazawule personally, to follow in the footsteps of his attorney father.

Music became an extension of his journey as an artist. His education in music wasn’t neatly chartered through a school system, nor through sheet music. The soundscape of Accra was his music school.

“From drumming, dancing in school, wake keepings and outdoor gatherings, music and especially live music, was everywhere. At the time, Highlife music in Ghana was huge and there was very little American music on the radio and if there was, it was oldies,” he expressed.

Bazawule is indebted to his older brother who introduced him to hip-hop at a young age. His older brother, who during his visits home would bring back cassette tapes of Rakim and KRS-One.

The conscious lyrics, the beats, scratches, and sounds left Bazawule completely enthralled. “Hip hop was really new, there were no real stations or programs dedicated to it. I wasn’t too familiar with the conditions of African-Americans at the time due to limited information,” he said.

“Still, I still felt like these were people that found a way of speaking their truth. Sometimes it was vulgar or disrespectful, but it still sounded like truth.”

After finding out that hip-hop was sample culture and that anyone could participate, Bazawule became excited. He expressed,

“It was a very open source and transparent medium; you saw how it was made. All I had to do was take the things around me, chop it up and make my version of hip-hop…”

Bazawule continued,

“Other people were thinking the same thing, and we ultimately birthed Hiplife which was Highlife combined with Hip-Hop. Out of HipLife came people like myself, who sampled classic African records, just like A Tribe Called Quest would flip a jazz record. We were flipping Highlife and Afrobeat records and rhyming in whatever language we were familiar with and that became our norm.”

Bazawule is now based in Brooklyn. In our interview, he described his move to the U.S. and his introduction to the hip-hop scene,

“When I moved to the U.S., I kind of attempted to assimilate and in doing so for a few years, I just realized that there was no point. I wasn’t contributing to the canon of hip-hop, so I thought if I’m going to participate in it, then it was better to introduce people to this Hiplife sound,” he said.

Admittedly, Bazawule has always wanted to make something back home in Ghana. After several years of making music, Bazawule returned to his roots as a visual artist.

Since cinema is an art form that marries Bazawule’s love of sound and image, it made sense for the artist to transition into filmmaking and find another creative avenue to articulate his diasporic condition.

The story of The Burial of Kojo was inspired by one of Bazawule’s annual visits home to Ghana, where he read a story about a group of miners who had been buried alive. In our interview, he recalled,

“I became very interested in the story and I have always wanted to make something at home but never wanted to make the kind of film that I call a ‘cultural safari;’ which is what I feel most African films are, not all, but a good majority of them…primarily because whoever makes these films have to create or present a version of us that they are comfortable with.”

The Burial of Kojo chronicles the tale of two brothers through the gifted eyes of a young girl who transports the audience to the beautiful lands of Ghana and other worlds that exist between life and death.

When I asked Bazawule if the familial story was born out of something specific, or personal experience, he said, “No, it wasn’t. But it was born out of knowing a lot of people who have experienced trauma and have not had the help to deal with it. Which is typical on the continent, because professional help is expensive and is to an extent reserved for an elite.”

“The average person often witnesses an accident or has a family member who dies tragically, but they never get to talk about it. I’ve always been intrigued about this idea of what guilt can do when you don’t get a chance to exert it.”

Bazawule continued,

“As much as it is important to speak about Chinese imperialism and some of the other socio-economic issues that are dealt with in the film, I made sure that those things were secondary and that they never overshadowed the story of the family and the issue of Kojo dealing with his guilt and a tragedy,” he continued.

The Burial of Kojo’s non-linear narrative structure adheres to the oral traditions of African storytelling and the story is filtered through the eyes of the young protagonist, Esi.

From the film’s onset, the audience is completely aligned with her subjectivity as the film opens with her voice narration describing her father who is haunted by the memory of a car accident.

Speaking on his decision to use a young girl as the film’s protagonist and employ voice-over narration, Bazawule explained,

“It was born out of my grandmother’s stories. That is my understanding of story, you know?  Almost always the protagonists were young girls, which was probably her way of mirroring herself in these worlds. But I think more importantly, women run most indigenous societies…

He continued,

“This film was always about a moment of truth – the source of this little girl’s knowing is from my grandmother’s stories and her form of knowing. And if you follow Esi’s character, she is the only one that stays knowing from the beginning, everyone else comes to an understanding at some point in the film or recedes from an understanding.”

Through its non-linear form, The Burial of Kojo continually challenges the spectators’ ability to reconcile time and space.

There is a way in which the visual poetics of the film — the floating camera movement, the moments of slow and fast motion, the repetition of shots and upside down camerawork —  render the past, present, and future to fold into one another.

The Burial of Kojo brings to light how trauma impacts not only the individual but also their relationships with their community and family. Through its magical realism, the film masterfully blurs the line between the film’s diegesis, memory, and dream; simulating the movement between the conscious and subconscious in the relaying of memory.

With the audience often occupying these liminal positions, The Burial of Kojo draws attention to the way the cinematic image can expose the melancholic work of memory, and allow one the opportunity to grieve and mourn in time.

Indeed, time makes itself present through the aural motif of a ticking clock. With little knowledge of how much time has passed between events, this ambivalence heightens the spectators’ engagement with the aural modality of storytelling, and rely on Esi’s narration to decipher what happened to Kojo.

Speaking on the subject of the audience’s engagement with the film, Bazawule explained that cinematically he focuses on pulling the spectator in. Even in a scene where people are eating, he wants you to have a seat at the table.

“Empathy is something cinema directly inspires. Other mediums, like music, visual art, and literature are very powerful but cinema combines all these mediums and makes use of everything. It has the ability to create or inspire a strong empathy for the character,” Bazawule said.

In discussing his collaboration with cinematographer Michael Fernandez, he expressed,

“We were clear that we are going to shoot this film like we are there, and that the audience is going to participate because that is African art.  I mean, have you been to an African wedding? You get pulled into the dance or handed a drum, you are not there to observe, you are there to participate….

Bazawule continued,

Voyeurism is a Western concept. It’s the same way we take masks that are for ritual purposes and put them behind a glass box and put them in the Louvre. In other words, how can I experience this thing without actually experiencing it?”

In working with Fernandez, Bazawule explained how clear he was on how he wanted color and proximity to tell their story. Additionally, he expressed his frustration on how most African films are treated in post-production. Bazawule said,

Most people who color African films have never been to Africa. They have a perception of it and have certain films that inform their perception — sepia tone, brown and earthy tones — everything de-saturated. Films became very voyeuristic in their photography — which is what I meant about African films feeling like ‘a cultural safari.”

Bazawule’s braveness behind the camera goes unmatched and with Fernandez, they were able to overcome fear.

“‘We have got to be brave with the camera.’ That was our go-to saying. The camera was going to go places that were not traditional. When making this film I thought if my grandmother stumbled on this tape, this video, this clip, will she get it? or will she be like “alright you have just made another Western film that I don’t understand? Your personal audience is so important.”

In discussing his fears in making the film, he expressed,

“It was scary. You are dealing with a world that is so Euro-normative or Eurocentric. Any slight deviation comes with punishment, and sometimes your work gets canned…

Bazawule continued,

“But autonomy is key. I never once had someone next to me saying, ‘I don’t believe in the story you’re telling or your structure.’ I was lucky that based on my music career I had access to funds that enabled me to get the ball rolling on the film and then started a Kickstarter campaign to finish the film. But through it all, it was autonomy.”

On his advice for aspiring filmmakers, he stressed endurance and bravery. For Bazawule, there is no sense to “produce work that regurgitates someone else’s perspective. It’s so important to figure out what is in your genetic memory; what you remember as a story.”

“It takes great endurance, that’s a talent in itself. It also takes bravery. These two things will determine if you will make work you will be proud of, or work that fits a mold and will be forgotten tomorrow.”

He continued,

“If I am true and honest about my work then the rest of the world will come to it. The work doesn’t have to come to them. We all want to hear each other’s stories that are from a place of truth; because at some point, we all intersect.”

Bazawule insists that his first feature film is adding vocabulary to a cinematic language that already exists, but whose continuum continues to be disrupted.

Even so, The Burial of Kojo is a stunning visual enunciation of African cinema and a powerful enactment that foregrounds the importance of the transmission and preserving of cultural memory.

The Burial of Kojo is now available to stream on Netflix. It is the first original film from Ghana to be released on the streaming platform.

Would you go completely vegan for 30 years of Jay-Z or Beyonce tix?

Want tickets to see Beyonce and Jay Z in concert for life? All you have to do is go vegan.

Queen B announced the contest to her 123 million Instagram followers, with a post directing fans to a website that outlines the health and environmental benefits of adhering to a plant-based lifestyle.

The Carters are giving away 30 years of tickets of concerts featuring herself and her rapper husband to one very lucky fan and participant.

The Carters made headlines in the new year by writing the introduction to a vegan cookbook called, The Greenprint: Plant-Based Diet, Best Body, Better World. The book was written by Marco Borges, Beyoncé’s personal trainer, and in the intro, The Caters open up about how becoming parents changed their outlook on what they eat. They wrote,

“Having children has changed our lives more than anything else. We used to think of health as a diet–some worked for us, some didn’t. Once we looked at health as the truth, instead of a diet, it became a mission for us to share that truth and lifestyle with as many people as possible. We all have a responsibility to stand up for our health and the health of the planet…”

Beyoncé and Jay-Z are doubling down on their plea to fans, via their partnership with The Greenprint Project website.

The Carter’s are challenging their dedicated fan-base to incorporate more plant-based meals into their diets by touting the impact going vegan has on the environment and reducing one’s carbon footprint.

Here are the options:

All plants. All the time.

Plant-based for breakfast

Plant-based at work

Two plant-based meals a day

Meatless Mondays

Plant-based on weekdays

Nonetheless, the BeeHive is going APESHIT and the response elicited some hilarious Tweets.

In all seriousness though, at the same time, a plant-based lifestyle isn’t necessarily accessible to everyone, especially for those who are living in food deserts, wherein nutrition may be more financially accessible in the form of processed food supplied by corner stores, bodegas and/or gas stations.

While some have criticized, the power couple’s endorsement regarding food consumption — given that our relationship with food is highly personalized — The Carter’s alluring incentive for fans to convert to veganism is a way public figures can raise awareness around social and environmental issues.

The contest ends on Apr. 22 and a winner will be selected at random on May 22. Good luck!

Tessa Thompson blazes the trail for TIMES UP #4PercentChallenge

With this year’s Oscar’s nominations further proving how women directors continue to be overlooked for their crowning achievements, this year’s Sundance Film Festival has brought the issue of Hollywood’s gender gap to the fore.

Executive producer, Nina Jacobson, Paul Feig, Amy Schumer, Angela Robinson, and Franklin Leonard, kicked off the challenge at the film festival, during a panel titled, “Making the (In)visible: Radical Transparency in the Data-Driven Age.”

But it was actress Tessa Thompson’s stirring keynote speech later that night that set Hollywood alight on Twitter. Thompson formally launched the TIME’S UP and the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative #4PercentChallenge, committing to announce a project with one female director in the next 18 months.

The challenge’s name comes from a statistic released in a study from USC’s Annenberg School of Communications and Journalism. The think tank focuses on diversity and inclusion in the entertainment industry.

The study reveals that only 4 percent of the 1,200 top-earning films released between 2007 and 2018 were directed by women.

Thompson’s speech follows  Regina King pledged in her Golden Globe-winning acceptance speech that all of the projects she produces will be staffed by 50% women in the next two years.

Speaking to Democracy Now, Thompson discussed TIMES UP involvement in the #4PercentChallenge.

You can peep the list of actors, writers, producers, directors and studio heads who have accepted the #4PercentChallenge on the Time’s Up website.

In the wake of Thompson’s speech, major stars such as Jordan Peele, Reese Witherspoon, Olivia Wilde, Kerry Washington, and Jennifer Lopez took Twitter to join the pledge. Even Universal Studios announced on Twitter their participation in the 4 percent challenge.

Thompson also tweeted her commitment to doubling the number of women and POC  journalists who cover and produce content over the films Thompson is starring in this year.

Let’s get it! 2019 is feeling to be one hell of a year for women creatives.

Cinephiles will love the Criterion Collection’s new streaming service

From Goddard, Tarkovsky, Fellini, Antonioni to Bergman, Yasudo, Hitchcock and so many more, The Criterion Collection offers an extensive, thoughtful, and curated library of films dedicated to spotlighting the crowning achievements of filmmakers that have shaped cinema.

Since its founding in 1984, the Criterion Collection has been dedicated to publishing important classic and contemporary films from around the world. The home video distribution company is committed to preserving film history, providing state-of-the-art- restorations, and ensuring each film is formatted as its maker would want it seen by audiences.

Cinephiles can rejoice because the Criterion Collection has officially found a new home, The Criterion Channel.

The Criterion Channel is a new independent streaming service featuring the full library of the famed curated series of films from throughout cinema history. Its new streaming service will house more than 1,000 classic and contemporary films.

The news is a huge sigh of relief for film enthusiasts, following the announcement last year that FilmStruck — which featured much of the Criterion Collection’s library — would discontinue its streaming service.

Criterion released an official statement on the launch of its new streaming service,

“We are incredibly touched and encouraged by the flood of support we’ve been receiving since the announcement that FilmStruck will be shutting down on November 29, 2018. Our thanks go out to everyone who signed petitions, wrote letters and newspaper articles, and raised your voices to let the world know how much our mission and these movies matter to you…”

The Criterion statement continued,

“We’ve been trying to make something a little different for the past two years—a movie lover’s dream streaming service, with smart thematic programming, where the history of cinema can live and breathe, where a new generation of filmmakers and film lovers can explore the classics or revel in rarities,”

The service will be available Apr. 8 in the US and Canada but the website is now accepting subscribers.

The Criterion Channel will be available in two different subscriber plans. Charter subscribers can choose to sign up on a monthly basis for $9.99 a month (following a 30-day free trial). Charter subscribers who wish to sign up for an entire year can stream Criterion films for an $89.99 annual rate.

If you want a discounted price, however, make sure to sign up before April 8, because after this date, prices rise to $10.99 per month or $99.99 annually.

In the meantime, check out the Criterion’s DVD closet series, where legendary filmmakers and actors reveal their most beloved films. Peep below to see Academy-Award nominated director, Barry Jenkin’s personal cinematic collection.

Meet Dustin Lane: the DP exploring America’s heartland

Stretching across the grand Tennessee River, the Walnut Street Bridge is Chattanooga’s iconic landmark; connecting its residents from the city’s historic riverfront to its downtown district. Owing to its city-owned fiber-optic network, the small southern city over the course of just over a decade, however, has transformed into a burgeoning tech city. Today, Chattanooga boasts the title of having the fastest internet in the country.

While these days the city enables its local residents to have access to ultra-high-speed internet — rendering the world to seem more accessible and interconnected — this new iteration of the city is not the small southern city cinematographer Dustin Lane, remembers as his hometown,

“It’s a small city, but it felt a lot smaller growing up. It felt kind of disconnected from the world in a way,” he recalls.

After graduating high school, Lane left Chattanooga and moved to Nashville to study art at Middle State Tennessee University. During his studies, Lane experimented with different art mediums but came to find the culture around art in a college setting, a milieu he could not completely thrive in.

During his year out of college, Lane met a production assistant, who came from a family involved in filmmaking. Her mother; a producer and her father; a key grip. Aside from its obvious allure, filmmaking, for Lane, was a way to make a decent living, as well as feed his creativity.

Though Lane started out as a PA, he soon became drawn towards the camera department, eventually landing a job as a camera assistant. He went back to college and enrolled in a production course where he could learn the basics of film production. Balancing his time on a film set and in a classroom, his on-set education, however, ultimately won out and Lane ended up dropping out of college, again.

In speaking to Kulture Hub, Lane insists he has no regrets about that decision. The Chattanooga-native admits that he was fortunate that some of his closest friends were aspiring directors at the time. Their budding careers as filmmakers not only enabled Lane to avoid creating kitschy music videos for the next aspiring country music star, but also allowed Lane and his friends to work tirelessly on each other’s projects,  thereby allowing each of them to grow as artists and learn together.

Plus, when ‘the music city’ became the base of filmmaker, writer, and painter Harmony Korine, widely known for his audacious film, Spring Breakers (2012), his presence in Nashville was a strong incentive to bring more creatives and interesting projects into town.

Indeed, the city welcomed visits from talented DP’s such as Alexis Zabe (The Florida Project, Silent Light), and Christopher Blauvelt (Certain Women, The Bling Ring), who Lane was able to meet and connect with. As Lane began to develop his reel and work on bigger projects, he got an agent and moved to Los Angeles.

While Lane now resides on the West Coast, most of his projects take place in the middle of America. In fact, his first feature film, Dayveon (2017), landed the DP in a rural small town in Arkansas.

The film follows the story of 13-year-old, Dayveon, who after the death of his older brother, falls in with a gang in his rural Arkansas town. Though his sister’s boyfriend tries to provide stability and comfort as a reluctant father figure, Dayveon becomes increasingly drawn into the camaraderie and violence of his new world.

The director of Dayveon, Amman Abbasi, reached out to Lane after seeing a short documentary he had shot. Enthralled by Lane’s reel they conversed about the idea for Dayveon in 2013.

Two years later and two weeks out from prepping to shoot the film, Abbasi called Lane with the news that an investor pulled out of the film. Already having limited funds to shoot the film, the news was a major blow for the project and put into question whether the film would actually come into fruition. Speaking on this time, Lane recalled in our interview,

“Amman rang me and told me that an investor pulled out and it was a big chunk of money. But he said, ‘I feel like we still have to carry on and if we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it?’ I was very excited about that attitude — that kind of by-any-means-necessary attitude and that is very much Amman. He is just the kind of guy that never assumes he is not going to accomplish what he wants to accomplish — in a really amazing way.”

With an extremely low budget and a very small and relatively inexperienced crew, in a guerilla-style shoot, Dayveon, was shot in three weeks.

The stripped-to-bone minimalism and rawness of the film is akin to Lane’s overall visual approach as a DP; imagery embedded in what he described as “an extreme naturalism.”


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A post shared by Dustin Lane (@dustinlane) on Sep 26, 2017 at 12:44pm PDT

Lane’s boxy approach to framing and his choice of aspect ratio is a turn away from the wider, anamorphic and cinematic-looking frames, that he noted in our interview, is what seems to be the current trend.

“I feel like I want to see things very boxy. I like the aspect ratio of 4:3 and I think it makes a lot of sense for shooting faces especially. I think I am more interested in making photographic-looking frames. Sometimes that is as simple as instead of shooting 2.0 widescreen, you shoot 4:3 and it immediately feels like a photograph. But there is a time and a place for all of it, but it is definitely a conversation I like to have before every project; where we talk about what kind of imagery we want to see, maybe what aspect ratios suits us the best,” he says.

While the majority of movie-goers often completely credit the director for the overall look of a film, in actuality, a films’ aesthetic is contingent upon collaboration between the director and the DP.

As such, in any project, there must be a level of chemistry and trust between the director and cinematographer and a consensus over what they want the project to look like; a discussion that occurs in preproduction but continues over the course of filming. In discussing his visual approach, Lane says,

“I like when things look sloppy and imperfect. I feel like that adds to a realness, especially when watching performances. When the backlight is perfect and everything about the frame looks so curated, you start to feel that curation and then things start to feel false to me. Even though I am sure I am tricked sometimes, but I get the most excited when I am watching a film and I’m unsure of what I saw is something scripted or something happened spontaneously.”

In our interview, Lane revealed how his vehement desire to capture an authentic performance, may render formal elements such as lighting and composition not be the priority in certain moments of filming,

“The performance feeling real will always feel more important to me, so if that means I can’t light it much because it means I need to move the camera almost 360 degrees I will choose to do that. I would rather the person’s face be dark, not lit, than it be too lit that you don’t believe it,” he says.

Admittedly, Lane is not the most versatile DP. If you are looking for someone to shoot a glossy, pop music video, he isn’t your guy.

“I really like what I like and not much else,” he reveals.

Yet, by no means is Lane ruling out doing music videos. In fact, his reel shows he has created the visuals for artists like Vince Staples, James Vincent McMorrow, Alt-J, Inc. No World, Bonobo and more.

Lane also acknowledges that there is a certain artistic freedom that music videos afford you as a DP and a visual artist, which narrative film is not able to, due to the cinematic convention of maintaining spatio-temporal coherency.

“Usually when I am working on music videos, they are music videos that feel like feature films or feel like a scene out of a movie. But you can get away with things in a music video that you can’t in narrative film because you’re only ever suggesting story, and you can distill ideas down to very suggestive moments than actually having to tell a story. There are good and bad things about in terms of what you can get away with, but also how you are limited about it,” he explains.

On his advice for aspiring DP’s, he noted,

“Try to get a job as a PA, just get on set, see other people working — that’s an amazing way to learn. Shoot on the side as well. Even if you are shooting on your iPhone, go shoot something, because you are going to learn something,”

Right now, Lane finds himself again in the middle of America. The DP is currently shooting in rural Ohio for an upcoming film about a young girl who gets involved in the scrapping world as she tries to earn a living in order to leave her hometown.

Bring the kids and pull up to the New York Int’l Children’s Film Festival

Running on its 22nd year, the New York International Children’s Film Festival continues to bring the best talent in the field of animation from around the world to the screens of NYC.

Representing over 30 countries in 15 languages, over four weekends, February 22 to March 17, 2019, the NYICFF presents the best new animation, live action, documentary, and experimental film from across the globe.

With all-age-spanning narratives that draw on themes of youth, the NYICFF invites audiences, to join the colorful on-screen characters for fun, exciting and daring adventures — expanding worldviews, exploring new territory and igniting our imagination.

Highlights of this year’s NYICFF:

The New York premiere of Juan Antin’s animated indigenous story and adventure quest, Pachamama follows the story of a boy living in a small village in the Andes Mountains and who dreams of becoming a shaman.

The newest feature from renowned French writer and animation director, Michel Ocelot, Dilili in Paris, will have its U.S. premiere at the festival. Ocelot’s latest animation follows the story of two friends investigating the disappearance of girls.

The festival will also host the World Theatrical Premiere of the Finnish-British animated family drama fantasy series, Moominvalley. The series is a brand new adaptation of the much-loved Moomin stories of  Finnish-Swedish writer and artist Tove Jansson. Her books have been translated into over 50 languages.

The series utilizes brand-new techniques in CGI. The innovative style combines state-of-the-art 3D with classical illustrative aesthetics. It also features the voice of British actresses Kate Winslet, Rosamund Pike, and Jennifer Saunders.

For all you anime fans: The festival will screen the World Premiere English-language version Okko’s Inn, by Kitarō Kōsaka as well as Penguin Highway, the first feature from the new Japanese animation start-up studio spun off from Miyazaki’s stable of younger animators.

The opening night of NYCIFF will screen Chiwetel Ejiofor’s directorial debut, The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind. The film follows the inspiring true story of 13-year-old William Kamkwamba, who is thrown out of the school he loves when his family can no longer afford the fees.

Sneaking back into the school library, he finds a way, using the bones of the bicycle belonging to his father Trywell (Ejiofor), to build a windmill which then saves his Malawian village from famine. The film recently screened at Sundance and the Berlinale and will be available on Netflix on Mar. 1.

In 2011 New York International Children’s Film Festival became an Oscar-qualifying event. Winners of the festival’s juried prizes are eligible for Academy consideration in the categories of Best Live Action and Best Animated Short Film.

This year’s jury racks up to a talented and star-studded list of directors, producers, writers and actors including; Sofia Coppola, Gus Van Sant, Geena Davis, John Canemaker, Julianna Margulies, Hope Davis, Uma Thurman, Zoe Saldana, Christine Vachon, and more.

Programming Director Maria-Christina Villaseñor says,

“We are thrilled to showcase the diversity of outstanding filmmaking from around the world at NYICFF 2019 and demonstrate that multidimensional storytelling and artful approaches know no boundaries in terms of age range, genre or country. Kids and families are as hungry for artful, meaningful stories as adult audiences, whether told through live action, documentary, or animation, and all will be richly rewarded through an impressive slate of international titles at NYICFF 2019.”

LOCATIONS of NYICFF: Alamo Drafthouse City Point, Cinépolis Chelsea, IFC Center, Museum of the Moving Image, Quad Cinema, Scandinavia House, and SVA Theatre

Peep the wave of women that will flood the 2020 Presidential Race

The results of the mid-term elections were a firm indicator that more and more women are ready to go head to head with the polarizing, President 45. In the short timeline of his presidency, Trump has made a stirring impact on the political stage — nationally and internationally.

With more women and women of color galvanized to participate in the democratic system, Washington is unlike ever before.

Jan. 3, 2019 marked a poignant and historic day in U.S. history as the 116th Congress swore in the most inclusive class of representatives ever. The new Congress now boasts the largest number of women.

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Democrats are eagerly looking forward to the 2020 presidential race, as discussions over potential candidates had already taken place in the immediate aftermath of President Trump’s shock election.

During the midterm elections, the democratic campaign trail drew some of the biggest and most influential names to mobilize people to organize and vote  — a political move that is sure to continue for the 2020 campaign trail.

Eight candidates are already in the running for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination and four women have officially thrown their hat in the ring.

The opponents have denounced the President as a sexist and have repeatedly drawn attention to the evidence of Russia’s collusion in the 2016 election, as well as the sexual assault allegations that litigated Trump’s presidential campaign.

The prospect of the first female president, perhaps, is feasible, more so than in 2016, given the divisive and volatile political climate, President Trump has manufactured. With many stating that “the soul of the country is on the line,” the current political landscape may provide fertile ground to have a woman take her seat at the Oval Office and reclaim her time.

Kamala Harris

Sen. Kamala Harris officially announced her historic 2020 presidential campaign on Martin Luther King Day.

The timing her announcement was a symbolic nod to the Civil Rights Movement, and at the same time, a gesture that carries the hope that Harris, as a black woman, can carry out the promise of racial justice and equity.

If Harris was to secure the Democratic nomination, she would be the first African-American woman and the first Asian-American woman to be a major-party nominee for president.


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This campaign is a fight for the soul of our country. It’s a fight of and for the people. Together, we will fight for a country with strong public schools. A country where one job is enough to pay the bills. A country with health care for every single American. We will fight for a country where getting a college education doesn’t mean taking on a lifetime of debt. Where middle-class and working families get a break, not corporations or the wealthiest 1%. Where every single person can retire with dignity. Where we can all breathe clean air and drink clean water. Where Black women aren’t three to four times more likely to die in childbirth than white women. A country where we stop incentivizing corporations to profit off the incarceration of millions. We’re going to fight for an America where all our civil rights are respected. Ours is a fight born of optimism — of the promise of what our country can become if we work together. I hope you’ll join me.

A post shared by Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris) on Jan 21, 2019 at 12:01pm PST

For a combined 12 years prior to being elected into the Senate, Harris has served as California’s attorney general and San Francisco’s district attorney.

In 2016, Harris became the second African-American woman to serve in the Senate. Having only been a senator since last January, Harris has garnered attention from within and outside of Washington.

She was a trending topic on social media when she put her prosecuting skills to work during the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing and the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing.

Harris and Attorney General Jeff Sessions had a contentious back and forth leading the prosecutor to be cut off by Republican senators.

The long-time prosecutor also engaged in a memorable exchange with Brett Kavanaugh in 2018, where she asked the now Justice of the Supreme Court if he knew of any laws “that the government has the power to make over the male body?” Proceeded by a long pause, Kavanaugh responded, “I’m not aware of any right now, Senator. ”

In terms of her campaign and platform, Harris is expected to leverage her time as a state attorney general and her work on criminal justice and immigration reform — initiatives that tie in with her campaign slogan, “FOR THE PEOPLE.”

The recent presidential candidate, however, has faced criticism over her criminal justice record. Some have cited that the instance in which the prosecutor defended the Department of Corrections and its efforts to prevent transgender inmates from getting gender reassignment surgery.

Others have argued that Harris has sought to appease state law enforcement and prosecutors as part of a larger agenda to run for higher office.

Nonetheless, according to Politico, her campaign raised $1.5 million in the first 24 hours after Harris’s announced that she will run for president.

Harris, 54, is set to launch her campaign during a rally in Oakland, California, on January 27.


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Thanks to you, we surpassed $1.5 million in grassroots contributions in under 24 hours. Link in stories to join our campaign.

A post shared by Kamala Harris (@kamalaharris) on Jan 22, 2019 at 10:47am PST

Elizabeth Warren

On NYE, Sen. Elizabeth Warren became the first major Democrat to announce plans to seek the 2020 party presidential nomination.

Warren has been an outspoken critic of Trump during the President’s campaign trail in 2016. The back and forth between the two, however, has only served to further highlight how much of misogynist and racist Trump really is. The 45th President repeatedly refers to the Massachusetts senator as “Pocahontas”– due to her Native American heritage.

At the same time, it is important to discuss Senator Warren without the inclusion of Trump, because when you look at her economic policy, the lawmaker has been a staunch advocate for economic equality and has repeatedly denounced Wall Street’s involvement and collusion in Washington. She is against the deregulation of banks and affording major tax cuts to the most wealthy Americans.

Warren has underlined the correlation between her middle-class upbringing in Oklahoma with her political-economic views. She has been an advocate of raising the minimum wage, expanding Social Security benefits, providing cheaper loans for college students and reinstalling power to trade unions.

Warren is also a vocal critic of the right-wing media and claims that their hateful rhetoric stirs up anger and fear amongst voters.

She has been a prominent figure in discussing and recognizing the economic struggles of American families. Though she identifies as a capitalist, she insists in an interview with CNBC, 

“The markets need to work for more than just the rich.”

Politico is under fire for comparing Warren to Hillary Clinton and her ‘unlikeable image’ and attributes. Warren, however, made rounds in the news cycle after releasing a DNA test to prove her proclaimed Native American ancestry.

While the test confirmed Warren’s Cherokee and Delaware heritage, her actions still drew criticism from the Native-American community for perpetrating “racial science” — a science that that is now widely argued in academia as a form of science that is bound up in imperialism and white supremacy.

Plus, Warren’s claim to her Native American heritage was perceived as favoring Trump and his bigotry, as opposed to appealing to the marginalized community.

Kirsten Gillibrand

Kirsten Gillibrand became the second senator to make her 2020 presidential run official. The New York lawmaker announced her 2020 run on Tuesday evening during an appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

Gillibrand is known for her recent #MeToo advocacy, so much so, she has been dubbed the ‘#MeToo Senator.’ In 2013, she spearheaded a movement in Congress to change how sexual assault cases are handled in the military.

More notably, in 2017, she called on Sen. Al Franken to resign over allegations that he groped multiple women, a decision that pitted her against other established members of her party who were strong supporters of Franken.

In her campaign, she has elevated her ability to work across the aisle and foregrounded her belief in finding common ground with the GOP.

In her campaign, she is also emphasizing that the future of the Democratic Party is closely tied to the power of women. The issue of gender inequality is expected to be a key issue in her campaign.

Gillibrand will likely run on her proposal to provide Americans with paid family leave. She has repeatedly introduced a bill in Congress called the FAMILY Act, which would provide 12 weeks of paid family leave for new mothers and fathers.

According to Vox, this program would be covered by a payroll tax, a unique funding mechanism that differs from a Republican plan that would dip into people’s Social Security benefits.

Other key policies Gillibrand is known for include a measure that helped guarantee ongoing health care coverage for 9/11 first responders.


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Tonight I announced that I’m preparing to run for president of the United States, because I believe that we’re all called to do whatever we can to make a difference and help people. I believe in right versus wrong, and that wrong wins when we do nothing. Now is our time to raise our voices, fight for our beliefs and get off the sidelines. I believe that in the face of division and hate, this country needs a movement rooted in compassion and courage. We want to be an America defined by strength of character, not weakness of ego. We need to protect and expand all of our basic rights and fight for better health care, education and jobs. And I believe I’m the woman for the job. The campaign that we’re building will have one core mission: restoring power to the people. I won’t accept contributions from corporate PACs or federal lobbyists, and I’m not afraid to take on Trump, special interests or any powerful system – never have been. Our movement will be about lifting up voices that have been ignored for too long and taking institutional racism and injustice head-on – in our politics, health care, education and economy. Let’s show what we can build with determination and optimism, rather than hatred and fear. This a moment in history when none of us can stay silent; we have to rise up, reclaim our values and act with compassion. At such a time as this, we all have to ask ourselves: What will we do? I’ll fight, and I’ll fight with everything I have. It would mean so much if you joined me. (Scott Kowalchyk/CBS)

A post shared by Kirsten Gillibrand (@kirstengillibrand) on Jan 15, 2019 at 4:53pm PST

She was first elected to Congress in 2006 and defeated three-term Republican incumbent to represent her upstate New York district that, at the time, was heavily conservative.

During her early years in government, she was considered a moderate and centrist Democrat in the House, who took positions on policies and issues that would likely be unpopular amongst the new wave of progressives.

The New York senator has been critiqued on her earlier hard-line positions on immigration. She opposed amnesty for undocumented immigrants, voted to increase funding for ICE and supported withholding federal funds from sanctuary cities.

Her earlier stance on gun control earned her an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association. In 2010, however, the NRA downgraded her rating to an “F,” after the Senator pushed for several gun control measures.

Tulsi Gabbard

Tulsi Gabbard, is one of the lesser-known of the candidates. An Army National Guard veteran who was deployed twice to the Middle East, she was first elected to the House in 2012. She was the first Hindu and the first American Samoan elected to Congress.

Gabbard, has earned a reputation for her opposition to American military intervention. Gabbard is also known for going astray from party lines. In 2016, she  endorsed Senator Bernie Sanders and resigned as vice chairwoman of the D.N.C. to do so.

At age 37, her lack of experience will most likely be the fault-line many point out to discredit her presidential run. Gabbard has also come under fire for anti-LGBTQ comments she has made in the past. In responding to those comments on CNN, Gabbard insists that her views “have evolved.”

The main threat to her campaign will likely be owing to her interactions with the Syrian dictator president, Bashar al-Assad. Gabbard visited the Syrian dictator in January 2017. Yet, her decision to meet with a man who is widely known to have released chemical weapon attack on his own people, sparked outrage from others.

With the Supreme Court’s conservative majority and LGBTQ+ rights, protections for young undocumented immigrants, and women’s reproductive rights on the line, these four women seeking to challenge President Trump will have a direct influence on the 2020 election.

Additionally, this election cycle will require male Democratic candidates to come equipped with more concrete policies on women’s issues. In the light of the #MeToo movement, there will be increased scrutiny over their perception and attitudes towards gender equity and LGBTQ+ rights.

As Trump has discredited and mocked the #MeToo movement at his rallies — as part of his attempt to further fuel white male resentment, these four female Democratic candidates are mobilizing and campaigning to restore faith in the democratic process for female Democratic voters. CNN reported that the last few elections cycles have revealed that Democratic women in particular seem to be voting for women candidates.

To see this President lose to a woman, would be a symbolic end to his chaotic reign in the Oval Office.

Ava DuVernay and ARRAY host National Day of Racial Healing

Pioneering filmmaker and activist Ava DuVernay hosted the annual National Day of Racial Healing event in collaboration with the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. The event was hosted on Tuesday through ARRAY; DuVernay’s distribution and advocacy company.

Curated by DuVernay, the event included conversations and performances to help build awareness and inspire dialogue around racial equity, justice, and healing.

Following MLK day, the event on Tuesday brought together the likes of Stacey Abrams, Laverne Cox, David Oyelowo, Eva Longoria, Judd Apatow, Storm Reid, Melissa Etheridge and more.

The event was established by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation in 2017. The W.K. Kellogg Foundation has been awarding grants through the initiative, Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation (TRHT).

The initiative is a national and community-based effort to engage communities, organizations, and individuals across the United States in racial healing. TRHT addresses present-day inequities linked to historic and contemporary beliefs in a hierarchy of human value.

During her succession in the industry, DuVernay has been a vocal and staunch advocate for women and people of color in Hollywood.

In an Adweek interview, DuVernay described how she doesn’t perceive artists and activists as different. She pointed out,

“Activism is inherently a creative endeavor, it takes a radical imagination to be an activist, to envision a world that is not there. It takes imagination and that’s not far from art.”

The Academy Award-nominated director released a statement on the event to Deadline,

“The responsibility of fighting inequality and injustice is all of ours. But it’s particularly important that those of us with certain visibility and influence use our platforms to urge bold conversations. We can never give up on pushing this nation to live up to its promise.”

She added,

“There’s a lot of talking and tweeting these days. A lot of pontification about where we are as a country and how we arrived here. When Kellogg approached ARRAY about working together on furthering and deepening those conversations, I was all in.”

The event was segmented into several conversations and performances. DuVernay sat down with Stacey Abrams — the 2018 Democratic nominee for governor of Georgia — whose tight race against the Republican candidate Brian Kemp, drew national attention and raised major concerns around voter suppression.

Speaking on the project of racial healing, Abrams expressed,

“Racial healing is an active job. That means we have to do the work of fixing the problems we see. I personally do it by running for office, but in the times I am not standing for office, I try to find ways to be active in my community and to lift up the issues I think matter. I’m focusing on voting rights, and the census, and access to social justice, but every single day is an act of racial healing when we work to connect communities and stand up for each other — especially those communities that are not our own.”

Abrams spoke to DuVernay about her 2018 campaign, her narrow loss, and the state of democracy. She said,

“When other people didn’t do the work, I did it myself. Sometimes the loser is you so other people can be victors.”

She continued,

“We take for granted our democracy, but it is fragile….we do not have a permanent democracy, we have a democracy we have to fight for. That fight happens every day, and it happens at the polls.”

Abrams pointed out the power state and local governments have during election cycles, reminding the audience that “Jim Crow was not a federal law,” but rather was a law that was enacted and enforced by state governments.

Indeed, her run for governor of Georgia proved that many voters were systematically obstructed from exercising their constitutional right to elect their leaders. Post-election, Abrams continues to remain focused on tackling the issue of voter suppression and empowering voters who live in marginalized locations,

“You expand the electorate by making certain poor, rural communities aware of the power of their vote. If you change the south, you change America and that’s my mission.”

The host of Democracy Now, Amy Goodman explained to ARRAY how she heals,

In a conversation with Goodman, pioneering trans actress and activist, Laverne Cox, responded to the Supreme Court’s revival of President Donald Trump’s plan to ban transgender people from serving in the U.S. military.

Cox spoke about the individual process of healing and transformation. She asserted,

“A person has to be willing to be wrong for transformation to happen. In coming to consciousness we have to unlearn- we have to be willing to be wrong. I believe that we trans and black people are collectively traumatized. And trauma is really hard to heal. Healing has to start with each of us,”

Best-selling children’s book novelist and author Jackie Woodson, who joined Cox on stage said, echoed her sentiment by stating,

“The beginning of discomfort is the beginning of change.”

In discussing her career as a writer, Woodson said,

“As a child in literature, I didn’t see myself… I found the only way to change it was to write myself into it.

Writer and activist Audre Lorde, famously said that self-care is both an act of self-preservation and political warfare. As the assaults on the life of people of color continue to manifest in many forms, Lorde’s weighted statement continues to resonate today.

Maintaining emotional and mental health in this divisive and volatile political climate is particularly important given the barrage of troubling news headlines that stream through our devices every day under this current administration.

Plus, when women of color have exercised their power and voice to social justice movements, these same movements do not always wholly respect and incorporate their issues and concerns into their political platform.

Taking time for yourself, as Lorde stated, “is not an act of self-indulgence,” but rather is an individual project that is critical to the larger project of emancipation.

Here’s to the rebels at Array and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation for organizing the event and fostering an important discourse on some of the most important issues.

If you missed out on seeing it live, you can watch the event on Array’s website.

Meet The Future Project, the NPO inspiring young people across the US

With negative news headlines streaming through our devices every day, it’s easy to turn inward. We bury our heads in the sand as a means to cope with the discursive terrain of cynicism which is what characterizes the everyday.

Yet, we cannot undermine the scale of the challenges that face the future. There are future hurdles we must confront. There is an urgent need to address climate change, mass migration, growing economic inequity, the rise of fascism, xenophobia, gendered and sexual violence and much more.

While finding optimism in the context of these circumstances may seem like a difficult task, we must not see the future as fixed or inevitable. It can change. We can change it and change can be done more efficiently and effectively when the spirit of hope, innovation, and optimism are cultivated at an early age.

When young people operate in an environment that inspires, engages, and enhances their self-worth, it fundamentally changes how they position themselves in this world.

The Future Project is a national non-profit organization and its mission is fueled by the desire to inspire young people across the nation. It empowers them to build a life and world they imagine.

“TFP is driven by three core values: passion, which inspires us to live fully and do what lights us up most; belief, which inspires us to choose optimism and use our conviction to pursue audacious possibilities; and courage, which inspires us to do what’s right even when it is not easy.”

In 2011, a passionate group of people came together to launch, The Future Project. Since then, the non-profit organization operates in 19 cities across the U.S, including New York, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Fransisco, Newark, New Haven, Detroit, Atlanta, and more.

The TFP team is made up of 110 members who operate across the country. They work closely with co-founders and social entrepreneurs Andrew Mangino and Kanya Balakrishna – who currently serve as CEO and president, respectively.

Though based in New York, love from TFP is rapidly spreading across the nation.  Institutions and corps alike have been open to partnerships, such as Google, McCourt Global, and Yale University.

Luxury fashion label Coach recently donated $1.4 million to the non-profit and sent Michael B. Jordan and Selena Gomez to schools partnering with TFP in order to help mentor and inspire students.

After consulting with schools across the nation, TFP has identified that the core problem schools and educators encounter is the vast disengagement among young people in the classroom.

TFP broke down the numbers:

– 7 in 10 students report they are unmotivated

– 50% of young people are not hopeful about the future,

– 2 out of 3 Americans grow up to be unhappy about their life,

– 1.2 million students drop out annually (nearly 10% of all 15-18-year-olds)

– 50% students report being disengaged in their learning at school

89% of students leave school unprepared for work.

Tackling these issues, TFP works directly with young people and educators across the country. The mission is to turn schools into vibrant, engaging places where every student can develop the mindset and skills to bring their dreams to life, be hopeful about the future, and recognize their role in shaping society.

Through one-on-one coaching and dynamic workshops, Dream Directors — highly trained, world-class leaders and entrepreneurs — are dispatched into high schools to train hundreds of students to develop a sense of belonging and to help them discover their purpose.

Dream Directors are tasked with mobilizing students to channel their passions to build and design student-led Future Projects (campaigns, organizations, products) that impact their schools and communities.

TFP is bifurcated into high school programs as well as Future Camps. The Future Camps run for three days and currently operate in the cities of Los Angeles, Omaha, Atlanta, Dallas, Albuquerque and Emmetsburg.

Through both programs, TFP equips young people with the tools and mindset to see themselves as citizens in their own communities — a project that seeks to put into practice the phrase, “think globally, act locally.”

For TFP, no dream is too big or out of reach. TFP encourages students to believe that every person is unique and has something important to contribute to society – in both a local and global framework.

Through helping students understand and set their own goals, by raising their expectations and enhancing their self-worth, TFP teaches students that every single person deserves the chance to shape their own destiny and recognizes that their discoveries can shape the future for the better.

Undoubtedly, TFP knows that there are already educators who inspire young people every single day. At the same time, there are also many fault lines to the US school system, in which the standardized metrics that are used to measure a student’s worth, aren’t helpful in enhancing a student’s belief in their own future.

Put simply, TFP wants students to pursue their dreams, whether big or small. The goal is to inspire a generation that can lead us into a more hopeful future.

Where’s the peace? MAGA students have standoff with Native American Elder

In 1963, on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. In 2019, a racialized confrontation between three groups unfolded at these same steps —  showing that MLK’s dream, under the reign of Trump’s presidency has transpired into a nightmare.

Nathan Phillips, a native American elder, member of the Omaha Nation, and Vietnam veteran, was visiting Washington, D.C., to attend the Indigenous Peoples March; a march that coincided with the March for Life protest against abortion rights on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

A video that shows Phillips having a stand-off with a young white male teen, Nick Sandmann donning a red “Make America Great Again” hat went viral on Saturday. The video depicts Phillips chanting and beating his ceremonial drum inches away from Sandmann and a group of young white male teenagers also wearing MAGA apparel.

Footage of the incident quickly went viral and sparked outrage among viewers. The all-boys Kentucky Catholic high school that the teenagers attend is now facing backlash as a result of the video. The school insists they are currently considering different means of punishment, and are considering expelling the students for their behavior. 

A longer video released on Sunday, however, provides more context on the moments proceeding the stand-off between Phillips and Sandmann.

The incident began when a group identifying themselves as the Black Hebrew Israelites began to shout disparaging comments towards Native American demonstrators that was later followed by anti-Trump remarks towards Sandmann and his  MAGA-hat-wearing peers.

As tensions built and appeared to escalate, Phillips and other Indigenous people stepped in between the two groups in an attempt to defuse the situation.

Yet as the Omaha elder sung the American Indian Movement (AIM) song, beating his drum, the teenagers around him chanted and mocked the sounds and hums of the Indigenous’s elders performance of the song of resistance.

Sandmann’s smugness and patronizing attitude towards Phillips drew a lot of attention and produced an impassioned response online.

Like most things that go viral, the footage produced discursive divisions. Some wrote in defense of the young teen’s actions, proclaiming “boys will be boys,” while others denounced the behavior as racist and a symptom of derogatory behavior exercised by the President of the United States.

While the incident was prompted by a confrontation between the Black Israelits it does not excuse the actions of the teens and their Jim-Crow era mob-like behavior. The video of the MAGA kids harassing and jeering at an indigenous elder and veteran exposes that when violent, racist and bigoted rhetoric is enacted from the highest position it incites violence and bigotry.

Trump recently mocked Senator Elizabeth Warren, for her Instagram live Q&A where she spoke on the Wounded Knee Massacre — one of the deadliest attacks of Indigenous people by the United States military.

Additionally, the President has repeatedly called the Massachusetts senator “Pocahontas,” due to her Native American heritage.

Reflecting on the incident, in an interview with CNN,  Phillips asserted that he has,

“Fear for those youth, fear for their future, fear for their souls, their spirit, what they’re going to do to this country.”

A video after the incident show Phillips wiping away tears as he expresses,

“This is Indigenous land you know, we’re not supposed to have walls here. We never did for millenniums — before anybody else came here we never had walls. I wish I could see that energy in that young mass of young men down there. To put that energy into making this country really, really great — helping those that are hungry.”


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#ipmdc #ipmdc19 #indigenousunited #indigenouspeoplesmarch #indigenouspeoplesmarch2019

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The footage of the stand-off between Sandmann and Phillips ultimately exposes that Native Americans continue to be overlooked as a people and community. Their humanity has been denied for centuries and the population has endured violence, the mass dispossession of land, the generational trauma of having lost ancestors, and the passing down of crucial knowledge and cultural identity. 

Americans continue to celebrate Thanksgiving and Columbus day holidays that whitewash the mass killing of millions of Native Americans and the violent project of imperialism.

Indeed, the legacies of imperialism continue to plague the community today — with Native Americans lacking access to health care, encountering voter suppression, having their land stripped for corporate use, the human trafficking of indigenous women and much more.

While Trump’s wall is a severely misguided attempt to ensure ‘border security’ we must not forget whose land this really belongs to.