Saturday, November 15, 2014

Belle — Review

Directed by Amma Asante
Produced by Damian Jones
Written by Misan Sagay
Cinematography by Ben Smithard
Production Designer Simon Bowles
Costume Designer Anushia Nieradzik
Gugu Mbatha-Raw
Tom Wilkinson
Miranda Richardson
Penelope Wilton
Sam Reid
Matthew Goode
Emily Watson

Released: May 2, 2014 (USA)

Summary: Set in 18th century England, Dido Belle, the illegitimate mixed-race daughter of a Royal Navy officer, lives in poverty with her mother in England. After the death of her mother, Dido's father takes her to the family estate, placing her in the care of his uncle, Lord Mansfield, the Lord Chief Justice and his wife, who live at Kenwood House estate in London. Though the social mores of the time make Dido an outsider, she is educated and raised in the Mansfield house as an aristocrat alongside her cousin Elizabeth. (Portions from Wikipedia)

Review: Belle is a wonderful film at its core a portrait of a woman born into privilege, but can’t exercise her full privilege because of the color of her skin. The film establishes early on that Dido is an heiress, her father having left her a large portion of his estate. She does not need to get married like her cousin Elizabeth because she is already rich. Because of the time of 18th century all women must be married to be “proper” she and her cousin, who is more like her sister, go about the courting rituals even while Dido is slightly discriminated against. I say slightly because her uncle, the man who raised her Lord Mansfield, gives her every privilege he can without upsetting social standards of the era.

As the film opens up with the subtitle: “The year is 1769. Britain is a colonial empire and a slave trading capital” you can tell that they are going to mention slavery. There are NO slaves in the film, yet the story deftly weaves in the story of Gregson v. Gilbert aka the Zong Massacre. Dido is a woman of means so she could have stayed above the fray and lived her entitled life, yet she becomes very interested in the case and especially a young man, John Davinier, involved in the case. Her burgeoning relationship with Davinier is a ripe love story waiting to happen as the portrayers of Belle and Davinier have AMAZING chemistry. Their chemistry makes you root for their love story even though Dido agreed to marry another man. Yes there is a love triangle, but it’s never played for melodrama and the other issues of the story, the case, the social standing of Dido and her cousin Elizabeth, the wonderful sisterhood Dido and Elizabeth share help make it a well rounded story.

The performances in the film are great as well. Tom Wilkinson, who is great in like everything I’ve seen him in, does another great job here as well and this time he gets to do it in his native tongue (He always plays Americans). Sarah Gadon is great as Dido’s cousin Elizabeth, a flustered young woman because she must find a husband to maintain her social standing. Because Dido does not need a husband this causes minor jealousy, but not much. At the core they are sisters and they show that. Sam Reid as John Davinier is terrific and imbues passion and dedication not only to his case, but to Dido. His performance makes you not only believe, but feel his devotedness. 

Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Sam Reid in Belle

This film, as it should be, belongs to the talented Gugu Mbatha-Raw who plays the title character Belle. From the moment you see her as an adult you witness charm, intelligence, at times a fierceness and always effortless grace. Without saying a word you can tell that this is a woman of intelligence and elegance. This was the first Lead role I’ve seen her in and she was magnificent.

Director of Belle Amma Asante
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the wonderful directing job by Amma Asante and her design team Production Designer Simon Bowles and Costume Designer Anushia Nieradzik who brought this period piece to life. The aristocrats of Belle never looked or lived better. All the costumes beautiful, all the homes lavish. Under Asante’s direction the film expertly weaved the facets of Dido’s maturation, the love story, as well as the case of the Zong Massacre into a tale that could have easily seemed bloated or lack—direction, yet did not.

I’m not a fan of films from the Romantic Era (Romanticism), but the good buzz about this film featuring a woman of color drew me in and I loved it. Belle is a terrific film.

Commentary: After the good buzz, I saw this film in theaters in June. In November I Live Tweeted my rewatching of the film on the ‘Nother Brother Entertainment Twitter. You can see my initial reaction in June, the tweets and also some of the responses I got via the Storify below.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Safety on the Set - The Story of Sarah Jones [VIDEO]

Ever since this tragedy happened I’ve wanted to write about it. When I read about the details I was just astonished at what seemed like an egregious disregard for safety. There seemed to be so many simple precautions that could have and should been taken in case something like what unfortunately did happen—happened. One person was killed, but several others were injured, all in the name of making a movie.

As I’ve stated before, “I’m aware that sometimes as an independent filmmaker you must also try to get some footage “guerrilla style”, and don’t have money or time to get the proper notifications and permits, but sometimes you must be smart and err on the side of caution and safety.”

Back in February 2014 The Hollywood Reporter wrote an excellent piece (Linked below) about the tragedy and in October 2014 the ABC News program 20/20 did a story about it which includes never before seen footage of the actual train collision as well as interviews with Sarah’s family and co-workers.

You can watch the multiple 20/20 segments below


 I share a personal safety issue on the set in the post

Gunplay in Film

Sarah Elizabeth Jones was a camera assistant on the film Midnight Rider when she was struck and killed by a train on set in rural Georgia February 20, 2014. The Hollywood Reporter did an extensive feature on the accident HERE

My Twitter friend Cinematographer Cybel Martin wrote a great related piece. Can Guerrilla Filmmaking Become an Addiction? My Thoughts on the Tragic Loss of Sarah Jones


Saturday, August 30, 2014

[VIDEO] Quentin Tarantino Explains why Film is Important

In May of 2014 Quentin Tarantino had Press Conference at the Cannes Film Festival to talk about the 20th Anniversary of Pulp Fiction. It was the only film at this year's Cannes to be projected in 35mm and that led Tarantino to extol the virtues of "photochemical film".

Around the 5 minute mark, responding to 35mm film stock:
“As far as I’m concerned digital projection and DCP’s is the death of cinema as I know it. It’s not even about shooting your film on film or shooting your film on digital. The fact that most films now are not presented in 35mm means that the war is lost. Digital projections…that’s just television in public…and apparently the whole world is ok with television in public, but what I knew as cinema is dead!”

I totally agree! I don't have a home theater, but I have a 1080p television, a Surround Sound system and watching the current movies on BluRay is about the same resolution just not on a HUGE screen like they have in theaters.

Tarantino next uses the 1960 film Breathless to prove his point.
Poster for Breathless
A little after 17 minutes
“If you’re showing a new print of ‘Breathless’ or hell even an old print of ‘Breathless’  in a cinema whoa whoa that’s worth leaving the house and going into a theater to watch it, but to watch a digital version of it? Well my Criterion is just fine. I don’t need to go and watch television in public. So I don’t see any reason why to leave the house when home theaters are so good and the presentation on these digitals on the DVDs are so good. Why would go and see that at the theaters? 35mm which most people don’t have in their house. Well that’s a reason. “
I completely agree with that too! I usually go to film festivals to see new films, but in 2011 I went to this screening of an old film that I never saw before to see it in 35mm.

The film was excellent, but beside that it looked TERRIFIC! I have a lot of discussions online extolling the virtues of film myself, but I wanted to present my argument from a director far more renown than I.

You can see the Press Conference in full below

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

How Denzel Washington Turned Down A Role So Racist He Thinks It Could Have Changed His Career

Jineara Hampton
One of the PRIMARY things I tell my mentee actor/filmmaker Jineara Hampton (pictured right) is “maintain
your artistic integrity!”

I tell her not to just take a role and or work on a production you think is inferior just for the experience or the money. So far she has listened. LOL.

Denzel Washington shares a story below about how he maintained his “artistic integrity”, very early in his film career, with advice from a famous “mentor” of his.

WARNING: Video contains use of the n-word.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Excellent Short Film about Equal Opportunity [VIDEO]

Short film for the African American Policy Forum, showing obstacles to equality which affirmative action tries to alleviate.

 All graphics and animation by Erica Pinto.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Baltimore Filmmaker Brings His Film ‘Mr. Sophistication’ to Maryland

Danny Green’s latest feature film Mr. Sophistication, starring Harry Lennix, will be the WAMMFest (Women And Minorities in Media Festival) closing night film and Danny is the 2014 WAMMFest Guest Artist! 
As the Guest Artist he will hold a Master Class and attend the screening of the film that follows with a Q&A, and reception at Towson University. (Full disclosure Danny Green is a personal friend of mine.)

Danny Green was born in Baltimore, Maryland and attended Princeton University and John Hopkins University. It was at Johns Hopkins where his life turns towards filmmaking. As he explains, "I was going to Johns Hopkins, I was going to be an ambassador. I met Director John Frankenheimer while he was giving a talk at my school, and I became his assistant about three months later. Then I became an Assistant Director, and then I became a director. I was always a writer, and I was always interested in sound and vision."

Danny Green is now writing and directing his own films having joined the Directors Guild of America in 1998. He’s worked as a first or second assistant director on more than 30 Hollywood and studio feature films for directors like Barry Levinson and JJ Abrams, and many independent films.  

Danny met Harry Lennix while shooting the movie, Stomp The Yard, in 2007. He had seen him in some movies up to that point -- The Matrix Trilogy, Ray, but always felt that Lennix was a leading man, and decided to write this movie for him.

Danny's intent is for Mr. Sophistication to be “instructive and progressive” and having seen the film myself I think it is! 

As Danny explains “The situation and the characters are universal, but the way the characters handle themselves in the situations is unique. The dialogue catches the intimate moments that you rarely hear between people.  And Ron Waters has a one of a kind slant on life.” I totally agree with that as well. While watching the film I thought Ron Waters is really “laying it down” as far as his charisma and persuasion while dealing with “his women” and Lennix’s performance sells every word of it.

Harry Lennix (center) and Robert Patrick (right) in Mr. Sophistication 
I also get what Danny meant about “always felt that Lennix was a leading man”. I’ve seen many African American actors (male and female) who lend so much depth and presence to their roles that you can tell, even in the small supporting roles they may have in various films, that they CAN take on being the lead given the right project and Harry Lennix is definitely one of those people.

The film stars Harry Lennix (Man of Steel, The Blacklist, Dollhouse), Tatum O’Neal (Rescue Me), Robert Patrick (Terminator 2, True Blood), Gina Torres (Suits, Serenity, Firefly), Rick Fox and introducing Paloma Guzmán.

Mr. Sophistication, the true story of comedian, Ron Waters, who was the hottest young comic in Hollywood in the 90’s, and a personal protégé of Richard Pryor. His political humor and his general “realness” made him one of a kind. His behavior as he climbed up the ladder caused such controversy that he had to leave Hollywood. After a self-imposed exile, Ron is back, having a second chance at fame. He’s also having a second chance at love – his wife wants to keep her man; the girl wants a fresh start. He wants to change the world.-WAMMFest
I enjoyed the film and I know others will too.  Believe me, you have never seen Harry Lennix like this before. 

Of course I hit Danny up to ask him how he felt about being at WAMMFest and he said “I can’t wait to represent this film in my hometown.” 

Danny is the “Guest Artist”, but WAMMFest has A LOT of great films. You can read all about the films and the WAMMFest activities at their website at

Related Link

Thursday, February 20, 2014

'The Call-In' with Black Filmmakers [AUDIO]

AFFRM continues to expand on its services/offerings, launching its very first podcast series, which will feature conversations between AFFRM founder (and a filmmaker in her own right) Ava DuVernay, and black filmmakers from the diaspora.
Titled The Call-In, listen to DuVernay interview black filmmakers in what AFFRM describes as "casual, candid conversations focused on the craft," focusing especially on, not only the "why" questions of the filmmaking process, but also the "how."
Expect conversations that will cover almost every key stage of the production process, from writing to editing, going beyond questions of race and identity into the technical and creative process behind each filmmaker's work. —Shadow & Act
As of this publishing I've listened to all six of their podcasts and they're chock full of filmmaking knowledge. Ava asks questions about the filmmaking process that reporters just don't ask. She always gets to the essence of the filmmaking involved.

My favorite part of the podcast is when Ava asks the filmmaker about their physical presence on the set (like behind the monitors or near the actors). Every filmmaker gives a great and unique answer and makes it exciting listening.

You can check them out below.
Latest tracks by @AFFRM