NEW YORK — One part family homecoming and one part religious revival meeting, the Urbanworld Film Festival found its niche during its second edition, which ran Wednesday through Sunday in Gotham.
After helping to launch Fox 2000’s “Soul Food” last year, the 1998 Urbanworld fest attracted three studio films — Miramax’s “Down in the Delta,” 20th Century Fox’s “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and Warner Bros.’ “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” and one from Showtime — “Free of Eden.”
Urbanworld also served as a showcase for the works of independent black and Latin filmmakers. “This is our Sundance, this is our Cannes,” declared festival founder and executive director Stacy Spikes. “We decided to stop waiting and recognize ourselves.”
Among the directors and thesps who turned out to promote their films at Urbanworld were poet Maya Angelou, who made her directorial debut with “Delta,” and the film’s stars Wesley Snipes and Mary Alice; “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?” helmer Gregory Nava and stars Halle Berry, Vivica Fox, Lela Rochon and Larenz Tate; and Mekhi Phifer (“Clockers”), who stars in Mandel E. Holland’s “Tears of a Clown.”
“This is what it’s all about. Everybody associated with this festival has kept the dream alive,” said veteran black filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles at Urbanworld’s closing ceremony Sunday.
Top docu is ‘Classified’
Together with director Mark Daniels, Van Peebles captured Urbanworld’s best documentary award for “Classified X.” Produced by Yves Jeanneau and Christine LeGoff, the doc, which screened at Sundance, explores the history of Hollywood’s portrayal of blacks.
Van Peebles’ “Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” screened as a special presentation at Urbanworld that was sponsored by the Sundance Channel.
After being named best director for his feature “Detention,” writer/director Darryl LeMont Wharton fought back tears and dedicated his award to his grandmother, who is battling breast cancer. “It took three years to get this script off the ground,” said Wharton, whose writing credits include “Homicide: Life on the Street.”
“Detention” was produced by Wharton and Donna Lynne Comegys.
Best of show
Clement Virgo’s “The Planet of Junior Brown” nabbed best picture honors at Urbanworld. Virgo and Cameron Bailey wrote the screenplay based on Virginia Hamilton’s novel. Eric Jordan and Paul Stephens produced the tale of a teen musical prodigy who builds a community of street children.
Derek M. Cianfrance’s “Brother Tied” and Stephen Winter’s “Chocolate Babies” received honorable mentions in the best picture category.
Sterling Macer Jr. won the audience award for “Park Day,” the story of three black teens who grapple with difficult choices against the backdrop of their town’s annual picnic. Producers were Ted Melfi, Cathleen Alexander, Alan Arrivee, Jefferson Donald and Macer.
Gabriel A. Tolliver and Jake Ann Jones brought home the screenplay prize for “Spook City.” The award, sponsored by HBO, was endowed with an undisclosed cash prize by Latanya Richardson Jackson.
Spikes’ fest focus
One reason why Urbanworld ignited this year was the efforts of Spikes, who resigned as vice president of marketing at October Films late last year to devote his full attention to the fest.
More than 5,000 filmgoers attended this year’s festival, Spikes estimated, including 2,000 Urbanworld registrants and 3,000 participants in the Vibe Music Conference, which ran concurrently with the film fest.
Together with fest director Angelique Phillips, Spikes moved Urbanworld from the single-screen Guild Theater to three screens of the Cineplex Odeon Worldwide Plaza. Next year, there are plans to occupy all of Worldwide if festival sponsor Loews Cineplex Entertainment is willing, Spikes said.