(l-r) Nas in Time Is Illmatic; James 'Primo' Grant in Five Star; Michael Tubbs in True Son

(l-r) Nas in Time Is Illmatic; James ‘Primo’ Grant in Five Star; Michael Tubbs in True Son


by Curtis Caesar John

As I previously highlighted, there are a number of original films with Black/African diaspora characters, subjects, and focusing at the much-ballyhooed 2014 Tribeca Film Festival in New York City. We were able to attend more than a few screenings with mixed reactions to threads throughout a few of the films but also a few pleasant surprises.

While the talent of the actors and directors are evident in more of these films than last year’s crop, the recurring thread and overall problem I have with most of the ‘Black’ films this year is that they are steeped in street violence and suffering. Great art is created from chaos, and these stories truly exist; yet there are other perspectives in other films on the market that could have been – and were ready to – be selected by the Tribeca Film programmers. This is evident as perspectives from Black creators, not just stars or subjects, is in meager display at TFF ’14. While this does not deny the intentions of the directors and producers of the selected films, it does question whether the TFF understands what ‘representation’ truly means.

This is a greater and ongoing topic to be expanded upon at a later date.

Look out for a few more soon including a full review of Manos Sucias and interview with its director Josef Wladyka.



NEXT SCREENING: Friday, April 27th, 4:00pm – AMC Loews Village 7

(only RUSH tickets available)

Reflecting on rapper Nas’ landmark debut album Illmatic, this documentary works hard to capture what went into making the seminal album. This includes a rich detailing of Nasir ‘Nas’ Jones and how traumatizing it was for him and his family to live in the Queensbridge housing projects yet how brilliantly he used the experience to be an poetic and everlasting voice for a weary yet determined generation.

While there are the usual talking heads praising Nas’ work, featuring luminaries from Cornel West to Busta Rhymes, the commentary from his father, the jazz musician Olu Dara who tried to do right by his family despite constant career traveling, and Nas’ brother Jabari that shed a true light on who Nas truly is. The rapper himself shares his story but seems to only truly open up when talking about those he lost: his mother Ann and his teenage best friend Ill Will.

While the documentary is illuminating, it feels a bit held back as well. Is it too rushed? Perhaps so, and some of the contemporary music sequences could have been filmed or edited in a more exciting manner. Time Is Illmatic did not end up being as stirring or even head-bopping as I expected, but it is still worth a look if you can catch it. Also, look for great cameos and insight from MC/producer Large Professor and rapper Roxanne Shante, as well as a well-documented recap of the Queens/Bronx hip-hop feud of the mid-1980’s.

Director: One9

Genre: Documentary

Country: USA

Runtime: 78 min.



NEXT SCREENING: Saturday, April 26th, 2:30pm – Bow Tie Cinemas Chelsea

(only RUSH tickets available)

As it did in his first feature film Welcome to Pine Hill, narrative and documentary filmmaking collide in Five Star, blurring what we question as reality – and in this second film it is done with even greater skill and effect.

Blood street gang general ‘Primo’ (played by James ‘Primo’ Grant) takes teenager John (actor John Diaz) under his protective wing after John’s absentee father – a respected drug dealer – gets killed by a stray bullet. Knowing he needs protection and money while skirting life between home, school and Fort Greene’s Walt Whitman housing projects, John agrees to enter the life. But he soon realizes, as he learns more about his father and his questionable death, as well as his budding romance with Jasmin, that he needs to make his own destiny. Diaz, who has a natural on-screen charm and nascent acting ability, plays this out wonderfully. Primo is also questioning the life, trying to escape the demons of his violent past in order to be a good husband and father to his growing family but also cognizant that his reality isn’t so easy to escape. Like John’s story about the grizzly bear, Primo is both playful and vicious, yet proves to us that there is much more to be a gangster, and to being a responsible man, than most realize.

While the film has a high amount of awkward insertions of script dialogue in-between what appears to be natural improvisation, and also contains an annoying amount of hood/ghetto-love declarations, Miller also establishes a perfect New York feel to the Five Star, buoyed by beautiful camera work from his cinematographers Ed David ad Alexander Mallis. Also look for tender performances from John’s mother and girlfriend, Wanda Nobles Colon and Jasmin Burgos, respectively.

Director: Keith Miller

Genre: Narrative

Country: USA

Runtime: 83 min.



NEXT SCREENING: Tribeca Online Festival ONLY – see here

While for the nation the 2012 elections focused on President Obama re-securing The White House and his place in history, for 22-year old Michael Tubbs it was about ensuring that the people of his hometown of Stockton, California – bankrupt, utterly violent and dysfunctional to the point that City Hall was foreclosed upon – would have a viable future. So even though he had his whole bright future laid out in front of him having graduated from Stanford University with full honors, he decided he would return home and run for Stockton’s city council.

True Son follows Tubbs’ remarkable journey of running a grassroots campaign bent to ‘Reinvent Stockton’ (their slogan) and do so by rallying the city’s youth to be a valuable part in his doing so. His passion rings through to everyone he touches, imbuing an electric enthusiasm coupled with intelligence and ingenuity from him and his team, which includes his family. “Change is not going to happen because one person gets elected,” Tubbs says in the film, “It’s going happen because that one person elected is a catalyst to bringing a whole lot of people into that process of creating change.”

It is obvious that Tubbs’ zeal rubbed off on the film’s director Kevin Gordon, also a Stanford graduate. Gordon makes Tubbs come off as Christ-like and even remarks in his genesis of the film’s development that he originally thought the film would be a David versus Goliath type (my description) battle between the lazy incumbent and a brash newcomer, much like the 2005 documentary Street Fight in which Corey Booker took on longtime Newark, NJ mayor Sharpe James. “This wasn’t Street Fight Jr., it was the Bad News Bears go to Washington,” says Gordon, who defines True Son more about “the internal question of whether Michael could evolve into a mature candidate who could win the confidence of a desperate city.”

A wonderfully inspirational surprise of a film, tense to the end even though you know how it will turn out, True Son is no longer available to be seen at the Festival but is still available to be seen on the Tribeca Online Festival. Click the link up top, watch it, vote for it if you like it, and enjoy.

Director: Kevin Gordon

Genre: Documentary

Country: USA

Runtime: 72 min.

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About The Author

Curtis Caesar John is the Film Editor for Bold As Love Magazine. He also covers film and culture for Limité Magazine as well as for Shadow And Act, for which he created the regular feature ‘This Week in Black Television.’ He is born, raised and resides in Brooklyn, NY, of course. Follow him on Twitter at @MediaManCurt.

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