‘Blackout At Sundance’ By Nelson GeorgePublished by on Wednesday, January 21, 2009 at 3:59 pm.
Tuesday was the inauguration of the 44th President of the United States. You don’t need me to tell you what went down in Washington, D.C. It was a moment of triumphant American history. I watched this amazing event from a bar in Park City, Utah, where I was a small part of American cinematic history. I was in Park City to screen a film I executive produced titled Good Hair at the 25th Sundance Film Festival, an annual event that is America’s leading showcase for independent filmmaking. This was my fourth time out there.
My first trip I came in for one night and slept on a director friend’s sofa. My second trip I was executive producer of the film Everyday People and I had my own room. My third Sundance trip I was there to premiere my directorial debut, Life Support, which starred Queen Latifah and my suite was nice enough to accommodate my assistant and my director of photography. For this stay I’ve had three folks sleeping in my living room at various times.
Part of the charm of Sundance is that its about the camaraderie and sharing that’s essential to filmmaking. Unfortunately, black filmmakers have traditionally played a very small part of the Sundance scene and American indie filmmaking overall. But in the year of the Big O, the Sundance festival has had the most black themed or directed films in its history. My count was 30 features, including Spike Lee’s ‘Passing Strange’ (his first film at the festival,) Robert Townsend’s ‘Why We Laugh,’ intense documentary profiles of Mike Tyson and Lil Wayne, Lee Daniels’ adaptation of the novel ‘Push,’ and the blaxploitation update ‘Black Dynamite.’ There were so many black films here I started called this festival “Blackdance.”
So as I watched the inaugural with my partner in (and star of) “Good Hair,” Chris Rock, I felt that all this filmmaking energy was part of the transition in the country, where black life, black excellence, black internal conflicts and obsessions, are as central to America’s vision of itself as it always should have been.
I’ve hung out with old friends in the high attitude of Utah, having a quick lunch with Spike Lee and some laughs with Russell Simmons at various events. Actresses Nia Long, Sarah Jones and Traci Thoms, who brought amazing honesty and humor to the film, came to the Good Hair premiere and did press for the film. Mike Tyson walked the streets with a tux on, 50 Cent rented a house to promote Vitawater, and I ran into the superb actor Chiwetel Ejofor walking the streets. Nick Cannon and Mariah Carey were in different films out here, while Wesley Snipes and Don Credle were both featured in Antonie Fuqua’s popular “Brooklyn’s Finest.”
One of my favorite movies at Sundance spoke to the great potential black film has an international force. ‘Nollywood Babylon’ is a highly entertaining documentary look at the wild world of the Nigerian movie business, which has exploded since its inception in 1992. Quickly scripted and shot films, released in local markets on VHS and DVD, the Nigerian film biz has produced its own stars and auteur directors. These films, many of which deal with the supernatural, Christianity and the struggle with modernity in Africa, have elements that remind you of U.S. soap operas, Tyler Perry movies and our gritty urban dramas. These Nollywood films have given Nigeria the world’s third biggest film industry (behind Hollywood and India’s Bollywood.) These films can be found all over West Africa, Europe and now throughout America. Though technically crude by our standards, there a self-reliance and commitment to storytelling to these films that is quite compelling.
The future of black cinema is in the making of films that link the African diaspora with Africa — an idea embodied by our new president.