SUNDANCE 2016: SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU

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southside-with-you

Can you imagine being a young, female African-American partner at a law firm whose associate just can't take no for an answer?  Can you imagine that associate turning out to be the leader of the free world?  I'm sure Michelle Robinson didn't either.  Luckily for America, she said yes and we have been fortunate enough to have a front row seat at one of the most romantic love stories in American history between two beautiful, intelligent and culturally stimulated individuals - who just happen to be the President and First Lady ...oh yeah, and in case you didn't know they're black.

"Southside With You" chronicles the first date between President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle.  It’s the answer to the age-old question couples often get asked when out in public for the first few dates - How did you meet? What was your first date like?  Who doesn’t relate to love and all the juicy details that go along with it?  I know I do and was totally sucked in by the first moment.

Tika Sumpter in the title role of Michelle Obama is direct, stunning and totally smitten by a young Barack Obama portrayed spot on by Parker Sawyers.

How did these two virtually unknowns land these roles?  First of all, Tika Sumpter is barely "unknown".  I met her when she was Series Regular on the now defunct ABC-TV Soap "One Life to Live"  in Florida at a "SuperSoap" convention.  Currently, she's wreaking havoc on Tyler Perry's hit nighttime drama "The Have and Have Nots" on OWN.  In addition, she's also one of the film's producers.

When the 32-year-old Sawyers, who was born and raised in Indianapolis and now resides in London, sent in his first audition tape, he was doing a pitch-perfect impersonation of the President at 54, rather than at 28.  Luckily for him and for us, casting director, Twinkie Byrd convinced the film’s director, Richard Tanne to watch Sawyers tape again, but turn down the volume and just watch his performance.  Needless to say, the rest is history.

Sundance Q&A with cast & Director Richard Tanne

During a Q&A after the screening, when asked if the Obamas had seen the film, Tanne said "the president and first lady are aware of the film...and a little baffled by its existence.”  Well, I'm not and neither were the hundreds of people in the audience who along with me, gave a hearty round of applause and standing ovation. Two of my favorite moments were them walking through a museum featuring the artwork of Ernie Barnes.  Barnes' work was featured prominently on the  CBS sitcom "Good Times".

The soundtrack featuring a mix of hits from 1989 ranging from rap to Stevie Wonder kept my toes tapping while being enthralled by the performances of every actor onscreen and not just the leads.

It came to my attention that the film received mixed reviews, which is not a surprise.  The Obamas have received mixed reviews since they crossed the threshold of 1400 Pennsylvania Avenue.  However, what I know for sure is that those who DO see it will love it and walk away with a smile and glow at how beautiful love can be when it happens with "the right one".  It really is a marvelous emotion to experience and my wish is that everyone can find that everlasting type of mutual, love, admiration and respect in a relationship that spans a lifetime.

Thanks Tika for following your gut and your passion in getting this story told....

CLICK HERE TO WATCH SOUTHSIDE WITH YOU TRAILER

SUNDANCE DAY ONE:  DIVERSITY IS INDEPENDENCE

Documentaries and Diversity were the theme of the 2016 Sundance Day One Press Conference.  With a panel consisting of  President and Founder - Robert Redford, Executive Director - Keri Putnam, Sundance Film Festival and Sundance Film Festival Director - John Cooper moderated by Sean P. Means, Movie Critic and Columnist for the Salt Lake Tribune.

All three panelists agreed that Sundance is always about lending a place for those filmmakers who otherwise would not be heard on a fair playing field.

Putnam made a special reference to Sundance Ignite, as program geared toward 300 youth between 18-25 years of age designed to give these youth an opportunity to attend the festival and aid in continuing  to build festival for future generations.  Putnam also mentioned the Sundance Institute's Women in Film Initiative meeting held this past November.  She stated, "We're interested in the artists we work with having sustainable careers".  Notable filmmakers such as Ava DuVernay and Ryan Coogler have been products of how Sundance builds sustainable careers.

When faced with the all  too often discussed "diversity " question,  Redford told the crowd, "We wanna put a spotlight on areas that aren't getting attention...I felt there wasn't enough filmmaking being shown for African-Americans and women...so we've moved forward with getting more support for women and young filmmakers but using the word diversity to push it".   Worried that the media would spin an answer he gave when asked about the diversity of the Oscars, Redford simply stated, "I'm not focused on the Oscars, but more focused on the work".  He also wanted to clear up the misconception of his disdain for Hollywood, "I'm not against the mainstream...we wanted Sundance to create a path for artist to showcase their work and for audiences to come to Utah to see the stuff they couldn't watch in the general market place".

In addition to supporting diversity, youth and women, the festival is also celebrating the 10th anniversary of its New Frontier Program.  Along those lines, with films and television shows live streaming in tandem with a theatrical release I personally asked if they thought streaming would take the place of how films are being seen, Putnam told me that "Sundance does not pass judgement on how filmmakers chose to show their films and that it is all very "platform agnostic".

While technology has created very useful and creative methods in making films exciting for the viewing  audience, Redford is concerned about the art of losing the story in all the frills.  "The most important thing is the story ... What is the story you want to tell"?

Well, the story has yet to unfold here at Sundance 2016, who received a record number off 12,793 film submissions narrowed down to 195 feature and short selections, 30 documentary and narrative virtual reality works and 56 panels and music events.

Stay tuned here for Day Two when I will be talking about some events sponsored by TheBlackhouseFoundation.org who are also celebrating 10 years of Sundanc, not to mention some really awesome docs that I can't wait to discuss!!

Carla Renata Day One Sundance

Sundance 2016: Becoming Mike Nichols

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mnichols

For those that know me, you know that Whoopi Goldberg is my idol.  So much so, that while in New York pursuing my dream to get to Broadway, I chose to do a scene from "Ghost" in acting class.  While my teacher lauded my performance, he kinda read me by saying, "You were really funny, but we already have a Whoopi Goldberg...why don't you try being the best and funniest version of Carla".  Ouch!!!!  While my feelings were hurt, I still got praise for the comedy and I owe that to Miss Whoopi!

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However, the real praise goes to Academy Award winning director Mike Nichols.  For had it not been for his discovery of Whoopi Goldberg, I, nor millions of other fans, would not have the pleasure of being entertained by her sheer, comic genius today.

Through "Becoming Mike Nichols", the audience is treated to a master class with one of the iconic, cinematic geniuses to direct for the silver screen.  Mike's humble beginnings as an improv actor with his partner Elaine May, gave him a secret door to what makes actors tick, how to get their best work onstage and onscreen, as well as, knowing when to step out of the way and just letting the magic unfurl.

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Elaine May and Mike Nichols Most Popular Sketch

Like most people in America, at the time, Nichols was a Russian-Jew immigrant from Germany who barely spoke English upon arrival.  Ironically enough, it was the movies and the theatre that helped him to overcome that obstacle.

In Summer of 2014, Nichols decided to sit down with friend/colleague Jack O'Brien to discuss his early career over two days at the Golden Theatre where it all began for him decades ago.  The stories are fascinating!  We learn that one of the brightest, funniest women in comedy (Carol Burnett) opened for Nichols and May at the Blue Angel in New York City.  He speaks fondly of witnessing the brilliance of Marlon Brando, Jessica Tandy and Karl Malden on Broadway in "Streetcar Named Desire", making friends with some of the most legendary names on Broadway and film though the "alley" on 45th Street that connects the Majestic, Golden and Jacobs stage door entrances, working with Neil Simon on "Barefoot in the Park" (originally called "Nobody Loves Me") and "The Odd Couple" with Art Carney from "The Honeymooners" and Walter Matthau.

Although, think the most entertaining anecdotes come from his chance meeting with Richard Burton, which ultimately brings him to hanging out with and becoming lifelong friends with Elizabeth Taylor.  Those two events would lead to his directing the legends in their most memorable onscreen pairing, "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf"...with Liz walking away with an Oscar for her performance.  Wo knew that Anthony Perkins ("Psycho") would be the one to contribute to the photography aspects of that film simply through a few innocent question from Nichols regarding camera lenses.

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf

However, it is his story of discovering a young Dustin Hoffman and the soundtrack for the movie he is most remembered for "The Graduate" that leaves you breathless.

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Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate

"Becoming Mike Nichols debuts TONIGHT on PBS at 9pm (check your local listings for the time in your area)

Sundance 2016: Netflix, Blackhouse and Norman Lear

  Ok...so for two days in a row I was lauded for asking "great questions" after a few film Q & A's.  At first, I was all excited, but when I had some time to think about it I thought what was the big deal.  Was it because I was a black woman at Sundance NOT asking a question about #OscarsSoWhite?  That subject will take care of itself, why not ask something that is NOT obvious.

So, because of that experience,  I decided to use my blog reporting on those docs, narratives and events/panels that most people will NOT see or attend or will  most often  float under the radar.

I started out my Sundance experience listening to a panel hosted by an organization called The Blackhouse Foundation, which is celebrating it's 10th anniversary at the Sundance Film Festival.  Ironically, Blackhouse Founder - Brickson Diamond stated the foundation and its activities were born out of the lack of panels that specifically addressed "us".  The Blackhouse seems more timely than ever this year.

At a one-on-one interview with Netflix Founder/CEO Ted Sarandos, he spoke about how Netflix is dealing into the future of making feature films and releasing them in tandem with movie theaters to make them more accessible to the masses.  You see my generation will most likely go to a theater to see a film, however, the millennial a stream via outlets like Netflix, Hulu, YouTube to watch movies for the simple convenience of viewing on a mobile device from any location via wifi.  Checkout my interview with Brickson Diamond by clicking on the link below.

The Blackhouse and YouTube Right before speaking with Brickson and hanging for a sec with Ted Sarandos, I watched my first doc for Sundance 2016 - Norman Lear - Just Another Version of You.   This doc was wonderful trip down memory lane with a man who has produced and written a record number 16 sitcoms for network television.   Here's my review...

Sundance 2016: Norman Lear - Just Another Version of You Stay Tuned for Day 3 - I partied, paneled and screened some more...