Harlem International Film Festival 2020 review: ‘The Subject’ is powerful from every angle.

Jason Biggs plays Phil, a documentary filmmaker whose conscious ways heavy on him. The Subject is aptly named. Phil made a film about a black 15-year-old whose murder is caught on tape, by him. It’s been two years, he’s worried that Malcolm’s death means nothing back in Harlem. He’s onto his next project but cannot shake the guilt of possible exploitation, nor can the press. His girlfriend wants him to get over it, but Phil tries really hard to do the right thing. After finally attempting to move forward, the other shoe drops. Someone begins filming him.

Bringing on a new assistant and managing his new project, we gain insight into his trauma. But it’s the social commentary about Harlem that strikes the loudest tone, recognizing that Phil cannot ultimately be the “white savior”. Writer Chisa Hutchinson has written a fully fleshed out, flawed man who is trying to keep levelheaded through success and the reality we currently reside in. The performance from Biggs is captivating and genuinely layered. He has great material. Once Marley enters the scene, she is privy to some new information. Manipulation and a clear underlying agenda appear. You get the feeling that something truly else, something larger is coming our way.

Anabelle Acosta as girlfriend Jess is very compelling. There is a lot to learn from their relationship dynamic and it comes into play heavily. Carra Patterson as Marley is quite the catalyst for chaos. She gives off a Maya Rudolph vibe and I dug her energy throughout. Nile Bullock’s performance as Malcolm is exactly where the audience needs him to be; balancing the line of an arrogant teen and an innocent child. Jason Biggs is better than ever. He plays Phil with an understanding of power and guilt. It’s stunning. Aunjanue Ellis plays Malcolm’s mother, Leslie. The scenes between her and Biggs are explosive. She represents so many mothers who lose their children to violence. Her performance is the culmination of everything in this film. Cutting through mansplaining and truth, everything leads up to these moments. The Subject is phenomenal in its storytelling. It’s a must-see film. Harlem International Film Festival was a fitting home for its Manhattan premiere. The film has an ending you will not see coming. Congratulations to director Lanie Zipoy and everyone involved in making this film.

Harlem International Film Festival review: Narrative short ‘Steve’ is an entire journey.

If grinding in the bustling streets of NYC isn’t enough for a Broadway actress, an uninvited guest in her apartment might be just the thing to put her over the edge.

As someone who went to school for musical theatre in the city, short film Steve spoke to me in a very specific way. Star and writer, Amber Iman, is the “private me” on film. I have never felt more “seen”, as the kids say, as watching an extroverted, fellow theatre kid in her element. In real life, Iman is a Broadway star and it shows. Living in Manhattan is its own experience. Everyone, at least once, has had a mouse in their apartment. It’s basically a right of passage. We all react in pretty much the same way, with few exceptions. Amber Iman takes all of that energy and translates it into the funniest short I’ve yet to see. My husband had headphones on while I was watching this film. I was laughing so loud he took them off and laughed with me having no knowledge of what I was watching. Iman’s chemistry in her brief scenes that include other cast members is downright hilarious. But, for the majority of the film, she is speaking directly to her unwanted guest. It is the full range of emotions and then some. Who needs a professional reel when you have this short to show casting directors? The simplicity and relatable nature make Steve a brilliant treatment for Iman to have her own series, even if that was not the intention. I would not be mad at that notion. Director Jason Hightower‘s resume is massive. Great call on connecting with this script and Amber.

Harlem International Film Festival review: ‘Look At Lucas’ is parental wake up call.

As a parent, sometimes a film is like a slap in the face. Agustin McCarthy‘, LOOK AT LUCAS is one such short. The plot is simple, a mother and son take a weekend away at the beach. Mom struggles to leave work at work and her son simply wants to spend time together. Parenting today looks very different than it has in the past. With all the stress and expectations, sometimes our phones are the only respite from constant interaction with our jobs or our children. But, most of the time, they are a distraction tool. As a work-at-home-Mom, scrolling through other people’s lives for 10 minutes makes me feel less anxious, all the while I know that energy should be going to my kids, even if I am only a human who needs a mental break from time to time. Watching this sort of story play out from the outside was an entirely different experience. Seeing that scenario from the eyes of a child felt sobering. In the film, we track Mom Lacey desperately trying to finish a work call but also taking plenty of time for Instagram and the like. Her son Lucas just wants his mother to play with him, nothing more. As Lucas plays without attention, your anxiety will undoubtedly rise. You’re sort of waiting for the other shoe to drop but it will not be what you’re expecting. You will recognize yourself in the frustrated tone in actress Jessica Frances Dukes‘ voice. You may see your child in the eyes of Daniel Mekonen. McCarthy’s writing and directing make it easy to do. With a beautiful setting and relatable premise, LOOK AT LUCAS is a fantastic reminder to stop and look up. It can be the most important thing you do for your family.

Harlem International Film Festival 2020 review: short film ‘Generation Lockdown’ will break you

GENERATION LOCKDOWN is a narrative short film, seen through the eyes of an eleven year old boy as he tries to save his friend’s life during an active shooter attack in his school.

This film is based on a short story by Caleb, a 6th grader from a public school in Teaneck, NJ.

If you aren’t crying by 6 minutes in, perhaps you’ve become numb to the reality of so many kids and parents. I was a senior in high school when Columbine happened. I watched it live while on spring break with my family. Two weeks later, I was in a lockdown of my own in the cafeteria of my own school, unknowing that it was only a drill. Now, I am the other of two young children. In the first year of school for my son, we received an email explaining that they would be doing a school shooter drill. He was 2 at the time. I can remember the terror I felt at 18, I could not have imagined my kids, now 3 and 4, having to run these drills on a regular basis, 22 years later.

The film itself is stunning. The look is bright and relatable to a child’s perspective. As a former teacher, it had a familiarity to it that a lot of films centering around children do not. The morning after I viewed the film, I’m still emotionally drained but feel an inherent need to speak about it. The climax is poignant both in storytelling and in visual impact. The editing is like a punch in the gut. I was not expecting it. For a short film, Generation Lockdown makes a massive impact. It’s something that deserves a primetime viewing slot for its artistic and political effectiveness. This short serves as a not just a conversation starter, but a continuation for a movement. Seek it out.