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Slamdance: Paris is in Harlem

“Jazz is the soundtrack of New York.”

The year is 2017 and the Cabaret Law is still in effect in New York City. Enacted in 1926 during Prohibition, the law states that any business serving food and drink must pay for a license in order to also allow their patrons to dance. This prohibitive law proved to be inherently racist as it hurt minority run businesses in poorer neighborhoods, especially those who couldn’t afford the fee. And now the days of this obscure but hurtful law are numbered.

Written and directed Christina Kallas, Paris is in Harlem takes place during the final days of the Cabaret Law. It follows various characters, all of whom eventually visit the Paris Blues, a legendary Jazz bar in Harlem once run by Samuel Hargress Jr. to whom the film is dedicated. Much like with Kallas’ film The Rainbow Experiment, Paris is in Harlem employs split screens, cuts and varying perspectives to offer the viewer a multi-character mosaic. While there are many storylines, everything is anchored by the ongoing angst caused by institutional racism, the threat of gun violence, cancel culture and the Cabaret Law. Even tackling these heavy subjects, Paris is in Harlem is a film brimming with hope and joy. It serves as a reminder the power of community and human connection.

Paris is in Harlem premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: I think it’s enough, isn’t it?

As the COVID-19 pandemic rages on and the number of deaths rises, we’re quickly becoming numb to the tragedy. We have to remember that the people who’ve died are not just statistics. They were individuals with friends and families, with hopes and dreams. These are people who still had a life ahead of them only to have it ripped away by the virus.

Director Emily Shir Segal brings one story to light with her four minute short film I think it’s enough, isn’t it? She narrates the story of how her father came to die of COVID as we watch home videos of them from years past. The juxtaposition between images of happier days and the story of a sad and lonely end aptly demonstrates just how cruel this pandemic truly is.

I think it’s enough, isn’t it? screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Inside the Storm

Nadav (Ben-Oved Berkovich) is reeling from a bad breakup with Neta. Seeking solace, he meets up with a former lover, Amit  (Harel Glazer), whom he hasn’t seen in a while. Their reunion is raw and intense. Any feelings they have for each other must be kept secret. The next day Nadav and Amit pretend like nothing happened and Nadav has to decide what to say to Neta.

Directed by Daniel Bloom, Inside the Storm is a quiet and spare short film about the decisions we make during times of heightened emotion. It’s minimalist film, with only a handful of scenes. The camera lingers on the subject; nothing is rushed. The film as a whole reminded me of a few key scenes from Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight

Inside the Storm screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Sixteen Thousand Dollars

“Reparations for slavery hasn’t happened yet, but if it were to happen, are we ready to make demands that include systematic change?”

Director Symone Baptiste

Director Symone Baptiste’s short film Sixteen Thousand Dollars imagines an America in which black people have been paid reparations for slavery. $16,000 in fact. Brother and sister Brodie (Brodie Reed) and Ellington (Ellington Wells) have received their checks in the mail. Ellington has big plans for her $8,000 check (a half payment because she’s only half black) including quitting her job and starting a new business. Brodie contemplates the significance of the reparation and whether the payment is a replacement for real long-lasting change.

Sixteen Thousand Dollars is an introspective film about race, class and the power of money, done to great comedic effect. Audiences will laugh at the chaos that comes with a windfall of cash and pause to think about its serious subject matter. I would love to see Sixteen Thousand Dollars developed into a full-length feature film!

Sixteen Thousand Dollars was screened as part of the virtual 2021 Slamdance Film Festival.

Slamdance: Trammel

Dale (Dale A. Smith) visits the local pharmacy in his small town to chat with his buddy Mohammad (Mohammad Dagman). Dale is lonely and Mohammad is a great listener. As their conversation progresses, we learn about Dale’s tumultuous past.

Trammel is a sensitive portrait of loneliness. Directed by Christopher Jason Bell, this 11 minute short film, on the surface, is a window into a private conversation. But then it gives the viewer so much more. Through this conversation, we learn enough about Dale to empathize with him. He’s lonely and in desperate need of a friend. And when Mohammad isn’t there, we want to be there to listen to Dale. We want to be that friend. Empathy is an essential part of human nature that often gets overlooked. Trammel effectively brings it to light.

Trammel screened as part of the virtual 2021 SlLamdance Film Festival.

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