Student & Emerging Filmmaker Competition

Over 100 filmmakers submitted projects that addressed, “Speaking Truth to Power,” 12 of which have been selected by the jury committee for a public screening event. From these finalists, jurors will name winners and runners-up of the competition from the narrative and documentary categories, for both student and emerging filmmakers. The films showcase diverse and powerful young voices, and cover a range of issues including criminal justice reform, immigration, racial justice, sexuality and gender identity, activism and religion.

Jurors are professionals and leaders from across the arts and entertainment industries and social justice movements. Jurors include:

  • Derrick L. Middleton, Black queer filmmaker, writer and performance artist from Harlem, NYC, and inaugural grand prize winner for documentary of the 2016 MOWFF Emerging Filmmaker Competition for his documentary short Shape Up: Gay in the Black Barbershop;
  • Diane McWhorter, D.C.-based author of 2002 Pulitzer Prize-winning Carry Me Home, a history of the civil rights revolution in her hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and her young adult history of the movement,  A Dream of Freedom;
  • Jeff L. Lieberman, award-winning journalist, producer, filmmaker and founder of Re-Emerging films, as well as director of  The Amazing Miss Simone (MOWFF, 2016) and most recently, My Harlem;
  • Derek J. Pastuszek, writer and filmmaker based in Los Angeles whose screenplays and films have been recognized with numerous honors in industry contests and film festivals worldwide, and whose narrative short film [solitary] is currently on the festival circuit, and was an inaugural grand prize winner for narrative of the 2016 MOWFF Student Filmmaker Competition;
  • Rita Coburn Whack, award winning Co-Director/Co-Producer of the first feature documentary on Maya Angelou, Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise​. (MOWFF, 2016), award winning multi-media writer, director, and producer, whose television work earned 3 Emmys for documentaries: Curators of Culture​, Remembering 47th Street, and African Roots American Soil​; and
  • Sam Pollard, feature film and television video editor, and documentary producer/director, whose career spans almost thirty years. Pollard recently directed the documentary ACORN and The Firestorm, which premiered at the 2017 Tribeca Film Festival. Pollard produced the Academy Award®-nominated documentary Four Little Girls as well as When the Levees Broke. His 2016 documentary Two Trains Runnin’ had its East Coast premiere at the 2016 March on Washington Film Festival.

Finalists’ films will be screened Saturday, July 15 at 10:00am at the Landmark E Street Cinema in Washington, DC. Those films, categorized as student or emerging narratives or documentaries, are as follows.

Student Narrative

LAWMAN, directed by Matthew Gentile set in 1875, Oklahoma Territory | SPECIAL MENTION

Bass Reeves, is the first African-American to be deputized by the U.S. Marshal service. His wife, Nellie Jennie Reeves, tries to persuade Bass not to leave for his own safety, but Bass argues that it’s the best job he can get to keep a roof over his family’s head. When Bass charges into the desert, he engages in a shootout with two outlaws, Maha and Glen Huddleston, also African-American. Bass kills Maha in the gunfight, and arrests Glen, ordering him to carry Maha’s body across the desert back to Fort Smith. Over the course of their journey, Glen questions Bass’ choice of career and tries to psych Bass out in an unorthodox attempt at escape, a tactic that works as Bass begins to question his own mind in regards to the idea of justice and choosing to fight for a law and a country that may never fight for him.

Vitiligo, directed by Cliff Notez | GRAND PRIZE WINNER

A short Psychological Suspense/Thriller that tells the story of a doctoral student who is guest lecturing a series on the inequalities/disparities for African Americans in media representations. This movie will tell the story of the day after a traumatic event has happened to the main character, and walks through their psychotic break trying to piece together clues that will point to the cause.

Time is the Longest Distance, directed by Bryan Powers

This film conveys the importance of familial love and acceptance through the story of three generations of men: thirty-something Adam, his aging father Jack, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, and Xander, a teenaged boy who serendipitously crosses their path. Adam arrives at his father’s nursing home to share news of a major change in his life, hoping to bridge the distance that has opened up between them before Jack’s Alzheimer’s becomes too advanced. While things do not go as planned, Jack’s chance encounter with Xander provides Adam with an unexpected way to find the acceptance he seeks.

Student Documentary

A Life Before This, directed by Steffie van Rhee | SPECIAL MENTION

Ramarley Graham, an unarmed black teenager, was shot and killed in his Bronx home by a white New York City police officer four years ago. Since then, his mother, Constance Malcolm, has fought to have the officer held accountable. Her struggle for justice has led her to a life of activism and an increasingly significant role as a public figure.

Unheard, directed by Erin Kokdil

An intimate glimpse into the life of Teresa Smith, a grieving single mother who finds the strength through music to accept and then confront the injustice in her life. The film contrasts the somber yet healing energy of Teresa’s singing against the backdrop of a day in her home with her surviving children.

FEARLESS, directed by Jasmine Cannon, Branden Hampton, and Yingxu Hao | GRAND PRIZE WINNER

A film about how 10,000 Fearless men and women are determined to empower a struggling community in the midst of gun violence and uncertain conditions on the Southside of Chicago.

Emerging Documentary

They Took Them Alive, directed by Emily Pederson | GRAND PRIZE WINNER

In 2014, the disappearance of 43 college students sparked a historic social movement in Mexico. Faced with government obstruction of an international investigation into their disappearance, their families enter a new chapter of uncertainty but refuse to stop seeking justice and closure.

Honk: A Festival of Activist Street Bands, directed by Patrick Johnson

Honk is a festival of activist street bands who reclaim public spaces with their brash sound, political messages, and outrageous community oriented performances.

Seven Dates With Death, directed by Mike Holland | SPECIAL MENTION

The story of Moreese Bickham, the oldest living survivor of Death Row in the United States. Bickham describes the murders that sent him to Death Row, his life on death row and how he was able to get on with his life after almost four decades in prison.

Emerging Narrative

LA OPOSICION, directed by Zoey Martinson | GRAND PRIZE WINNER

This film explores immigration policy under the new Trump administration. When officers for the Department of Homeland Security are ordered to aggressively monitor immigration targets in the USA, they start to question their own culpability in the new system.

Heterodox HDS, directed by Michaux Muanda

During her brief time in the police department, Jennifer Abelson a rookie police officer witnessed the deaths of two unarmed black boys just to result in no conviction of the officer involved. To improve police relations with African Americans, she decided to take action to put end to this practice at least in that part of the city.Directed, Written, and Produced by Michaux Muanda

Honor Council, directed by Scott Simonsen | SPECIAL MENTION

After beating up the school bully with dildo nunchucks, Wren, who dresses as a girl from the waist down and a boy from the waist up, was put on trial with threat of expulsion. As he is tried by the honor council it becomes clear that the situation is not so black and white and that everyone must adjust see through different eyes to understand what is right.