A still from "Rara René! A Black American Tall Tale of Community" directed by Adriel Jimenez courtesy of NFMLA

An Afro-futurist scrapbook story and genetically enhanced children were among the highlights of NewFilmmakers Los Angeles’ February Monthly Film Festival and annual InFocus: Black Cinema program.

The February event spotlighted Black stories and emerging Black talent in front of and behind the camera, along with a selection of short film highlights from NFMLA’s ongoing monthly program.

The day kicked off with February Shorts, an eclectic program of films that tell the stories of reaching across cultures, towns, and the thresholds of neighbors’ homes. The characters in these films went to extremes out of deep frustration, the pursuit of justice, and the dangerous desire for perfection.

The day continued with InFocus: Black Cinema Shorts, a program that showcased Black storytelling and stories from across the country and around the world in a blend of drama, comedy, animation, sci-fi, and experimental short films. This year’s collection captured stories of community, stepping into life-changing decisions, longing, loss, memory, justice, joy and the embracing of tradition, and features the world premiere of Cameron Tyler Carr’s Harlem Fragments.

Programming concluded with the Los Angeles premiere of director Michael Lewis Foster’s narrative feature To Fall In Love. Based on a stage play, an estranged couple meets again in an attempt to reconnect by exchanging answers to the New York Times’ famous questionnaire in this quietly poignant film.

NFMLA showcases films by filmmakers of all backgrounds throughout the year in addition to its special InFocus programming, which celebrates diversity, inclusion, and region. All filmmakers are welcome and encouraged to submit their projects which will be considered for all upcoming NFMLA festivals, regardless of the InFocus programming. 

Also Read: A Beloved Sex-Ed Teacher and a Secret Boyfriend Highlight NFMLA’s InFocus: Counter-Ageism Program

NFMLA InFocus: Black Cinema Program

Here is some information on the filmmakers and their films, as well as their video interviews with NFMLA Board Chair Danny De Lillo.

“Homologies” Directed By Bryerly Long 

About Bryerly: Bryerly Long is a film director, screenwriter, and actress with a global perspective. She began her film career in Tokyo, where she joined the contemporary Japanese theater company Seinendan as an actress and toured internationally. During her 7 years in Japan, she starred in commercials, TV, theater and in several films by the Cannes-awarded director Koji FUKADA, including “Sayonara” where Long became the first actor to star opposite a real android robot.

Long made her film directing debut with “Tokyo Dreamers, a little violence”, which premiered at NFMLA in 2020. During the pandemic, she received a full scholarship to the Screenwriting and Producing Professional Programs at UCLA . In December 2022, she completed a Masters in Film Directing at ESCAC in Barcelona, where she directed 3 short films: “L’envie,” “Homologies,” and “Hi!”. 

About Tatiana: Tatiana Blackington James writes about the intersection of the personal and the political, with a particular fondness for spy stories. She has written screenplays on historical figures like Mata Hari for Universal Pictures and Albert Einstein for HBO. She also wrote and produced the 2008 film The Narrows, in addition to the short film “Homologies”. She recently adapted the novel An Unexpected Guest,for British director John Strickland, and is developing a limited series on the writer Anaïs Nin with French director François Velle. 

About “Homologies”: In the near future, parents who have paid to genetically enhance their children wonder if they have made a terrible mistake.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Bryerly Long, the director and Tatiana Blackington James, the writer and producer of “Homologies”:

“BACKLOG” Directed By Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal 

About Jacqueline: Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal is a DGA award-winning writer-director, existentialist and activist, known for her film “BACKLOG” (an official selection at Cannes). She recently graduated USC with an MFA in Film and Television Production, where she was the John Huston Directing Scholar. Her thesis film “BACKLOG” premiered at the Oscar-Qualifying Cleveland International Film Festival, where it won Best Student Short. Jacqueline is drawn to stories of female and human empowerment. She is currently in production on her next film “Europa” with ETC and Sony Studios, attached as the writer-director.

About “BACKLOG”: The true story of a young woman’s rape and silencing by the police that led her to become the key witness in the 2010 hearings to end the rape kit backlogs. Can she trust the system that betrayed her?

Watch the NFMLA interview with Jacqueline Elyse Rosenthal, the director, writer, and producer of “BACKLOG”:

“Tequila Sunset” Directed By Jinsui Song 

About Jinsui: Jinsui Song is a writer, director and editor based in Los Angeles. She recently graduated from the MFA Directing program at UCLA and holds a BFA in Screenwriting from the Beijing Film Academy. Her latest film, Something Blue, supported by the Panavision New Filmmaker Program, is currently in post-production. Growing up in Shenzhen, China, a metropolis situated in Guangdong Province, she struggled between traditional Cantonese values and modern aspirations. Her filmmaking style combines tragic comedy and comedic tragedy to explore the complexity of human experiences and emotions. She endeavors to create films about women, in particular Chinese and Chinese-American women, and the many facets of their womanhood.

About “Tequila Sunset”: Overworked and lonely, an old woman caring for her ailing husband attempts to take a much-needed break from reality. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Jinsui Song, the director and writer of “Tequila Sunset”:

“Osun” Directed By Michael Rhima 

About Michael: Michael Rhima is a Nigerian born, Los Angeles-based VFX artist and filmmaker who focuses on animation as his storytelling medium. As a VFX artist, he has worked on projects such as Thor: Ragnarok, The Walking Dead series, and Star Trek: Picard. As a kid, Michael loved animated films that showcased diverse stories from all over the world, from anime to Pixar movies. Following his passion for creating more animated content, Michael and his team are working together in order to bring more animated short films with various voices from the Black Diaspora.

About “Osun”: A grieving man encounters a goddess.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Michael Rhima, the director and writer of “Osun”:

“Choices” Directed By Kameishia D Wooten

About Kameishia: Kameishia Wooten is a Los Angeles-based writer and director. She has passionately crafted and directed seven short films with a focus on thought-provoking and inclusive storytelling. Her latest work, “Choices,” gained recognition at Hollyshorts, Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, and Cannes. Most recently, she was awarded the WIF Directing Fellowship supported by Netflix and participated in Ryan Murphy’s Half Initiative program in 2022. Kameishia’s storytelling style reflects her personal journey as a multi-generational African American woman with southern roots, bringing depth and soul to her narratives.

About “Choices”: Three very different friends find renewed connection as they await pregnancy results at their Los Angeles High School.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Kameishia Wooten, the director and writer of “Choices”:

“Fishers of Men” Directed By Chris Capel 

About Chris: Chris Capel is a writer and director in Lis Angeles. He’s directed segments for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and various projects for Comedy Central, NBC Universal, Legendary Pictures, HBO and more. Comedy is his  bread and butter and dark, grounded sci-fi is his passion. Chris has garnered over 40 million views on his YouTube channel, “HandleBarMustacheLand”, through various comedy sketches. He comes from the world of animation and has worked for studios like DreamWorks, Disney and more for clients including Marvel, and Apple.

About “Fishers of Men”: A young Mormon missionary at the start of his two years of service is shown the ropes by his well-meaning trainer, who comes to terms with his own failures.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Chris Capel, the director, writer, and producer of “Fishers of Men”:

“Harlem Fragments” Directed By Cameron Tyler Carr 

About Cameron: Cameron Carr is a born and bred Harlemite, filmmaker and creative producer based out of New York City. A pragmatic optimist, he has the ambition to become the ultimate hybrid of Issa Rae, Jordan Peele and Donald Glover ultimate hybrid. Cameron’s constant mission is to continue to push, propel and create Black-led stories through film and creative, while spotlighting systemic inequities that often remain unconscious and unspoken in society. Cameron is coming off of his writing and directorial debut for Harlem Fragments in partnership with FUJIFILM, which latest accolades span from the Ida B. Wells Disrupting the Narrative Grant, and being selected for the 2023 DGA Shoot New Director Spotlight Showcase Cohort.

About “Harlem Fragments”: An Afro-futurist scrapbook storytelling of a Harlem Black family’s beautiful destruction during the 2008 recession. A natural disaster so mesmerizing you can’t look away from the tragedy. Based on true events.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Cameron Tyler Carr, the director and writer of “Harlem Fragments”:

“The Burden” Directed By Tish Arana 

About Tish: Tish Arana is a Los Angeles-based filmmaker, actor, and mother. Drawing inspiration from the literary luminary Octavia Butler, Arana’s passion lies in crafting narratives that center Black stories in Science Fiction and Fantasy spaces. The Burden marks Tish’s directorial debut.

About “The Burden”: When culture vultures apply for citizenship on a new planet colonized by Black people, three judges must decide how to deal with folks who want everything but the burden.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Tish Arana, the director and writer of “The Burden”: 

To Fall In Love Directed By Michael Lewis Foster 

About Michael: Michael is a filmmaker with over 25 years of experience. He began his professional career working behind the camera on shows like Silk Stalkings and Renegade as well as Showtime’s The Tiger Woods Story. He has shot and edited videos for Sony, Marvel, Petco, X-Factor, Taylor Guitars, Wrangler Jeans, IMDb and TCL, and worked directly with clients that include LL Cool J, Gwen Stefani, Jenny McCarthy, Simon Cowell and Kevin Smith. He was recently nominated for Best Editing by the HorrorHaus and Oceanside Film Festivals for the 2022 award-winning short film, Black Creek Trail, which is currently in development as a feature film.

About To Fall In Love: When a woman estranged from her husband meets with him as a last-ditch effort to save their marriage, they grapple with psychologist Arthur Aron’s famous relationship tool, “The 36 Questions TO FALL IN LOVE,” and she must decide whether their love is enough to keep them together.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Michael Foster, the director, and Beth Gallagher, the producer of To Fall In Love:

 “Chidera” Directed By Sope Aluko

About Sope: Sope is a Nigerian-born British-American actress and filmmaker. She is most known for her film role in Marvel’s “Black Panther” and “Wakanda Forever”. As a Writer and Filmmaker, Sope feels compelled to shine a spotlight on the positive and most engaging stories about the African Diaspora that will resonate with the diverse global audience. She started her production company, SopeBox Productions in 2020 under which she wrote, produced, executive produced, co-directed and starred in her first short film titled, “Chidera”. It had its world premiere at the 2023 American Black Film Festival.

About “Chidera”: A coming-of-age story of a teenage girl bound from birth to a higher calling, but as the traditional ceremony looms, she struggles to choose between her destiny and the freedom she yearns.

Watch the NFMLA interview with Sope Aluko, the director, writer, and producer of “Chidera”:

“Rara René! A Black American Tall Tale Of Community” Directed by Adriel Jimenez

About Adriel: Adriel Jimenez (Ghettosonshine) is a self-taught, multifaceted artist with a focus on creative direction and ideation. Being born and raised in Lawrence, MA, is evidently ingrained in his artistic genetic makeup. The context surrounding his work naturally reflects the imagery and language he grew up around, which he refers to as a “never-ending reference point.” As he has developed as an artist, he has found power in creating connections between contrasting elements. This approach is partly drawn from his perspective on art, treating it like design—thinking beyond feeling and narrative, and considering function and purpose. At times, Jimenez finds himself envisioning the composition in its entirety and reverse-engineers the process to reach the starting point. Other times, he works more abstractly, tossing out his scatterbrained thoughts like paint on a canvas until the composition materializes. As his taste is ever-changing, just like his personality, he experiments with different mediums, from analog collaging to filmmaking. This journey of self-definition will continue to be driven by his search for balance and understanding. 

About “Rara René! A Black American Tall Tale Of Community”: A fictional narrative that peeks into the lives of a tight-knit urban community through a series of interconnected vignettes. 

Watch the NFMLA interview with Adriel Jimenez, director of “Rara René! A Black American Tall Tale Of Community”:

Main Image: A still from “Rara René! A Black American Tall Tale of Community” directed by Adriel Jimenez, courtesy of NFMLA