Photos and article By Rhonda L. Ayodele Terry
“…and the winner is…..” What an exhilarating feeling to be present for an awards ceremony anxiously awaiting a name to be called to receive accolades for artistic achievements. Hundreds of hardworking artists from all over the world came together for one grand festival celebration kicking off the Fifth Annual Indie Film Festival on February 18th with a blast! An opening reception at the scenic midtown Manhattan location, The Attic, welcomed actors, directors, producers and technical support to intermingle at an Opening Reception Party. This party was quite the event where even Independent Film patrons were able to chat one-on-one with film industry artists and technicians for a more intimate point of view on modern independent film making.
The events were phenomenal – From the Opening Reception… to over 80 screenings at the Cinema Village Theater located at 22 East 12th Street in lower Manhattan… to the Panel discussions with the Mayor’s Office of Media & Entertainment… continuing with the gala Red Carpet event where star studded contributors and nominees attended the Empire Room at 230 Fifth Avenue. Then came the Winter Film Awards featuring over 100 projects representing 26 countries such as Japan, Cameroon, Germany, Ethiopia, Iran, The UK, France, Israel, Indonesia, Russia, Australia, Hungary, Spain, Mexico and of course the US.
Actress and Producer, Constance Ejuma, walked away with not just one, but two awards for the evening. The first was for Best Feature Film and the second for Best Actress, in which she portrayed the lead role in, “Ben & Ara”, directed by Nnegest Likke’. “It’s been an incredible experience being here at the Winter Film Awards. It was a complete surprise to me, but it’s very gratifying to see my work and the work of my team appreciated by so many people here. It’s very encouraging and I am even more determined to tell stories about women…about Africa…and about subject matters that are not often tackled in the mainstream,” stated Ejuma.
Dean Dempsey, first time Director and recipient of the Best New York Perspective Award for “Candy Apple,” was thrilled to have received his first won award as Director. Actor, “Cory Kimbrow-Dana, who portrays “Whorace” in Dempsey’s film stated, “He [Dempsey] is the best director I’ve ever worked with and if this is his debut directorship project, I can’t wait to see what’s coming next!” Dempsey and his writing partner, Craig Mania, are already working on their next television series called, “Eight and a Half Million.”
Some of the other films featured that won awards were, “The Real Miyagi” for Best Documentary, directed by Kevin Derek; “The Similars,” Best Director Award went to Isaac Ezban, and “Why Do I Smell Like The Ocean?” for Best Actor (Directed by Kevin Baggott).
First-time Director, Rochelle White (Illumi-Nation & Other Casualties of War) stated: “I may not be able to change the world, but at least I can change the minds of a few people.” Director and actor, Joe Gawalis and actor, Yaron Urbas – both starring in “Around Every Corner”, agreed that it all comes down to a good story, sacrifice and knowing that the competition is not as fluent when putting your artistic expression on film – both to enlighten and entertain the audience as well as helping fellow comrades within the industry.
Joseph Mauceri, who is a major contributor to the Independent Film industry, gave a great congratulatory introduction of Jeff Gomez, who was honored as the 2016 Patron of The Cinema. He stated, “Jeff Gomez is a true patron of the cinema.” Jeff Gomez, CEO of Starlight Runner Entertainment, as well as writer, producer and Professor at City University of New York, offered quite an inspirational delivery speech on supporting each other within the independent film industry and offered his personal help to anyone that reaches out. Gomez is well known and respected among his peers and protégé’s for his many contributions to the film industry – both independent and mainstream in Hollywood.” He continued, “With the power of pervasive communications, we can actually support one another. We have to help each other and it doesn’t take much. We can do it all! We are artists. That’s what we do!”
The Film Festival would not have been possible without the CEO and Founder, George Isaacs ; Stephanie Finn, Executive Director; Leslie Sigal, Treasurer, Joseph Mauceri , Vaughn Murphy, Graphic Artist/Designer, Anne Nunez Zeygerman and of course the financial contributors, sponsors and fans of Independent Film. Steffanie Finn remarked, “This film festival is multi-cultural, and diverse. There is a definite New York vibe of helping one another. We have accomplished quite the task of turning this event into a “mini Oscar Award and they are getting better and better with more support every year!!” Finn’s colleague, Vaughn Murphy and dedicated volunteer for the festival said, “I think more risks need to be taken so that audiences can feel the intensity and not feel limited by budgeting concerns of the industry.”
With glitz and glamour still present among the artists, it still appears that participants in the Winter Film Awards are one big creative family! For more information on how to contribute donations, become a sponsor or volunteer for upcoming events, you may contact the main office at 419 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10003. Call (415) 355-4371 or visit online at www.WinterFilmAwards.com