The Urban Mediamakers Film Festival (UMFF) will take place this year from October 6-11 in the metro-area of Atlanta, Georgia, and this year, the organization will celebrate its 15th anniversary. Founded in November 2001, the mission of UMFF is to promote and support diverse, independent digital/media arts content creation with an emphasis on projects produced by or featuring African, Asian, Black, Hispanic and Latino individuals. Each year, UMFF is known in metro-Atlanta for showcasing award-winning, global independent films.
HBR had the pleasure of engaging in an insightful conversation with the founder and producer of the festival, Cheryle R. Reynolds, about UMFF, the film community in Georgia, and the role that technology now plays in the film industry.
HBR: How Did UMFF Begin?
CR: Years ago – in the late ‘90s — I wrote a script and was determined to get it into the hands of the right people in Hollywood. I purchased a book on how to reach anybody in Hollywood. I did the “poor man’s” copyright and mailed it to myself before sending it out to my list. A year or so later, I saw a new movie in theaters that had a storyline just like the script I sent out. Heartbroken with no money to fight a big studio, I knew that I needed to understand and learn the business of film and TV production.
I started traveling to various film festivals in different cities and countries. I was exposed to creativity, international filmmaking, and Black excellence in filmmaking when I met Ralph Scott at the S.E Manley Short Film Showcase in Los Angeles, CA. That festival exposed me to black unity in film/TV production and a sense of belonging that I quickly realized was almost non-existent in the Atlanta community. It was on that flight from LA that I decided to form an organization. In November 2001, the Urban Mediamakers Association was formed. I named the organization the Urban Mediamakers to reflect the demographics of Atlanta – before corporate marketers decided to use ‘urban’ as a code word for ‘Black people.’
I reached out to a few of my friends currently working in entertainment, and was able to secure a complimentary location in downtown Atlanta for the first Urban Mediamakers networking event. I invited content creators and film lovers to attend this event. The day of the event, the line was halfway around the block, and people were instantly interested in joining the organization. I was even being asked for the “membership fee,” that didn’t even exist at that time (laughter). People were literally writing checks! I prepared home cooked food for the attendees, hosted a panel, and invited people to introduce themselves and share their current projects with the room. At the time, this was one of the only organizations that supported black writers and content creators in Atlanta.
The Urban Mediamakers hosted the first film festival on a cruise ship in 2002, and Malcolm D. Lee was our guest speaker. For the next four years, the festival was held in downtown Atlanta including the Georgia Pacific Building, North Avenue Lofts, and the Atlanta Merchandise Mart. In 2006, the festival was moved to Gwinnett County Georgia, and the organization has been going strong now for 15 years.
HBR: What impact has UMFF had on the film community in Georgia?
CR: The Urban Mediamakers was the first organization in metro-Atlanta to provide networking events for filmmakers and writers of color year-round. Our goal is to provide collaborative talent and skills opportunities. One of the main road blocks for filmmakers of color is money. But in a collaboration of skills, five filmmakers – a director, writer, producer, DP, editor – can commit to each other’s projects, and in one year, five projects can be completed without dollars – just human creativity, skills and talent.
Technology and the internet have leveled the playing field for content creators. UMFF is focused on teaching creatives how to merge their art with the business side of the industry and technology. For example, filmmakers have been offered distribution deals, but because filmmakers did not have Errors and Emission Insurance, releases for all music and actors in their project, the distribution deal fell through. We can’t have that – that’s where the Urban Mediamakers come in the picture.
I am proud to see many names rolling in credits of film and television productions in Atlanta with crew/cast members who started their careers with the Urban Mediamakers or were members of the organization.
HBR: How is UMFF different from other film festivals?
CR: Most film festivals spotlight Hollywood celebrities and big stars who attend. At UMFF, the filmmakers and the writers who have official selections in the festival are the celebrities and our spotlight is on them. Our goal is to get mainstream Hollywood celebrities, producers, directors and actors to come to UMFF to share their knowledge with our filmmakers and writers. We want our UMFF alumni to be able to pick the brains of celebrities for nuggets of information and resources.
Additionally, UMFF is 100% volunteer-operated – there are no salaries. Since 2005, the festival has been self-sufficient with profits from each year’s festival are poured right back into the next year’s festival! That is why we are able to offer free screenings, low cost passes, etc. at UMFF. In fact, this year we are offering a production deal worth $20,000 to the winning short film script!
HBR: How does UMFF incorporate digital content and technology into the film festival?
CR: The internet, digital technology and social media have completely transformed the storytelling and filmmaking process. Technology has allowed content creators who would have otherwise been anonymous to the general public now have an immediate audience. No longer do people of color have to wait for Hollywood to greenlight a project. We are greenlighting our own projects!
The Urban Mediamakers teach content creators that they should look at the internet as real estate, and it’s important that they grab their locations. The internet is an independent content creator’s canvas just waiting for the next great project. With the right content, and how it is presented, the internet allows independent content creator’s projects to look like a million dollars when it only cost some good craft services and collaborative partners!