Roots Miniseries: A Cultural Phenomenon

In the simpler media landscape of the late ‘70s, networks considered a show a blockbuster if it was watched in three of every 10 households. When “Roots,” a 12-hour miniseries exploring the multi-generational story of an African-American family, made its historic premiere on ABC during the last week of January in 1977, it could be found on more than half of the nation’s televisions (that night in Los Angeles, the share was 67 percent).

When putting the estimated audience of 130 million into perspective, one network executive said, “it’s like millions of people reading the same book simultaneously.”

Author and journalist Alex Haley made his name exploring different chapters of the African-American story, from Malcolm X to Miles Davis, and the blockbuster miniseries adaptation of his best-selling 1976 masterpiece “Roots” was a prologue to them all. Haley’s family story tells “the symbolic saga of a people,” a tale far more universal than even the most compelling celebrity interview.
Chasing the answer to a simple question of origins, which required the author to spend 6,500 hours in 57 libraries and archives, led to profound answers.

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The moody teaser begins with a slow pan through an early 20th century hospital with quick shots of surgeons sporting blood-stained clothes and hands. STORY: Steven Soderbergh to Direct Off-Broadway Play Starring Chloe Grace Moretz The promo then lingers on the operating room at the Knickerbocker Hospital, which serves as the show’s setting, as the following text flashes across the screen: “Surgery wasn’t always science.” A close-up shot of Clive Owen‘s character shows up at the end of the teaser. The ten-part series revolves around the 1900s New York City Knickerbocker Hospital and its surgeons, nurses and staff, who pushed the bounds of medicine in a time of high mortality rates and no antibiotics. STORY: Steven Soderbergh Explains Spike Lee Kickstarter Donation A premiere date for the show has not yet been announced, but it’s expected to debut sometime this summer.

Watch the full promo below.

The Playlist’s 20 Most Anticipated Films Of The 2013 Tribeca Film Festival

download (1)Running from April 17-28, the 12th incarnation of the Tribeca Film Festival starts this week. It’s a festival which has only grown in stature and confidence over the years; those awkward toddler years in which the line-up was rather unwieldy and the standard a little haphazard are now just a distant memory. And if you consider the festival’s timing — sandwiched between the titans of Sundance and Cannes — the fact that it has managed to carve out a well-respected identity for itself, and not simply be seen as a potted version of one or an extended trailer for the other, is all the more impressive. This year’s selection looks to be just as well-curated, with perhaps fewer big splashy event screenings, but more than enough smaller, innovative events to keep the cinephile interested. As ever, we’ll be bringing you a lot of coverage from the festival, which is sure to include at least a few surprises we never saw coming. But for right now, screening-wise, these are the 20 titles we’re really excited about (in no particular order), plus a few more we’ve already seen that we strongly urge you to check out, too.

Bluebird
Synopsis: Two separate women (Amy Morton andLouisa Krause) awaken one morning to discover that tiny acts of negligence or distraction from the day before have devastating consequences for their lives and for the fragile calm of the small New England town they live in. What You Need To Know: With one Playlister lucky enough to already have seen this directorial debut fromLance Edmands (editor on Lena Dunham‘s “Tiny Furniture“), we are very confident in our recommendation here. It’s a mature debut boasting very strong performances from a supporting cast made up of veterans of some of our favorite TV of recent years (John Slattery of “Mad Men,” Margo Martindale from “Justified” and Adam Driver from Dunham’s “Girls” all feature), while leads, Jason Reitman-approved Morton (a stage actress with a small role in “Up in the Air“) and Krause (from “Young Adult” and “Martha Marcy May Marlene“) both rise to the occasion of their biggest screen roles to date.
When: THU 4/18 6:30 PM SVA Theater 1 Silas

Run and Jump
Synopsis: An unconventional romance develops between an Irish woman (Maxine Peake) struggling to hold her family together in the wake of her husband’s debilitating illness and the American doctor (Will Forte) who comes to study the family’s post-tragedy dynamic.What You Need To Know: Whether or not his much mooted sequel to “MacGruber” ever actually happens, Forte (“Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock“) should now have options in a more serious arena following this dramatic turn in director Steph Green‘s first feature. For some reason — perhaps the pathos he brought to his “30 Rock” role — we’re fairly sure Forte has it in him to play it straight, with the eclectic family vibe putting us in mind ofSteve Carell‘s “Little Miss Sunshine” moment. Green was previously nominated for a short film Oscar and countsSpike Jonze as a mentor, having worked as his assistant on “Where the Wild Things Are.”
When: SAT 4/20 6:30 PM Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 6

Bottled Up
Synopsis: In denial about her daughter Sylvie’s (Marin Ireland) addiction to prescription painkillers, Faye (Melissa Leo) befriends Beckett (Josh Hamilton) in the hope that he will be able to help Sylvie through. Relationships evolve, though, and not necessarily as planned, and the selfless, hopeful Faye has to make a painful choice between attending the needs of Sylvie, and taking this chance for happiness herself.
What You Need To Know: The second feature from director Enid Zentelis (“Evergreen“), “Bottled Up” (originally titled “Something in the Water“) was shot in 2011 and has apparently spent over a year in post-production. Rumored initially for a Sundance bow, it will actually be enjoying its World Premiere at Tribeca. How these delays bear on the finished product we can only guess, but with the ever-reliable Leo on board, we’re still optimistic.
When: FRI 4/19 9:00 PM SVA Clearview Cinemas Chelsea 7

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Sundance 2013: ‘Fruitvale’ wins Grand Jury Prize

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PARK CITY, Utah — Ryan Coogler was at home in Oakland on New Year’s Day 2009 when it happened: Oscar Grant, a 22-year-old unarmed black man, was killed by a transit policeman at the BART station in the city’s Fruitvale neighborhood. Cellphone videos of the incident soon went viral, sparking protests and demonstrations.

“I saw the videos almost at once,” the 26-year-old filmmaker said. “He was dressed like me and my friends dress, he looked like us. It was kind of like it happened to me, or someone I know.”

At the time, Coogler was a graduate student at USC’s film school and had come to view movies as “my outlet for my fears, for the things that make me angry or frustrated, for messages I want to get out. I was terrified, shocked, angry. I felt this was the film I was born to make.”

PHOTOS: Dramas in competition at Sundance | Full coverage

And so, with the producing help of Forest Whitaker, Coogler wrote and directed “Fruitvale,” his first feature-length film, and landed it in the Sundance Film Festival. The drama follows Grant, charismatically played by Michael B. Jordan, on what turns out to be the last day of his life. It’s the standout film in the festival’s dramatic competition and was acquired for distribution by the Weinstein Co.

The idea, Coogler said, was “to humanize these characters you see on the news as being shot by the police. We see mug-shot photos, not people with a daughter, a mother, not full human beings.”

At the trial of the officer who shot Grant, Coogler noted, the dead man’s character was publicly “pulled in two directions. The defense lawyers painted his flaws, his prison time, the trouble he’d been in. And the other side made him out to be an angel. But character is made up of gray areas. Someone all bad or all good is not a human being.”

Whitaker, who has been a mentor to Coogler, agrees. “We exist on that line between good and bad,” he said. “Oscar Grant did have flaws, but he was trying to fix his life, to move forward. Those flaws were no excuse to destroy him, to murder him. We’re tired of that, it’s too much for us to deal with.”

VIDEO: Your guide to Sundance 2013

The connection with Whitaker’s company, Significant Productions, started when one of Coogler’s short films was seen by executive Nina Yang. She called him in for a talk and then set up a meeting with Whitaker, who says it was “unusual to meet a young filmmaker with such a strong social consciousness.”

“It meant a lot to meet Forest. He’s a legend; if we were in Blockbuster renting something and he was in it, that validated the movie for us,” said Coogler, who ducked out of a USC class for the meeting with Whitaker. “He’s a successful African American male who grew up in the inner city in California, and he’s a good person. He genuinely wants to have a positive impact on the planet.”

While talking to Whitaker, Coogler listed several ideas he had for features and when he got to the Fruitvale story, “Forest just said, ‘I’ll produce that one, let’s make it,’ and then he walked out of the room,” Coogler recalls. “I wanted to hurry up and write it before he changed his mind.”

Coogler, who graduated in 2011, said his process started with “reading depositions, public record stuff, but you can’t get the truth from a deposition. I met his friends, his girlfriend, his mother. I couldn’t go to Oscar and say ‘what were you like?’ I needed other people to flesh it out.”

A friend of Coogler’s introduced him to the family’s attorney, John Burris. Coogler talked to the lawyer, who introduced him to Grant’s relatives.

PHOTOS: The scene at Sundance | Portraits by the Times

“I met with the family, explained to them my reasons for wanting to make the film and who I was. I showed them some of my shorts. We talked and eventually Forest stepped in for reassurance, and they gave their blessing.”

The filmmaker wrote Grant’s part with actor Jordan — best known for his TV work on “Friday Night Lights” and “The Wire” — in mind. Besides being “enormously talented,” Jordan “looked like Oscar, and he has the same distinct smile. It was hard to find somebody who had warmth and an edge. Only a few actors could do that.”

Also important to Coogler was giving the film as much verisimilitude as he could. He gave Grant’s mother a small cameo and shot in as many real locations as he could, including the actual Fruitvale BART station where Grant’s death took place, a delicate situation where Whitaker’s backing for the project proved critical.

Made with assurance and deep emotion, “Fruitvale” is a memorable directorial debut. “Any time you make something, what goes into it can be felt from the other side,” Coogler said. “And pain, work and passion is what went in.”

Added Whitaker of his involvement, “I feel fortunate, I feel blessed.”

A Scripted Drama Series About The Birth Of Hip-Hop In Development At Starz

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At first glance, I thought this was another documentary on the history through present-day hip-hop, but thankfully it’s not. According to Deadline, it’s apparently going to be a scripted drama series, which will chart “the birth of hip-hop from the violence of gang life in 1970s Bronx.” It’ll be penned by Patrick Macmanus (co-writing the CW’s Sleepy Hollow) for the Starz network.  To be titled Turf, no other info is available on this project yet, like how broad the narrative will stretch, or whether it’ll take more of a micro view, focusing on very specific people, and following their stories. Also, I can’t really comment on Macmanus, as I’m not familiar with the man’s work. Unless there’s another Patrick Macmanus who isn’t listed on IMDB, the Macmanus that is listed has a resume that show’s he’s primarily an actor, with parts on TV series like CSI and JAG, but nothing consistent. Deadline says he was on the writing staff for 2 other Starz series: Marco Polo and Noir.

Stay tuned…

So who’s going to play DJ Kool Herc?