Why the Urbanworld Film Festival is More Vital Than Ever: A Conversation with Gabrielle Glore [INTERVIEW] @UWFilmFest

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The anticipation for this week’s 19th Annual Urbanworld Film Festival in New York City has reached a fever pitch with just one day remaining until opening night festivities commence. The five-day event presented by BET Networks with founding sponsor HBO officially kicks off tomorrow evening with the premiere of BET’s Muhammad Ali: The People’s Champ and features more than eighty film screenings in all.

Festival Director Gabrielle Glore was generous enough to take time from her busy schedule this week to share her unique perspectives and insights about the Urbanworld Film Festival with soulhead, and our conversation appears below.

To learn more about the full slate of films and events at Urbanworld Film Festival, which runs from September 23 through September 27, visit urbanworld.org and be sure to check out soulhead’s special Music Lover’s Guide.

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soulhead: The Urbanworld Film Festival is celebrating its 19th year, which is an impressive run. What do you attribute the event’s success to?

Gabrielle Glore: I attribute Urbanworld’s success to the vision of festival founder Stacy Spikes. He observed the critical need to provide a platform for under-represented content creators and launched Urbanworld. Our founding partner, HBO, and presenting partner, BET Networks, as well as our other partners, have all contributed to the evolution and growth of the festival. The filmmaking and film enthusiast communities have embraced the festival and remained engaged year after year. And the Urbanworld team and volunteer supporters are the engine of this undertaking. Without these various supporters, we would not have achieved our longevity and success over the years.

soulhead: How has the event evolved over nearly two decades? Are there any new things in store for this year’s festival?

GG: Urbanworld has worked to broaden the definition of urban well beyond ethnicity and more inclusively of sensibility, culture, gender, sexual orientation, geography…we think about it very comprehensively as it relates to the films we curate from around the world. This is reflected in our slate, which continues to expand the number of films showing the diversity of “urban” across the world.

soulhead: What role would you say the Urbanworld Film Festival plays within the broader landscape of Hollywood and the film industry at large?

GG: We are a platform not only for content creators, but the industry at large. The studios and networks distributing content have partnered with us for successful premieres. The content acquisitions executives, managers, attorneys, agents, and producers seeking content and talent, both in front of and behind the camera, are able to connect with the some of the most talented content creators working today at Urbanworld.  We work hard to highly curate the films and filmmakers we are exposing, so that the festival is well worth the while of these industry participants.

soulhead: There’s a misconception for some about Urbanworld Film Festival being an event for content exclusively created by & featuring people of color. Considering your seasoned background in marketing with Time Warner (HBO & Warner Music Group), along with starting your own practice & affiliation with the festival for 12 years, what sort of strategies & tactics have you implemented to ensure the festival doesn’t get typecast?

GG: Urbanworld is about being inclusive, however we are a festival that aggressively seeks to advance the presence and impact of multicultural content creators and diverse storytelling. That said, we certainly welcome the creative works of anyone who is telling a story that reflects the evolving demographics of society and its diversity. If you look at this year’s slate (and years past), you’ll see a very diverse group of films and filmmakers. We have a film from Denmark called Wayward, directed by Kira Richards Hansen, a Danish filmmaker who is not a person of color, nor is anyone in the primary cast. Yet, this film embodies an urban sensibility that is undeniable to our programming team, with layered nuances that illustrate why it’s a fit for our festival. So, a look at the film slate, as well as winning films and filmmakers over the years, clearly illustrate we are seeking to represent a very diverse collection of content and creators.

soulhead: In this age of original programming on streaming platforms like Netflix, Amazon, Vimeo, & YouTube, what are film festivals such as Urbanworld doing to ensure there is a huge draw, anticipation, and active participation from content creators, distributors, etc.?

GG: The theater experience for watching a film is incomparable for many theater goers and certainly most filmmakers. We’ve not observed or heard of anyone opting out of the festival because they’d rather watch on their tablet, phone, or computer. That said, we embrace these platforms and recognize their importance, as well as have strived to integrate them into this year’s festival. We have a juror from Netflix and from Amazon Studios, and we will feature sessions focused on HBO Now, and other digital platforms for content distribution, at Urbanworld Digital, which takes place Thursday, September 24 and requires advance sign up at urbanworld.org. The tide is indeed changing and we seek to evolve in lockstep, as a festival.

soulhead: Quite a few films showcased on this year’s Urbanworld slate revolve around music, and live music is a key component of the festival. Can you talk a bit about why music is such a vital part of the event?

GG: Yes, we have some great music driven films including Stretch and Bobbito: Radio That Changes Lives, Breaking Through, We Like It Like That: The Story of Latin Boogaloo, Quest for Cuba: Questlove Brings the Funk to Havana…all really well done films that we’re excited to present. And then we have the world premiere of Shame, the short film written by recording artist and actor Tyrese Gibson who stars with Jennifer Hudson and produces alongside Denzel Washington. Tyrese is Urbanworld’s festival ambassador this year, and is a perfect embodiment of multi-hyphenate talent excelling across entertainment platforms. Music is such an integral part of film and culture in general. So it was something we naturally gravitated towards, as we looked for ways to expand the core festival foundation. For our night life events, we’re partnering with some of the hottest music franchises — Stretch & Bobbito, Everyday People’s DJ MOMA, and E.Z. Mo Breezy of Saturday Morning Cartoons and Grits & Biscuits fame, whose influence and impact reaches far beyond NYC. And we’ll also have a live performance by the uber-talented Jessica Betts, a rock and soul singer who is part of BET’s Music Matters artist collective, during Urbanworld Music. Music is very much an integral part of the festival.

soulhead: What films are you personally most looking forward to seeing at this year’s event?

GG: Well, as festival programmer, I have seen them all, and I have to say it’s a very strong slate this year. Each year, the quality of submissions increases and our team scours the scene internationally to curate a very unique slate. There are so many interesting stories we’re sharing at Urbanworld 2015. Definitely something for everyone, so I really do encourage film enthusiasts to check out the online film guide for film overviews, cast, and details.

soulhead: OK, last question. What, if push comes to shove, is your favorite film of all time?

GG: Hardest question to answer of all time! Too many favorites!


Gabrielle Glore is the Festival Director for the Urbanworld Film Festival, an initiative of the Urbanworld Foundation, Inc., as well as the ancillary Urbanworld Digital and Urbanworld Music offerings.  As Festival Director, Gabrielle spearheads the overall planning and execution of the various festival activities, including the areas of sponsorship, programming/content, marketing/media, talent, and operations.   She is focused on curating a film slate that reflects the shifting demographics of our nation, as well as an international lens, while striving to provide a platform for content creators of color, women, and films that are cross cultural in their appeal.

Gabrielle’s personal interest in film finance and creative producing in the independent film space has led to her involvement with projects including documentary film Through The Fire and narrative feature Dirty Laundry (Executive Producer).  She continues to pursue this passion with other film projects in development, including the forthcoming documentary film, Kliptown Kids, and the narrative feature, Sylvie’s Love, both of which she will produce.   

As a Principal at The Glore Group, LLC (TGG) — a company delivering innovative branding, marketing, programming solutions, and production for corporate clients — Gabrielle leads strategic marketing, content curation, and event production initiatives primarily targeting the entertainment industry, with clients including HBO, BET Networks, Time Warner, and Interactive One, to name a few.  She co-curates the Platform Summit (platform.org), a conference focused on driving diversity in the innovation economy. Prior to becoming an entrepreneur, Gabrielle spent over a decade in various marketing roles at Time Warner, across businesses including HBO and Warner Music Group, as well as in the Corporate offices.

Gabrielle was awarded a Bachelor of Science in Economics, with a concentration in Marketing, from The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania.  She serves as a Board Member and Officer on the Executive Committee of MoCADA (Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts).