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Bilal's Stand -- Film Review

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PARK CITY -- The phrase "it takes a village" is no overstatement when it comes to "Bilal's Stand," a community-coordinated film project set in contemporary Detroit. Based on his personal experience, writer-director Sultan Sharrief's feature debut (programmed in the fest's new "Next" category for low-budget films) is bursting with heart. Its slightly rough around the edges aesthetic makes it well suited to fests and it could also appeal to educational outlets or distributors particularly focused on DVD and VOD releases.

Black Muslim teenager Bilal (Julian Gant) works at his uncle's (Nadir Ahmad) taxi stand and picks up fares when he's not in school trying to maintain his grades. Surrounded by drugs, crime and unmotivated role models, Bilal dreams of getting out of the 'hood to study at a good university, but everyone from his mom (Angela G. King) to his guidance counselor constantly lowers his expectations.

An acceptance letter from the University of Michigan opens the door of opportunity, but in order to attend, Bilal must find a way to pay for his tuition by convincing his practicality minded mom that dreams really can come true.

While it deals with some overly familiar themes and issues perhaps too directly at times, "Bilal's Stand" is invigorated by a savvy script and likable performances.

Gant plays the lead with an amiable blend of determination and bewilderment. Bilal's voiceover segments, although overused, are humorous and astute overall. Supporting roles, many filled by nonprofessionals, benefit from authentic demeanor and dialogue. Amusing animated line drawings that illustrate Bilal's unique point of view invigorate the low-budget production values that mix 16mm and DV.

Venue: Sundance Film Festival
Production: Beyond Blue Productions
Cast: Julian Gant, Angela G. King, Nadir Ahmad, Sabrina Quinn, Charles G. Usztics, Chelsea O'Connor, Angela Roberts
Director: Sultan Sharrief
Screenwriter: Sultan Sharrief
Producers: Sultan Sharrief, Terri Sarris, Claudette Jocelyn Stern, Mark Hickner, Shoshana Hurand
Director of photography: Mike Williamson
Production designer: Dani Davis
Music: Kevin DeKimpe
Editors: Oren Goldenberg, Sultan Sharrief, Zack Arnold, Waldo Centeno
Sales: Circus Road Films
No Rating, 85 minutes