“Fruitvale,” the debut film by Oakland director Ryan Coogler, has emerged as the 2013 Sundance Film Festival’s most buzzworthy entry. The film, a fictional account of the events leading up to the shooting death of Oscar Grant at the hands of a BART police officer at the Fruitvale station on New Years Day 2009, stars Michael B. Jordan as Oscar Grant and was made with the blessing of the Grant family.

Co-produced by Forest Whitaker, “Fruitvale” was called by the LA Times “the standout film in the festival’s dramatic competition” and won a Sundance audience award and a Grand Jury prize on Saturday – instantly elevating Coogler to the upper echelon of hot young film directors.

According to press reports, “Fruitvale” was picked up for distribution by the Weinstein Company—distributors of Quentin Tarantino’s controversial yet successful “Django Unchained”—which means it could be appearing in a theater near you soon.

That’s excellent news not only for Coogler, but also for fans of African American-themed movies. One of the frequently-voiced complaints over “Django” was that black directors weren’t being allowed by Hollywood to tell authentic black stories. It’s too soon to say whether “Fruitvale” will reverse that trend, but it’s an auspicious step in the right direction.

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Bay Area hip-hop is alive and well. That was the take-home message of last Friday’s all-local show at the New Parish headlined by veterans—and indie hip-hop legends—Blackalicious, along with up-and-comers Raw-G and Kev Choice, plus a DJ set by radio personality, journalist and webmaster Davey-D. The sold-out, all-ages show brought together an excited audience of enthusiastic head-boppers, and was Blackalicious’ first local appearance since last fall’s Hiero Day. Joined by frequent onstage collaborator Lateef the Truthspeaker, Blackalicious emcee Gift of Gab conducted a clinic in crowd control, wowing the audience with his signature alphabet aerobics and showing why he’s the unimpeachable “Paragraph President.”

As tight as Blackalicious’ live set was, however, the undercard’s talent level was perhaps even more impressive. Oakland native Kev Choice is perhaps the only classically-trained pianist who can bust an amazing freestyle about town locations and sports teams. Raw-G, meanwhile — who delivered her rapid-fire lyrical cadences en Espanol — could easily follow Los Rakas as the next breakout bilingual rap act to emerge from the East Bay. Muy caliente por la gente, indeed. As for Davey-D, he kept the in-between set interludes crackin’ with classic song after classic song.

It’s worth noting that all three acts utilized live instrumentation and/or musicians onstage, a gesture which always adds a layer of technical nuance–and warmth–to hip-hop shows. Raw-G’s band included an acoustic bass player who played with a bow as well as his fingers – a jazzy touch, to be sure.

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A tipster hipped me to Thursday’s Artplace forum at the Pro Arts gallery, which I caught the tail end of. Movers and shakers filled the room: in addition to Artplace director Carol Coletta, the forum included gallery owners, entrepreneurs, club promoters, artists, non-profit arts org staffers, CBD heads, city officials, and at least one journalist/photographer.

The occasion was an official ceremony over Oakland being named one of the top 12 cities for Art in America, which is a Really Big Deal. “Oakland is experiencing a new energy that hasn’t been seen since the 1940s,” Artplace’s Tim Halbur said in the official guide to the 2012 Top 12 list, noting that much of the credit for this cultural renaissance goes to the Oakland Art Murmur and First Fridays artwalk.

The Pro Arts conversation was an interesting one, touching on such topics as the distinction between gentrification and population growth, the role of art in the public safety debate, the need for artists and art organizations to collaborate in creative ways to avoid Balkanization, the potential for art to fuel economic development, and the future sustainability of the city’s currently-vibrant arts scene.

Already, said Alfonso Dominguez of Era art bar and popuphood, “I see the invisible big corporate developer vultures circling over Oakland right now.”

And, despite all of First Fridays’ epicness, said Reginald Ray Savage of Savage Dance Company,“Saturday, after First Friday, you could run up and down Broadway buck naked and not get noticed.”

There’s a tension, he added, between the disparate crowds First Fridays attracts: “what happens when you get Walnut Creek bumping up against hardcore East Oakland?”

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Before W. Kamau Bell’s comedy show “Totally Biased” was picked up by the FX network (it currently airs at 11pm Thursdays), Bell recruited the Coup’s Boots Riley to shoot a man on the street interview segment for a pilot called the Bell Curve Project. Riley recently posted a clip of the segment on YouTube, which features the rapper and activist attempting to interview stockbrokers and corporate types in San Francisco’s Financial District. It’s cool that Bell’s show has taken off, but the clip shows that Boots is at least as camera-friendly, making one wonder what would happen if someone gave Riley his own TV show.

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Speaking of First Friday, here are some not-to-be-missed gallery shows this month: “Poptimism,” a group show at the Betti Ono Gallery celebrating 5 years of ArtNouveau magazine; “Golden,” a group show at 2517 Telegraph featuring art, fashion, and music with G.G. Page, DJ Zita, MF Urbi, TuffGyal808, SafetyFirst, P.E.A.C.E. Apparel, Rachel Mandala, and Catoure; and an exhibition of Wildstyle calligraphy at SoleSpace by KEO, the illustrator for Adam Mansbach’s “great American graffiti novel”Rage is Back.

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If that wasn’t enough, the following evening—Saturday—SoleSpace hosts the official launch party for Rage is Back, featuring a live reading by Mansbach, a lecture on ‘getting up’ by KEO, and DJ sets by Davey-D and Max Champ.

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If You Go:

Poptimism
Friday Feb. 1, 7-10pm, free, Betti Ono Gallery, 1427 Broadway.

Golden
Friday Feb. 1, 5-10pm, free, 2517 Telegraph Ave.

Rage is Back Official Launch Party
Saturday, Feb. 2, 8pm, $5, Solespace, 1714 Telegraph Ave.

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