“Creativity benefits from the collective.” Writer/Director/Executive Producer, David Talbert (Baggage Claim) uttered this poignant phrase during a panel presented by Comcast NBC Universal that would effectively paint a portrait for the entire 20th American Black Film Festival (ABFF).
The American Black Film Festival, per its mission statement, is a multi-day event “dedicated to bringing awareness of entertainment content made by and about people of African descent to a worldwide audience.” Founded by Jeff Friday at a 1997 retreat in Acapulco and dubbed by Jeff as “The Black Sundance,” ABFF has become a force to be reckoned with, successfully promoting diversity in the film and television industry.
In my own recent quest to film-festival-hop throughout my lifetime, ABFF has been a constant staple on my bucket list for a while now. A divine combination of cosmic timing and determination led me to purchasing a badge and booking a flight to this year’s 20th Anniversary celebration. And what a perfect introduction it was!
As a creative, I thrive off the energy of fellow creatives. Take away that energy for any significant period of time and my overall energy follows and succumbs. However; whenever I’m thrust in a creative community, my creative, spiritual, and physical energy is revived with a magnificent vigor. ABFF offered something extra special, though, in that not only was I able to be immersed in my beloved creative community, I was able to feed off the energy of creatives who looked like me. Who not only knew and felt my creative struggles, but knew and felt my racial struggles. This connection was immensely palpable and was nothing short of magical.
ABFF was bursting viable information and enlightenment with its array of panels and highlighted discussions, wrapped in a sea of ambitious films, and topped off with sprinkles of various parties, both inclusive and exclusive. As with all festivals, it had the “good problem” of showcasing too much, making it impossible to experience every single thing. Still, I felt I got a sufficient chunk in, especially for my first time.
Wednesday, June 15
After the smoothest registration known to man (benefitted by arriving a day early before the major events began), the festival kicked off with a premiere screening of Central Intelligence (Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart), its Opening Night Film. Then, we corralled onto the Shuttle Bus for the Opening Night Party, hosted by Coors Light with music by D-Nice.
Thursday June, 16
The afternoon brought “A Conversation with Common,” presented by American Airlines and moderated by Roland S. Martin. Roland sat down for a chill conversation with this year’s ABFF Ambassador, Common, that ranged from his evolving film career, his humble beginnings in the Southside of Chicago (which, as a Southside Chicagoan, my heart swelled to the point of explosion!), his upcoming album and music career, which transitioned to a powerful freestyle-session that brought the crowd to its feet. That evening, I traipsed over to one of my most coveted events, the HBO Short Film Competition, hosted by Bevy Smith (Bevelations, Sirius XM) where five emerging filmmaker finalists showcased their films via screenings while vying for the prestigious HBO Short Film Award. The night wrapped up with the “#SoMiami White Party, with music by DJ Self.
Friday, June 17
Another coveted panel, “ABFF First Look: The Birth of A Nation”, presented by the MPAA, courtesy of Fox Searchlight, brought cast and crew, Nate Parker (Beyond the Lights, Red Tails), Aja Naomi King (How To Get Away with Murder) and Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane, Bad Boys II), moderated by Star Jones. We were treated to never-before-seen clips of the film which culminated into the most memorable moment of the festival for me: Nate’s emotional and tearful reaction that brought me and many other audience members to tears. His reaction summarized the blood, sweat, and tears that he put into this film and it was a feeling that any creator could relate to. Later that day, Comcast NBC Universal, courtesy of Universal Pictures presented, “The Making of Almost Christmas” panel featuring, David E. Talbert, Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like a Man series) and Gabrielle Union, who serves as executive producer of the film. Moderator, Sylvia Obell (Pop Culture Editor, Buzzfeed) sat with the cast/crew and provided us with an inside look of the film along with adding priceless gems to aspiring filmmakers. The night wrapped with a hilarious ABFF “Comedy Wings” Competition, hosted by Cedric the Entertainer and presented by HBO (featuring a dope set of comediennes who reigned supreme), followed by an ABFF Game Night Party.
Saturday, June 18
I started off the day with a matinee showing of the personally much-anticipated, 9 Rides, written/directed by Matthew Cherry. The film premiered at this SXSW 2016 and I’d heard a lot of buzz around it, especially given the iPhone shooting-style. The film definitely reached and exceeded my expectations and I look forward to what’s to come next for this film in terms of wider-distribution. Next, I went to the Black Women In Hollywood: The Future Looks Bright ABFF Women’s Initiative panel presented by Planned Parenthood of America, which featured Teyonnah Parris (Survivor’s Remorse, Chiraq), Nicole Behari (Sleepy Hollow), Emayatzy Corienaldi (Miles Ahead) and Aja Naomi King and moderated by Soledad O’Brien. It was a refreshing experience to be able to listen and gain knowledge from a panel of talented Black women, as well as feel a sense of solidarity. That evening, I checked out a Spotlight Alumni Screening of Ringside, courtesy of TV One, which was an entertaining time. I followed that up with the grand finale: The “Best of the Festival” Awards Ceremony, which was definitely a highlight for me. Witnessing the winners and their tearful and powerful speeches painted a broad stroke of inspiration over the crowd and really set the tone for a hopeful future.
I fell in love with ABFF from the moment I stepped foot on the first red carpet. The huge embrace I received — both of the literal and figurative form — will carry me onward as I navigate this wonderful and adventurous journey we call, “The Industry.” After the awards ceremony, I made a mission to reach out to the founder, Jeff Friday, shake his hand, and thank him for creating such a platform as well as notifying him that I will have a film there next year. And I plan to make due on that promise! 😉