Tuesday, June 20, 2017

ABFF: A Week of Love, Peace, and Cinematic Soul

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For years I've talked about the American Black Film Festival. I've turned friends on to it, mentioned it in blogs, and celebrated its accomplishments on social media. However, due to a myriad of reasons from timing to work obligations, what I'd never done was experienced it for myself. That is, until last week, when I made my first sojourn to the 5-day festival and returned renewed, inspired, and invigorated.

Screening of TV One's "When Love Kills" along with cast
Created by entertainment executive Jeff Friday and celebrating its 21st year in existence, the ABFF has traveled from the shores of Acapulco to the brights lights of Los Angeles to the streets of New York City to the beaches of Miami, with one goal in mind: to celebrate and promote black talent both in front of and behind the camera. Set to the backdrop of abundant sunshine and swaying palm trees, there were panels and screenings; workshops and competitions; writers and actors; producers, directors, celebrities, and up-and-comers. There were classes by day and yacht club parties by night. There were casual poolside chats and impromptu hotel lobby business meetings.  And at the center of it all, there was love: love for our people, our art, and our ingenuity.

Opening night movie screening of "Girls Trip"
Although it didn't take me long to be "happily overwhelmed" with things to both do and see (for example, even with a well outlined program booklet, I actually showed up one day early to an independent film screening I wanted to see. Sigh.), the connections made were equally as fulfilling. I chatted on opening night with a film veteran whose stories of working closely with the legendary Redd Foxx could have made for a movie itself; had breakfast with a writer who was working on a pilot for an inspirational TV talk show; and had lunch with an entertainment attorney, who shared her journey of leaving behind corporate America to start her own legal firm, which assists minorities with managing their projects.

I walked to a morning class with an events planner pursuing TV script writing; waited in a screening line with an independent film company owner; and chatted numerous times with a young aspiring actor from Queens, New York, who boldly proclaimed he would return to the festival next year, not as an attendee, but as a performer instead. I say, name it and claim it!

The historic Colony Theatre
And don't get me started on the Howard University connections that were made. Let's just say us Bison were definitely here, there, and everywhere, which is not surprising, considering Mr. Friday is, himself, a Howard alum. I can't count the times I either proclaimed or responded to the classic "HU...You know" call, which even actor Lance Gross replied to, as we hurriedly passed each other in the lobby. But most appreciated was the TV executive who took a few moments out of her busy morning to briefly chat with me and, astoundingly, follow-up with our conversation by e-mail only minutes later: an interaction I found to be both surprising and inspiring, at a time when sparing a minute can be impossible for us everyday folk, not to mention the "movers and shakers." So, to say it was a week of "black people magic" would be nothing short of an understatement.

With Erica Ash (Survivor's Remorse) and Jay Ellis (Insecure)
For those of us who consider ourselves "creative minds," the struggle to make connections and take art to the next level can, as is said, "be real." Not to mention it can also be daunting, frustrating, and more than a little disappointing at times. But when you're surrounded by others who share your same dreams (and fears), what you find feels like more than just a connection; it feels like family. They understand the ups and downs; the hustle and the bustle. And from the hugs, high fives, and fist bumps that strangers-turned-friends gave each other in passing within only a few days of meeting, it was all the proof needed that the dream Jeff Friday created 21 years ago is still being fulfilled today.

With actor Boris Kodjoe
The ABFF serves as a reminder that we all have the power to make our dreams come true and as was once said, that when "Hollywouldn't" we have people to support us who will. This may have been my first time at the festival, but it certainly won't be my last. And one year, when I do return, I hope-- as that young Queens native said--it won't be as an audience member but as a featured artist instead. From my lips to God's ears.

Check out these notable premieres coming soon:

Tales created by Irv Gotti - BET - June 27th

Insecure (season 2 premiere) starring Issa Rae and Jay Ellis - HBO - July 23rd

When Love Kills: The Falicia Blakely Story starring Lance Gross and Lil' Mama - TV One - September 4th

Downsized starring Boris Kodjoe and Nicole Ari Parker - TV One - Fall 2017

1 comment:

  1. WOW! You got a LOT done in a short period of time. This is great! Soooo happy for you and glad you got a chance to go. Question: This is ignorance on my part, but you call this our Sundance Film Fest or nah? Love this: "when "Hollywouldn't" we have people to support us who will" (HU...YOU KNOW!!)