Photo credit: The American Black Film Festival
Empower Magazine was thrilled to be invited for a return visit to the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) held in Miami Beach, Fla. from June 14-18, 2017. Since its inception in 1997, the festival has been held in locations across the globe, including Acapulco, Mexico, New York, and Miami. The ABFF is one of the nation’s largest gatherings of black film and TV enthusiasts, with approximately 10,000 attendees flocking to the festival each year. The festival is dedicated to showcasing quality film and television content by and about people of African descent. Founded by Jeff Friday, and made possible by founding and presenting sponsor HBO, the mission of the ABFF is to support emerging artists to encourage a more diverse range of images and stories in the entertainment industry.
The festival is comprised of a jam-packed week of films, panels, workshops, master classes, competitions, networking events, parties, and more. The ABFF provides a platform for voices that may not have had a place in the mainstream industry by featuring more than 1,000 films and web series originals. Alumni success stories range from producer Will Packer (Ride Along, Think Like A Man) to Ryan Coogler (Creed, Fruitvale Station).
The 2017 festivities opened with a movie premiere of “Girls Trip” directed by Will Packer, featuring this year’s ABFF ambassador, actress Regina Hall, along with co-stars Jada Pinkett-Smith, Tiffany Haddish, and Queen Latifah. Each day following offered a non-stop schedule of events and networking activities designed to educate, develop and inspire attendees. The 2017 focus was to explore career opportunities and technology innovations in entertainment. The festival introduced The Careers in Entertainment Center, which offered master classes, tech and business talks, industry panels, entertainment and talent discovery programs, all co-programmed with leading media companies HBO, Comcast NBCUniversal, Turner, and TV One. The ABFF supports artists not only through education but also through opportunity. Winners of the screenwriting contest have their scripts produced and broadcast on TV One.
Celebrity talk series events focused on “The Business of Entertainment” were individually led by award-winning actor Terrence Howard, prolific reality-tv producer Mona Scott Young, and legendary writer/director John Singleton. These industry moguls sat down for candid discussions about rising up and thriving in the competitive industry.
Howard recalled a time as an overzealous actor when he auditioned for a role by screaming and hollering his lines. He said Denzel Washington pulled him to the side after the audition and asked him if a man were threatening him would it be scarier if he yelled, “I’m going to kill you!” from down the street, or if he walked up behind him and said calmly in his ear, “I’m going to slit your throat.” Washington’s sage advice was that to be a good actor, less is often more.
The tech focus featured a virtual reality screening where attendees donned 3D glasses to gain the full experience. The special screening of VR content was programmed in association with award-winning alum Alton Glass (Glassrock Entertainment) and followed by talk backs with filmmakers and VR experts. There was also a panel called “Decoding Tech: The Next Generation of STEAM Professionals. Attendees got a chance to hear celebrities, such as GRAMMY award-winning artist and tech investor NE-YO, discuss a different side of their brand and their efforts to help grow the next generation of STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art & Math) professionals.
The weeklong festival closed out with a screening of the TuPac biopic, All Eyez on Me, preceded with appearances by the cast members. Immediately following were parties at The Betsy Hotel and The Paris Theatre to celebrate a successful 2017 festival. The event has attracted the power players who work behind the scenes to bring diverse stories to the forefront as well as the celebrities in front of the camera who bring those visions to life. Past participants have included the likes of: Denzel Washington, Spike Lee, Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Taraji P. Henson, Terrence Howard, Robert Townsend, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Anthony Anderson, Idris Elba, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Regina King, Common, and Kevin Hart. To join the conversation on social media, follow the hashtag #ABFF2017, and to stay abreast of plans for ABFF 2018, visit abff.com.
Photo gallery credit: The American Black Film Festival