The American Black Film Festival will return Wednesday to Miami Beach for its 17th annual retreat, providing an outlet for multicultural movie producers to network and to market their films.
The film festival will showcase shorts, documentaries and movies produced by filmmakers of color worldwide, including Miami-based Edson Jean ( The Adventures of Edson Jean) and R. Malcolm Jones ( The Magic City).
“As part of its ongoing mission to celebrate the finest that independent cinema has to offer while nurturing up-and-coming talent, the American Black Film Festival is very excited to showcase the works of these two very talented filmmakers, as well as give a platform to Miami’s emerging filmmakers,” said Jeff Friday, CEO of Film Life, and founder of the ABFF.
Jean says the festival has opened doors to local filmmakers like himself.
“It’s not just a festival to screen your work,” said Jean. “They push filmmakers to create past that point. I had a meeting with HBO a week ago and they offered to screen my film. They’re setting you up with contacts, letting you know what to prepare for and help you network. It’s things like this that push you.”
Other films screened will include The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete, co-produced by Grammy award-winner Alicia Keys, and the world premiere of Kevin Hart: Let Me Explain, starring the actor and comedian.
Friday says he established the festival with the goal of representing people of color after witnessing the paucity of black films and filmmakers at the Sundance Film Festival. Over the years, the festival has taken on major sponsors and gained influence.
“We are excited to be at 17 years and counting,” Friday said. “This year, we have a diverse selection of films, some returning alumni and new webisode creators.”
Miami filmmaker Jean credits ABFF for providing a voice for minorities in the film industry.
“I’m black, but I’m Haitian-American,” Jean said. “There’s a spectrum of African-Americans here, but it’s not just African-Americans that are black. They do a good job with getting their voices heard. They’re doing it for minorities and they’re bringing the best.”
Notable filmmakers and actors who have come through ABFF include Paula Patton, Rosario Dawson and Hart.
Most filmmakers in ABFF are of African-American descent and must produce original, meaningful and provocative content to be screened.
“It wasn’t hard to come up with original content,” Jones said of The Magic City. “It came out of struggle and overcoming obstacles. I felt like I had a lot of those stories within me; I just drew them up from personal experiences.”
The festival also includes the Narrative Features Competition, HBO Short Film Competition and CNN Film Documentary Competition.
A new addition this year is The Comedy Wings competition, sponsored by HBO.
“One of our goals is to highlight new talent in creative and relevant ways, both in front and behind the camera,” Friday said. “The Comedy Wings Competition is an extension of this goal, with hopes of creating pathways to opportunities within the industry for emerging comedians.”
The comedy contest wraps up Friday, when four semi-finalists compete.
For “A Conversation With,” Regina King will lecture about her experience in the film and television field. King is known for her feisty character on 227 and her investigator role in Southland.
Part of the ABFF goal is to increase the Miami film market.
“I’m on a mission to bring more films to Miami,” Jean said. “I really want to bring theater and another TV show here. How do we expect the film industry to grow down here if we leave [for New York or Los Angeles]?”
Jones wants to represent Miami, too, but he is thinking on a more global level.
“I’m from Miami,” he said, “but I don’t consider myself just a local filmmaker. I direct my videos on an international level. The film festival opens up the door for other filmmakers in Miami. Hopefully next year, there will be another filmmaker from Miami.”