When the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) returns to Miami Beach this week, it won't just be celebrating its 16th birthday. It's also prime time for filmmakers and actors to connect and form relationships, creating a springboard for black talent that can garner attention for projects often overlooked by major movie studios, says festival founder Jeff Friday.
"Unlike Sundance and Cannes, those festivals have made their mark by getting films acquired by studios," he explains. "We don't earn our stripes from breakout films. We want to break out people... [We want] to be a platform for writers, producers, directors, actors, and executives to make contacts and get their feet wet in the business. Our value is based on the people we help."
ABFF draws approximately 5,000 attendees to Miami each year for a series of screenings, seminars, and special events. This year, Friday says, highlights include opening film Beasts of the Southern Wild, which won the 2012 Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Thursday's short-film competition, sponsored by HBO, awards one filmmaker a $20,000 prize; HBO subscribers nationwide can also catch all the entries playing on the channel during Black History Month in February.
But a personal highlight for the ABFF founder will be Friday night's celebration of the success of Think Like a Man, collecting the filmmakers and cast of the predominantly black romantic comedy that's earned more than $90 million.
"I remember my first conversation with [Think Like a Man producer] Will Packer," Friday recalls. "He was submitting a film called Trois, and the submission deadline was April 15. He called me on April 14 begging me for an extension... He needed two extra days. I said, 'No, the rules are the rules.' Finally, Will just wore me down. That was the start of our relationship. That was 1999."
Friday continues, "To see all the success he and his partner Rob [Hardy] have had... That moment would be the biggest moment for me, to be able to celebrate their success in front of the same audience they started with."