Jeff Friday has done it again. This year marks the 16th anniversary of the American Black Film Festival in Miami, Florida, brought to you by his company, Film Life.
In 2001 CEO, Jeff Friday, founded Film Life, Inc and a year later, he acquired the rights to The Acapulco Black Film Festival. He moved it to Miami Beach, Florida and renamed it the American Black Film Festival (ABFF). Friday’s dedication to the film industry is more than a passing frenzy; it’s a labor of love. Driven by his passion for the arts and desire to create opportunities for people of color, he has been an industry trailblazer. The ABFF audience numbers have grown from 190 in 1997, when the festival first began, to more than 5,000 in attendance today.
The festival prides itself on giving filmmakers a platform to tell the stories that Hollywood won’t. For so many artists it’s feeding a hunger–a hunger for knowledge and guidance on how to approach this beast called Hollywood. These young people (not necessarily in physical age, but young in the industry) seek support, affirmation, validation from their peers, colleagues and predecessors.
Jeff Friday is a man of pride. You can see it as he walks through the festival, his head up and chest out… Not in an arrogant way, but in the way a parent takes pride when his daughter is performing at her first ballet recital, or when his son scores at a sporting event. It is obvious that Jeff feels this pride when he walks through the event and notices the number of guests that are in attendance at the countless number of well planned out programs that the festival has scheduled.
The one that touched my heart the most was a young man who traveled from Israel–Yes, I said Israel–just to attend ABFF. This young artist valued the concept of the program so much that it meant the world for him just to be in the room. The applause he received assured him that he had come to the right place.
ABFF corporate partners, not only benefit the cause, but support the brand. For instance, Cadillac, a legend of a brand that is trying to reach the same audience as ABFF, is an avid supporter of the festival. I was extremely excited to be a member of the press that received an invitation from Cadillac to attend a luncheon at The Ritz Carlton. This intimate, invite-only event featured delectable menu selections and divine ambiance befitting a luxury brand.
Mr. Friday is not only a savvy business man, but he is very charismatic. Though the luncheon was already in progress, Friday walked into the room with his entourage closely following. They were attentive to his every need, proficient in their areas of expertise. The program was well executed and in my observation, very few things fell through the cracks.
The ABFF’s primary goal is to create a platform where these dreamers, storytellers, visionaries can safely focus on their craft, and be guided by the more experienced. They have a network of people in one space that can help take them through their journey in the entertainment industry. Jeff has also created a program, Pro-Hollywood Initiative that links professional athletes with these amazingly talented artists, who are in search of funding and other resources to possibly do business. Brilliant. Facilitator. Broker. Jeff Friday has really thought of everything.
For four days, July 20 to 23, 2012, any dreamer, entrepreneur, artists, creator, teacher, student, builder, financier, or anyone else that attends this amazing festival is sure to walk away refreshed, encouraged, brave and fully charged to go out and build.
Sponsors, hosts, supporters, promotional partners, media partners include: HBO Founding, Old Peak Tea, GMC Uplifting Entertainment, Black Atlas.com from American Airlines, Cadillac, CNN, Ciroc, Miami Beach Visitor and Convention Authority, Greater Miami Convention Visitors Burea, Grab, Media, NBC Universal, Nickelodeon- Writing Fellowship, Smart Water, Nielsen, BET, Stella Artois, Wells Fargo, Sagindie, One Village, Miami Film , Third Reel, The Webber Group, Writers Guild of America West, Black Enterprise, Uptown, Jones, Precious Times… And me, a freelance writer.
The support doesn’t stop there, it extended to the celebrities. Traci Ellis Ross- Festival Ambassador, Robert Townsend, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Michael Beach, S. Epatha Merckerson, Darrin DeWitt Henson, Robinne Lee, Rockmond Dunbar, Malinda Williams, Salim and Mara Brock Akil, Roger Bobb, Russ Parr, Mekhi Phifer, Bill Duke, Chris Spenser, Will Paker, Rob Hardy, Tim Story, Terrence J, Selita Ebanks, Jessie Williams, and Trina Robinson to name a few.
Some of the featured films were The Undershepred (directed by Russ Parr, staring Isaiah Washington, Malinda Williams, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Robinne Lee), which won awards for Outstanding Director, Actor, and Narrative Feature; Raising Izzie, starring Vanessa Williams and Rockmond Dunbar, and two brilliant young actors Victoria Elizabeth Staley, Kyla Kenedy; The Beasts Of The Southern Wild, where first time actors brought us to our knees and made us think; The Contradictions of Fair Hope, by award-winning actress S. Epatha Merckerson and Rockell Metcalif, which teaches us another part of Black history that our history classes may never teach; and The Coalition, by Monica Mingo, the inner workings of modern relationships and the emotional roller coaster of our dealings with our partners.
On the list of movies I would have loved to see (but couldn’t fit it all in!) were The Last Fall, Luv, Ties That Bind, Soul Food Junkies, Dark Girls and Otelo Burning.
With such a turn out, it is no wonder the festival’s success reaches greater heights every year. Hats off to Jeff Friday, the countless artists, dreamers, and visionaries, who make up this remarkable festival. I’m a fan. So, until next year, “keep writing,” says Mara Brock Akil.
Myrdith Leon-McCormack also writes for the Huffington Post, Scratch Magazine and has been a celebrity manicurists for the past 21 years. She owns her own nail polish line m2m damorejon, International Bridal Publication, World Bride Magazine and a Branding/PR company MLM Represents. She works with photographer, Presscott McDonald, www.presscott.net