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2013 S&A Highlights: For The Love Of Black Film (ABFF Chief On Relevance Of Black Film Fests)

by Jeff Friday
December 31, 2013 2:47 PM
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Jeff Friday

Editor's note: As 2013 comes to an end, I'll be reposting some of our highlights published during the year. Those who've already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you'd like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here's the fourth of many to come, originally posted in January 2013, with Sundance 2013 looming. It's still timely, with Sundance 2014 around the corner, and a new year of film festivals (notably black film festivals) a breath away. Happy New Year to you all! 

With Sundance 2013 upon us, we genuinely celebrate filmmakers of color whose works have made it onto this year’s slate. We, at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), cannot help but indulge in our own film version of “fantasy football.”

Each of us names our favorite Black director of the moment, whether established (Spike Lee, John Singleton, Lee Daniels, Antoine Fuqua, Tim Story, Kasi Lemmons, Gina Prince-Bythewood) or emerging (Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Shaka King, Dee Rees, Rashaad Ernesto Green), and enthusiastically argues the case for why our auteur pick will have their movie’s official world premiere at one of the nation’s quality Black film festivals (ours included) -- Pan African Film & Arts Festival, American Black Film Festival, Hollywood Black Film Festival, Urbanworld.

We romanticize the revolutionary stance they would take with their “Best Picture” contender and enact the statements made to the press, relishing their impact. Boy, is it fun! While I can’t transcribe any of the outlandish sound bites from those closed-door debates, I can attempt to convey the sentiment.

Think about some of the top NFL talent-producing colleges in the country: Notre Dame, Alabama, USC, Ohio State, etc. A strong case can be made that the hundreds of skilled African American players that those white institutions supply to the NFL are largely what fuels their great power and prominence. What if the top Black NFL high school prospects were all persuaded to enter Howard this fall, and again in 2014 and beyond? Suddenly, Howard would win the BCS title and catapult to fame as the #1 football program in America, be flooded with funding, and all would bask in the glow of glory.  Proving that when we band together and support each other, we can affect great change.

Black film festivals work year-round to find new ways to help promote our stories and storytellers who too often remain marginalized. We rally to build a strong network within the industry, to grow the power base and the opportunities. Yet, our efficacy is often challenged:  “What’s the relevance of Black film festivals?

The same question is often asked of Black colleges. And across the board, it’s a level response: Underlying their respective missions is the goal of creating a supportive community.  And let’s not fool ourselves – we can use all the support we can get!  So, the next time those questions arise, let’s remind ourselves of some of the success stories that have come from Black colleges (I’m focused on the Arts): Phylicia Rashad, Samuel L. Jackson, Debbie Allen, Spike Lee, Taraji P. Henson; and Black film festivals: Will Packer (named by Variety as one of their “10 Producers to Watch”), Rob Hardy, Roger Bobb, Sylvain White and Emayatzy Corinealdi, to name a few.

I prefer to reflect on the positive and then ask, “What have I done to contribute to our legacy in this country and what more can I do?”  Not to toot our own horn, but in that traditional American way, I shall. Here’s a quote, verbatim, from award-winning filmmaker Lee Daniels regarding the ABFF (17 years and counting), "I’ve been to film festivals all over the world and I can say, that this is the best.”  

Who doesn’t appreciate being appreciated?  There it is a nutshell!  A little fantasy, a lot of hope and the sustained efforts by indie filmmakers to complete new works despite all the obstacles is what drives us to ensure that we – together with our many supporters who believe in what we do – maintain a platform for Black artists to be seen, heard and celebrated. My long-term goal is to help level the playing field so that Black artists can have the same opportunities and access in this business as their white counterparts.

In closing, I leave you with these words of Ralph Ellison from The Invisible Man:

"Life is to be lived, not controlled; and humanity is won by continuing to play in face of certain defeat."

Sincerely yours,

Jeff Friday

Founder, American Black Film Festival

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  • Blackman | January 1, 2014 11:56 PMReply

    lots of voices in here.

  • BILLY | April 10, 2013 5:56 AMReply

    I wanted to know if anyone has been to ABFF? how was it like? i am aspiring actress, and a friend of mines told me it would be a great opportunity for me to get my name out there, to network other actors, directors, filmmakers and many others. I was even thinking of taking the Bill Duke workshop it seem fun/motivational, but I am still debating whether its worth it for me to spend X amount of money to Miami. So what is it like? networking?

  • I have a question for flmmakers | March 1, 2013 5:20 PMReply

    I come from a music background and have now become involved in the development of an African American internet television network. Can someone tell me the best way to connect with filmmakers and those developing various content to air on the channel.

  • Tambay & Sergio | January 30, 2013 11:12 AMReply

    Tambay was involved with a film festival in ATL that is no longer around? Do tell. I wonder if Tambay and Sergio and the Shadow and Act crew comment anonymously on the articles that they post? My guess is yes! what's to stop them...ShadowandAct is not journalism. It's a blog. please, for the sake of all journalism, don't get it confused. the commentors are mean spirited anonymous bitter people.

  • sergio | January 30, 2013 11:19 AM

    Anyone who read this website knows full well that I always comment under my real name (just like I did below on this post if you would bother to scroll down and take a look) and neither does Tambay either. As for you, who posted your comment under the fake e-mail, you have a lot of nerve to accuse anyone of commenting "anonymously"

  • Reinaldo | January 27, 2013 12:25 PMReply

    I would like to thank you those who have said kind words about the African Diaspora International Film Festival and ArtMattan Productions the film distribution company behind the event. The festival has events in New York City, Chicago, Washington D.C. and Paris France. The Paris event in 2012 showcased Mooz-Lum as the opening night film in the presence of the filmmaker. We think he was pleased with this experience.
    The Pirogue by Moussa Touré of Senegal is currently at Film Forum, The Pirogue/La Pirogue was the Gala screening of ADIFF 2012.

  • Toneka | January 27, 2013 10:31 AMReply

    I've gone to ABFF several times along with other festivals. I agree with Erik W. The web is definitely the way to go. Your content can potentially be seen by a much wider audience. I've started a site, www.Reel-365, in which filmmakers can submit their work and be paid for each viewing of their film, shorts and features.

  • Erik W | January 25, 2013 8:23 PMReply

    Festivals can serve a purpose but I say just post your film on the internet. Get a budget for social media marketing and get the views. Post on Vimeo too. Since I've done it, I have gotten more contacts and awareness than any festival AND its ALOT cheaper. This is especially for folks like me with short films. The way to get discovered or network in 2013 is the web. Festivals will always be useful for networking at the least, (black or white) but the number one option, in my opinion, if you got short films especially, is to post your stuff online (YouTube definitely) and market your ish.

  • Charles Judson | January 25, 2013 11:23 AMReply

    I don't work for a black film festival, however, as someone who works at a festival, it is distressing to see so many lumped under such a large umbrella, and so many asked, regardless of size, location, or year round mission, to all aim for a similar and narrow set of goals. Film festivals have been around for seven decades and in that time there's still only a few major fests and markets. Some of that by design, some of that by practicality. However, there's a range of festivals known for excellence in areas like development and discovery, to curatorial vision in programming experimental films or bringing the best films from a particular country or part of the world.

    What I would be interested in hearing more of is what has and is working, as well as what isn't.

    On the mainstream (white) side of the festival world, there are fests that no films ever get any distribution out of and they aren't known for "launching" careers. They get no press love, even from an Indiewire or a Filmmaker Magazine, however, filmmakers love them. They go back time and time again and it's created a sense of community and family. Others, have earned a reputation of being early champions.

    There's often some snarky comments posted about the perceived cliquishness of some of the filmmakers coming out of New York. That might be true in some cases. However, I see that more a sign of community and shared purpose than a desire to lock folks out. That's something we see coming out of the festival circuit time and time again. As filmmakers bump into each other at festivals throughout the year, they become kind of a class of 2012, 2013, etc, and that creates a bond that can last for years.

    Knowing a little of the history of Shadow and Act, it is in part built on the contacts that Tambay, Sergio and others made through black film festivals and their own events over the years.

    It's now defunct, but the 2006 Independent Black Film Festival seems to have interconnected a few us, even though some of us didn't meet. I met Ms. Woo, who used to contribute regularly at that festival, and it appears she met Tambay at the festival. I never ran into Tambay, but I kept up with a lot more of those folks. Years later as communications director I would run across Tambay's original blog virtually. The IBFF festival director now works for the Georgia Office for Economic Development and in my current position I've worked with him on a few ideas and projects. Out of that relationship I've worked with some of the folks at Bronzelens Film Festival, who would later be a part of AFFRM, as well as more development projects here in Georgia. The festival may not have survived, however portions of it's legacy have in ways that couldn't have been anticipated or planned for.

    How festivals can and should evolve to leverage social media, help filmmakers build their careers, develop their projects and open up access to distribution are keys. Just as key is opening up the definition of what a film festival is, what it is possible and who they serve. ABFF is definitely more an industry festival, however what about the audience? What about audiences under 30? What about those who are tapped into the festival circuit year round? What about the casual film fan that may not seek out festivals and still enjoys more challenging films? And the question of quality, which no festival is immune from (just see the writeups about Tribeca over the years--and admittedly our fest has received some brutal takedowns by local press some years) and audience impact has to come into this.

    And we have to ask, is it just film festivals that are the answer? IFP is not a film festival, yet it's organizations like that can make the difference. Is there a Black IFP? Sundance's Labs is and has been a successful part of the Sundance machine that gets less discussion than the festival, even though many films and filmmakers have gotten their start at the labs, not at the festival.

  • Charles Judson | January 26, 2013 8:23 AM

    I'm with the Atlanta Film Festival, so I'm a little farther South. However, flash drives with documents is a small idea that can have greater impact.

    As an example, we help produce a PA Academy with Georgia Production Partnership. Because our lead instructor only brings in actively working crew, working on productions shooting in Georgia, those instructors often bring in the documents (they always take them back if the production hasn't wrapped) for films that are actively being shot in Atlanta. The feedback from this months Jan. 12 class was uniformly positive. It's those tangible moments, like examining and breaking down a barely week old call sheet, with real Atlanta locations and actual instructions, that helps better prepare the PAs.

    What definitely has been useful is when the guest speaker, or the organizers, at an event have kindly copied the documents the speaker personally uses (with information/data still in them), and gives the audience copies on a drive. So I agree, that's a great idea. Especially if you can do this at festivals that aren't anywhere near L.A. or N.Y. and an indie filmmaker would likely never have access to that level of info.

  • CLAYTON | January 26, 2013 12:19 AM

    You bring up some good points, Charles. Question: Are you the guy that usually give out the flash drives with essential documents at those Tribeca Film Institute panel discussions? Those are truly useful events, which can be implemented in the agenda of black film festivals.

  • Just My Thoughts | January 24, 2013 10:58 PMReply

    The African Diaspora Film Festival has a DVD distribution model set up sell previous films. Make no mistake about it, they are at the top of the list when it comes to diving in into some sort of distribution for filmmakers and they champion Black people across the diaspora. However, they also happen to have "African" in their festival rather than Black or Urban or African American... so people run away like it's cancer and don't come out to support like they should...-.- Urban World is an ABSOLUTE joke! ABFF is a another CACKLE! If you look closely, many of the films in these types of festivals are recycled in Black film festivals one after another. If you don't get into certain Black Film Festivals, a lot of other Black Film festivals will also pass on you. Entities with the most popularity are the ones with the least inspiration to be innovative. They're constantly trying to please everyone to stay on top while placing pressure on filmmakers who they really should be working their behinds off to encourage and build relationships with. SOME Black film festivals have integrity but they are not as popular or get the coverage or backing by the so called "in crowd." And that bandwagon includes press too... But even their bandwagon status isn't enough to set up distribution or fill theaters to the max so the filmmaker loses no matter what. Most Black film festivals will not get you far! If you need a boost of confidence, screen at a few of them. Hand out some business cards, take some pictures and tweet them. Sing some Kumbayas around a dinner table with a few other Black filmmakers. But when that's done, that's it. Most non black film festivals will not get you far either. If you're looking to screen your film and not make any money, screen it at home. At least you won't have to pay a submission fee.

  • JUST MY THOUGHTS | January 30, 2013 11:24 AM

    "But in an ever increasingly competitive world, it's what you do with those festival laurels that will get you somewhere, if you have the right laurels. Now more than ever, there are lots of choices." STOP. It's what you do with your marketing and distribution model for your film that will get you somewhere. AND THE REALITY IS, festivals are not doing much for you that you can't do on your own in terms of marketing and even distribution since they're not helping you get it. A film can stand out without going to a film festival. There are audiences who are avid moviegoers but don't go to film festivals. You are your own marketing tool! Film festivals are marketing their festival. Festivals are not a filmmakers enemy, but they're not their best friends either. Now more than ever they are ever, they are every filmmaker's acquaintance, if viewed and used appropriately. AO - all over? Stay focused.

  • AO | January 27, 2013 4:20 PM

    Few film festivals, in and of themselves, white or black, big or small "will get you far". But in an ever increasingly competitive world, it's what you do with those festival laurels that will get you somewhere, if you have the right laurels. Now more than ever, there are lots of choices. The audience, whether its in the limited theatrical markets or on a non-theatrical platform, has to decide where do they spend their dollars. I for one, look to see what festivals a film has been in, what prizes won and where. Festivals are a marketing tool. They help a film stand out which translates into more views regardless of where. A smart filmmaker knows this and uses festivals for that benefit. Festivals are not a filmmakers enemy. Now, more than ever, they are every filmmakers friend, if viewed and used properly!

  • CareyCarey | January 24, 2013 10:52 PMReply

    Is it too late to give an apology to Mr. Friday. As this tread runs furhter off the track, I feel the shame of encouraging or at least adding it's downward spirial.

    Listen, I re-read Jeff's article. And really, he didn't say anything that was not true, nor did he make any promises that he hasn't upheld. It appears many have their own perceptions on the purpose and function of film fesival but this is what Jeff said-->" A little fantasy, a lot of hope and the sustained efforts by indie filmakers to complete new works despite all the obstacles is what drives us to ensure that we -- together with our many supporters who believe in what we do -- MAINTAIN A PLATFORM FOR BLACK ARTIST TO BE SEEN, HEARD AND CELEBRATED"

    OMG! That is exactly what Mr Friday has been doing for almost 2 decades. That is, maintaining a platform for black artist to be seen, heard and celebrated. Wow, Sergio echoed those same sentiments. In other words, excuse my crude vernacular, but in essence a film has to bring some ass to get some ass.

    I know... I know, that's not exactly what they're saying but really, Jeff's mission didn't appear to be geared toward getting filmmakers big money deals or distribution contracts. I am sure they may be the goal of a filmmaker, but again, that's their job, not Jeffs'.

    And, there's other people to consider. What about the audience? I go to film festivals to watch the damn films. Come on know, ain't that what love is made for? You know, to share it with another... ain't it?

    I'll tell you what, picture a world without black film festivals. Ohhhhhh goddamn, what we gonna do now? That's right, it's crying time again. That's right, cry about what the white man is doing and how he ain't showing none of "our" movies. Come on now, you know I'm talking the truth. Black film festival have brought movies right to your neighborhood. Films that you would not have seen, are right at your doorstep. That's love. And hey, some of us get a thrill out of hanging out with the stars.

    But now I have to say something that may not be a popular opinion.

    Can anyone name a black film that would have reaped bigger and better rewards had it not gone to ABFF? UT OH.... Name a black film that didn't get chosen by ABFF or Sundance that would have made millions if given the opportunity to shine at those festivals? Again I am suggesting that one has to bring some ass to get some. It's easy... poor film, poor results.

    Until black filmmakers pickup their game, we will continue to blame others for a lack of advancement in the film business. In short, the problem does not rest with Jeff Friday nor black film festivals. I truly believe that if you make it -- and it's good -- they will come.

  • CareyCarey | January 26, 2013 12:30 PM

    **ONE DAY LATER** Well Mr (or Mrs.) Johnson, I waited for your return to give you a chance to clear up your vague generalities. However, since you haven't returned, I am left to surmise that which you inferred.

    Starting at my quote "Until black filmmakers pickup their game, we will continue to blame others for a lack of advancement in the film business"... "I truly believe that if you make it -- and it's good -- they will come".

    You seemed to infer that that was not a true statement and thus surmised that I was in the dark on matters concerning our black talent pool and the struggles they face. First, I am well aware of our gifted yet struggling artist, who may not be given the same "chances" and opportunities of their white counterparts. However, my statement addresses the saying "Don't cry about it but be about it". To that point, if a person -- in their heart -- does not believe something is broke or in dire need of repair, it's highly doubtful that they will put said repair high on their priority list.

    So when you, Mr. Johnson, implied that film festivals are useless and a weight around the neck of black filmmakers (and by a natural extension, are directly related to their "failures") , I can't help but question that thinking. Consequently, I asked you to bring such black filmmakers to the table... to support your opinion. In your absence, let me clarify my position.

    I've said this many times, I have come to believe that a journey taken shared with another, is a more deeply moving experience than a journey taken alone. Like everyone who has been caught in the pounce of life's struggles, that which has us questioning our existence, I have managed to maintain my love of watching movies as a form of escape. Not only do I escape, movie watching affords me the opportunity to visit emotions, sights and sounds -- much like reading books -- that I may not have otherwise experienced. In essence, I love to stretch-out with my lady as we view the world from different perspectives, be it by traveling and/or watching films.

    So when I imply that black filmmakers need to jackup their slack and bring a better product and stop crying and blaming other, I do so out of love. I NEED a better product. I'd love nothing more than to kick back with my lady while watching a compelling, intriquing, witty, well-written, well acted film... starring, directed and produced by black folks. However, my bar is pretty high. HOW COULD IT NOT BE? I've watch thousands of film from all genre. Unfortunately, because we live in a white world, the overwhelming majority of those films have been the offerings of a white person. However, it goes without question that most of the best and outstanding films and performance have come by way of a white individual. I know... I know... tough titty and many will never accept that, but the list of great films, great acting, smart dialog, great storytelling and intriguing suspense, etc, goes on and on. So again, just give me a compelling story that's complete with every element that makes it a superior film ( i.e., superb acting, great/new/ fresh dialog, great production value, suspense, witty/intelligent/fresh humor, excellent cinematography, set design, wardrobe... and did I say great acting).

    Having said that, takes me back to my opinion that our filmmakers have to "do better" to get better. Listen, I am fully aware that we have talented artist and we are not on a level playing field, but I am tired, tired, tired of hearing the same old tired excuses. I mean, those bevy of excuses would be somewhat palatable if I have not seen "success" stories that blows those arguments/excuses out of the water.

  • CareyCarey | January 25, 2013 6:04 PM

    Mr. Johnson, I will defer most of my rebuttal to Charles Judson's comment. His reply totally destroyed your narrow view of film festivals. Your limited view did not consider the audience or the serendipitous life long rewards many recieve by being a participant. Most who attend festivals, or are connected to a festival, are NOT there seeking ANYTHING on your list. Yet, you called them participants of a "circle-jerk", which shows your lack of critical thinking skills.

    Now, since you've shown the signs of a fool, any attempt to refute your characterization of me would be a fool's errand. But why don't you inform me of the current state of the film industry... the wide swath of Black independent filmmakers with talent... and most importantly, how they've been adversely affected by film festivals.

    List their names, their films and their story. Until you do that (not liter your reply with ambiguity), your voice reeks of nonsense and blame. It smells like that of a would-be filmmaker who has not made it past the starting line and blames others for his deficiencies.

  • Johnson | January 25, 2013 1:21 PM

    "Until Black filmmakers pickup their game, we will continue to blame others for a lack of advancement in the film business. ...I truly believe that if you make it -- and it's good - they will come."

    Carey Carey has:

    a) obviously not made a film of any kind in quite a long time, if ever
    b) does not know the current state of the film industry
    c) is not well-versed in the wide swath of Black independent filmmakers with talent
    d) does not realize that the platitudes offered in this criticism, though good-intentioned, are abstractly wrought and irrelevant to current conversations about independent filmmaking.

    The festival model is over and done with, particularly for film festivals that are not in the Top 1-10, worldwide. Any festival that does not bring distributors, buyers, agents, managers or other industry people is essentially just a circle-jerk. And that's cool. But let's not act like fests like these offer tremendous opportunities for people, anymore.

  • Tiffany | January 24, 2013 8:59 PMReply

    With all due respect to Black Film Festivals and Mr. Friday...the only way Black Film Festivals will ever be able to compete with a festival like Sundance is to get some INTEGRITY. This is not a Black & White issue. This is a simple issue. I've frequented these festivals, Urban World included and it's all about the HOOK UP. I stopped going when a film at Urban World won a specific year simply because the filmmaker was in business with the founders. Clearly, there was a much better film that could've won (many times). I enjoyed a lot of these comments, but Black Film Festivals are Bandwagon Jumpers and just there to be seen and floss. This is not a platform to get a deal, but a place to be seen. Black Film Festivals lack INTEGRITY in the content they choose, they are also not ideal places to get a Distribution Deal. And if they did offer distro, who really wants to be on BET? That's another story. I agree, it's time to join forces. It's time to give REALLY GREAT FILMMAKERS an opportunity and not just your friends of friends. Take a chance on a unknown with really great talent. Black Film Festivals don't take chances. They just want your money. I would never choose to premiere my film at ABFF or Urban World if I had a chance at Tribeca or Sundance, because guess what. Something good comes out of those festivals and no one's going home like DAMN, I just spent all my money and no one even introduced me to anyone??? #stopit

  • Charles Judson | January 25, 2013 5:20 PM

    Sundance is definitely about making money. Partially because the festival helps fund the Sundance Institute, the institute's programs, and the grants. Giving $1 to $2 million in documentary funding every year doesn't just come from anywhere. Just announced was an expansion/addition to their Artist Services program. Most festivals are helping to fund year round programming.

    As for having films with stars, a harsh reality of festivals, all festivals, is that you have to have a certain number of films that can put paid butts in seats. Some festivals are definitely star fucker festivals, others go for purity and struggle to get sponsors and sell tickets (or get any recognition). Most are always trying to find that balance and still get quality films that fit their mission. Knowing the tastes of many programmers, if they were just programming for themselves, the lineups of most festivals would not look anything like they do now.

    Sundance institute can get funding, and high level participation, in part because of those star films. If you look at the projects selected for the institute, many of them you've never heard of. Which means, most of them at that stage couldn't get a mosquito to bite them in the ass.

    I challenge filmmakers to do some research and try to see what an organization does year round. The festival portion of festivals get an inordinate amount of attention, however there's usually another 50, 60, 80% of those organizations that gets barely talked about. Then there are some that do little to nothing other than the festival, which in some cases is not a problem, in others, makes the organization's goals questionable.

    Distribution off of a festival selection can be important. However, as a possible example, a festival that can bring a filmmaker in at the financing stage and help them develop a distribution strategy early on can be invaluable. Bringing in buyers is good. Bringing in buyers and giving a filmmaker quality one on one mentorship, even for an afternoon is better. No one is really doing that. There's room for lots of innovative programs and ideas that have barely been tapped. If we're going to question film festivals about the money, as in politics, it's where the money goes that's most important, not the money itself.

    A record executive at a festival a few years ago pulled me aside and asked point blank "are all the filmmakers here waiting on someone else to tell them what they want to hear?" I just shrugged.

  • willie dynamite | January 25, 2013 12:32 PM

    I think you guys are giving Sundance and larger festivals a lot more credit than they deserve. If you really knew how political the submission process is you would have a totally different view. These festivals are all about one thing, making money. Sundance may have been all about the love of filmmakers in the 80's but after reservoir dogs hit, and Hollywood became a presence, the game changed. Yes black film fests focus on films that are star driven, what do you think Sundance does? Thyese films bring out an audience. And black folks are the worst when it comes to watching films. The first question? What stars are in it? As an indie filmmaker who has stood outside of theaters trying to convince people to come and see an indie film with no known stars, black people will break your heart. There is a film that premiered at Sundance last year called "I melt with you," a film filled with stars and it was one of the worst films I have ever seen. I had to ask myself, how did this get in to sundance AND get distribution? We live in a world of star fuckers people. It is what it is.

  • sergio | January 25, 2013 12:04 PM

    Hey you think the "hook up" as you call it doens't happen at white film festivals too? What do you Sundance, SXSW, New York or Cannes Film festivals are? Nothing but one giant "hook up" Filmmakers with connections or long associations with festival organizers ALWAYS get in and count for at least half of the movies there are screened at those festivals.

  • CLAYTON | January 24, 2013 9:54 PM

    I agree with SOME of what Tiffany is saying. The thing about integrity goes back to my point about Sundance's deep rooted love and respect for indie film and their creators. Every time a black film festival accepts a terrible celebrity littered movie over a quality low budget indie film made by an unknown filmmaker with an unknown cast, they lose a bit of their integrity. It never fails.

  • CLAYTON | January 24, 2013 1:07 PMReply

    I remember being introduced to Jeff Friday back in 2009 at a NY ABFF event. He seemed respectful and receptive. So, what I’m about to say is being said with all due respect to him and what ABFF were able to accomplish over the years. A film festival like Sundance dominates because of a small ingredient not usually discussed as part of the recipe for their success. It’s their sincere, deep rooted love and respect for independent films and the filmmakers who create them. At least they were founded on such a passion and lived up to it for over 20 years before the last decade. There is something to be said for that while, from my experience, a film festival like ABFF seems to be the contrary. That same year in 2009, I submitted a rough-cut to ABFF my first feature film titled “Pro-Black Sheep” ( for a world premiere. The film was guerilla at the truest sense; with a cast of about 35 unknown actors (not including extras) in about 20 locations throughout New York City with a production budget fewer than 10K, all in about 20 days. Not only did I not receive a notification from ABFF that my film wasn’t accepted, I also learned that all the films accepted, both in and out of competition, had at least one recognizable black actor. “Pro-Black Sheep” was over looked for films like “I DO… I DID!” starring what’s her name from “Family Matters,” which I’m sure some of the readers here saw for themselves on BET and have their own opinions about it. Shortly after, PBS was turned down by Urbanworld, who at least sent a letter. We ended up premiering at Roxbury Film Festival in Boston, and followed up at the NY African Diaspora Film Festival, where the film received all sorts of media coverage and went on to travel with them in several places during the following year (Brooklyn Academy of Music, the National Geographic in D.C., etc). However, before being accepted at the 2010 Pan African Film Festival, where the film earned me a First Time Director nomination, we were notified that we didn’t get into the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. It could’ve been for numerous reasons, since we screened at two film festivals up to this point. Bottom line: PBS wasn’t good enough to compete with their entries that year. But you know what Sundance DID; they recommended “Pro-Black Sheep” to Tribeca to solicit for their 2010 film festival, something only few people knew about. I still have the email, which is just one of those mementos I hold on to as a reminder of the ups and downs of my journey in this film game. Of course Tribeca insisted on a US premiere, which basically wasn’t the case for “Pro-Black Sheep,” having screened at PAFF the previous month and the many others. However, it was a boost in morale for me after a string of disappointments I experienced with the festivals, the film and some of the people involved with its making. Sundance’s recommendation told me my film was good enough for them to put their reputation on the line and recommend to another top tier film festival. After the early part of 2010, “Pro-Black Sheep” screened at the San Francisco Black Film Festival, won an award that summer at the Black International Cinema Berlin Film Festival in Berlin, Germany, and concluded its journey at Sergio’s Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago where we were paid a little something. I would’ve liked to have screened at Hollywood Black Film Festival but they didn’t have a festival that year, I believe. Now this is no way an attack on ABFF or any black film festival. It’s simply to shed light on the little things the big film festivals do that leads to their success. I don’t want my room and board paid for, or even money. That’s not very practical. But I appreciate what the big festivals provide, which starts with all sorts of support for filmmakers of all kind, not just for a niche group. Black film festivals could easily get into the recommendation thing amongst each other but they do not, not to my knowledge at least. And yes, I have to agree that the audiences black film festivals cater to do not make things easier as they, in more cases than not, only come out when celebrities are involved or the big film festivals stamp their seal of approval. I notice how some of the readers on S&A alone don’t really respond unless there is controversy or one of the white establishments have vouched for the film/filmmaker/actor/etc. We kind of join the party a little too late. And we wonder why some of our own make it and never look back. I say it’s difficult to catch up with a bandwagon that is on the move. You can dispute with the fact that readers of other blogs are the same with their obvious lack of interest. But that works for them, not for us as black people, and it never will work. We have to unlearn what we have learned and come again. It’s definitely a slave mentality thing, as someone previously stated in one of the comments. Now the question is -- what are we going to do about it? It will take a lot more than articles like this and people like me commenting on them. It starts with a collective effort on behalf of those on the inside (filmmakers, film festivals, sponsors, etc.) and those on the outside (audiences, news media, and movie blogs) to support the black independent film world regardless of Hollywood’s involvement or lack thereof. Follow me on Twitter @ClayBroomes.

  • K. Wilson | January 24, 2013 12:04 PMReply

    I'll say it again... What if the American Black Film Festival created a distributing company and focused on one WIDE THEATER release each year to start? Then you'll be in a better place to compete especially if you pick good films. You have to make yourself stand out. If racism and this long history of oppression didn't exist, what would be your major selling point? Make that answer available to those Black filmmakers.

  • coffee wright | January 24, 2013 11:20 AMReply

    what are the procedures to submit a film or documentary? 314/769-6067

  • Larry | January 23, 2013 4:10 PMReply

    I agree with Jeff Friday that black film festivals are important, the problem with black film festivals is you have to have distrbution support and be able to promote the films that are in in the festival to get people to be aware of. them Jeff Friday why don't you start with partnering up with one of the black tv networks during the festival run and air spots about the festival, talking to the filmmakers, producers, actors and actresses about their films and black critics speaking on the films and the importance of black film festivals and support and premiere films with top black stars that's going to be playing in theaters. This will raise the profile of this film festival and the films in the festival. The way you got it now is the public and filmmakers feel is your festival is the festival I got into because I didn't get into sundance, toronto, cannes, or the other film festivals, in other words it's viewed as second tire and not really respected. I appreciate your efforts and much respect for what you are doing, but to be able to get it to the point you are talking about, you are going have to make people believe it's a top tier film festival and right now that's not the case.

  • Sergio | January 23, 2013 2:43 PMReply

    Since I've been involved with starting up and programming a black film festival, The Black harvest Film Festival, which has been going on now for 19 years, I suppose I shoud briefly out in my two two cents in.

    I look at it more simply. We're not trying to re-inevnt the wheel. We giving an opprortunity for black filmmakers to show their filma to a large audience. The simple fact of the matter is that there are A LOT of black filmmakers and black films out there and they all want their films to be seen.

    Yes, a filmmaker's first goal to make back the money that was spent on their film which means they want to sell it to a distributor. But the reality is that there are very few indepenednt filmmakers (black or white) who actually achiveve that goal. And before you can get to that you have to get your film seen. So you have to start somewhere.

    Also let's be honest here, the market for black films wanting to be picked up is much much smaller than white films. Fruitvale got picked up The Weinstein Co or $2.5 million is a great. One of the very licky few. But that was manily because, from what I've read and was told by someone who saw it, it's an extraordinary film that despite its tragic subject matter is actually marketable. . However The Way Way Back which was also screened at Sundance was sold to Fox Searchlight for almost $10 million and the same friend saw it said it was without question one of the worst films he saw at the festival.

    Having a black film market is nice but who would come looking for films? Most distribuotors already have their "2 or 3 black films for the year" quota.

    And the person complaining about black film festivals not flying in filmmakers. hey bud, MOST film festivals don't fly in fiilmmakers. SXSW never flies in filmmakers and I'll bet that Cannes or New York don't fly in filmakers either. In their case that's covered by a studio, production company, publicity firms or other outside sources. You have any idea how expensive it would be to fly in every filmmaker for a festival? They would all go out of business. Which is one of things that annoys me the most when people criticize film festivals as if they have all the money in the world. Unless it's Cannes, or like SXSW Tribeca or Sundance which all get a lot sponsorship money or Toronto which gets tons of money from the Canadian government (compared to U.S. festivals which get next to zero in government support) film festivals operate on limited budgets.

    So there you have it. The basic idea of a black festivals is to get black films seen that otherwise would be overlookd or neglected by audiences. To let them know that there's something else out there other than Tyler Perry. That there are a lot of really terrific filmmakers out there doing sone really terrific work like Charles Murray's new film Things Never Said which deserves to be seen by as many people as possible. Hopefully some enterprising distibutor willsee it and realize its commerical possibilites and pick it up. But first it has to be seen

  • R.L.S. | January 23, 2013 2:34 PMReply

    I'll put it this way: think of your favorite poetry spot... how often do you go and say wow... some of these poets are not that good... but they have that moment to get in front of an audience to either improve or fail...

    It is the same with Black film festivals... Most programmers or fest organizers simply have the passion to help the filmmakers showcase their work... some are actually trying to make money out of the deal...

    Also with money comes a certain responsibility to sponsors... if you don't have Will Smith attending your fest... you can kiss most sponsors goodbye...

    I ramble this to say... I'm not whining about how difficult it is to hold a fest... that comes with most challenges in life...

    I guess my main point is consider helping out at your local fest... see what it is like from the inside out... you may get to understand some of the kookiness that happens...

  • CareyCarey | January 23, 2013 11:28 AMReply

    Don't take this ass whooping personally, but this is business... SHOW BUSINESS! I had to get that off my chest to relieve me of the pimp slap I received upon reading this article. You know, that disrespectful back-hand one delivers to another who they don't respect. That's the thunderous overture Jeff Friday delivered to me.

    Least I be misunderstood, I am all for championing a cause, but when that cause is cloaked in "we" yet screaming "me", I tend to feel offended. Now let me explain.

    First let's examine Mr. Friday's faulty analogy which he presented as "Fantasy Football". In said analogy a comparison was made to show the similarities between the NFL and Black film festivals. In this scenario, the black film festivals are the skilled African American college athletes and in this case, the NFL is Howard.

    Immediately, the analogy unravels. The NFL's supply of top black athletes comes from over 800 colleges! That transcends to thousands of high caliber potential NFL players. The National Football Leagues (NFL) is the governing body for America's largest professional football league. The rub: It is MANAGED by REPRESENTATIVES of its member clubs. Jeff compared one institution, Howard, to the NFL, thus implying that the Black film festivals are just like the governing body of the NFL. However, nothing can be further from the truth.

    First and foremost, the NFL has revenue sharing. The money from TV contracts (2/3 of the NFL's money) and merchandise license fees is share and share alike -- The Washington Redskin's, Dallas Cowboys, Green Bay Packers, Buffalo Bills and Indianapolis Colts get identical checks. I doubt that's the case with "The Black Film Festivals"? Is it -- share and share alike between Pan African Art & Film Festival, ABFF, Urbanworld, Hollywood Black Film Festival, Brooklyn Film Festival, Black Women's Film Festival and American Black Film Festival? Is there a governing body who represents and speaks for the financial interests of all who fall under the banner of "A black film festival. I don't believe so. Or is it, you get yours while I get mine?

    So I am left to wonder who is the "Howard" in Jeff's analogy? When he used the pronoun "WE", surely he was speaking for the group as a whole, wasn't he... or was he? Well, whomever they may be, Jeff prophesied the following: "[They] would win... be flooded with funding, and all would bask in the glow of glory.

    But wait, all closed eyes are not asleep. I also heard the voice of another noted black man who was ushered on the floor to toot "Howard's"... **wink wink**... horn. Lee Daniels regarding the ABFF... "I've been to film festivals all over the world and I can say that this is the best." OH REALLY, Lee? So is this the case of "to the victor goes the spoils?

    I think it's important to note that Lee's film Precious premiered to acclaim at both the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, which led to it being picked up by the mighty Lions Gate Entertainment. A 10 Million dollar budget with a 65 million dollar return. So Mr. Lee has experienced the fruits of his labor and thus has walked the talk, right? As I said, this is business, baby. And it appears Mr. Friday tried to lower the bamboozle stick upon our heads in an effort to drum business in his direction.

    In defense of Mr. Friday, there's nothing inherently wrong with tooting one's own horn. I mean, I am reminded of the phrase "It's a poor frog that doesn't brag on his own lily pad". However, in my opinion, understanding the details in his analogy, I believe it's a cardinal sin to cloak oneself in "we" "for one and one for all" (dropping names as if everyone is on the same page) -- when the preponderance of truth says it's all about "I".

  • Ralph Ellison??? | January 29, 2013 5:07 PM

    It's a horrible analogy, poorly written ( i doubt he wrote it) and not well thought out. He quotes Ralph Ellison? Who qoutes Ralph Ellison? Are you serious? Very arrogant and narcissistic. "Mr. Big stuff! Who do you think you are?!"

  • NO BRAINER | January 24, 2013 12:23 AM

    That's nice, RODNEY. But when you make those business plans and present to potential investors, there is a part in most b-plans that articulate the producer's ongoing effort to premiere the film at one of the top tier film festivals, thus increasing the film's chance to get picked up. ABFF just isn't one of those film festivals, and holding out to premiere at an ABFF or Pan African Film Festival is almost like a breach of contract between producer and investor. Do you honestly think that it will be a wise decision for a producer to pass up a premiere at Sundance, if accepted, in order to premiere at ABFF? I don't think so. And Jeff Friday could go sit down somewhere. I've seen the type of films they have accepted over the years, most, if not all, with name black actors. I've hear about them passing up quality black features with unknown actors in favor of horrible films with name black actors.

  • CareyCarey | January 23, 2013 2:23 PM

    Rodney, you have a point (I don't know if it's a good point, but...) he did say " some of the top talent-producing colleges in the country". Notre Dame, having produced 513 NFL players all-time, leads the list. Rounding out the top 25 is Arizona State with 225. Of special note, tiny Grambling State has 4 former great in the Hall Of Fame, which ties or beats 17 schools in the aforementioned 25.

    So maybe we can agree that "best" is the optimum word? Now, using your interprutation we're talking about the best black films, best filmmakers and the BEST black film festivals, which leads me right back to Jeff's championing of Lee Daniel's comment. That's when he showed his hold card. In "black" vernacular, Jeff committed what is commonly called "dropping the under-play for the over-play".

    In addition, even is we accept you interpretation, it does not discount the fact that unlike the owners of NFL football teams, Jeff's "Howard" does not have a voice. So I am left to believe the distributors would simply seek out the "BEST" of the lot.

    Now excuse me while I drop an analogy of my own. It goes something like this:-->

    "Who's going to help me the pie (who's going help me make my film)" asked the aspiring black filmmaker ? "Not I" said the black film festival, "I have speeches to make and other things to do". "Okay, I'll do it myself" said the filmmaker.

    "Who's going to help me roll the wheat" (who's going to help with my post-production expenses?) asked the broke filmmaker? "Certainly not I, I love dough but I don't have time for that" said the black film festival.

    "Well, who can help me eat my pie ( Who's hungry)" asked the proud filmmaker? " I CAN" proclaimed the black film festival. "Just ask Lee Danials, he'll tell you... I have the BEST of the BEST film festivals, therefore I have your best hope to get your pie to the market"

    Well Rodney, I hear you but, as you said, not sure if I agree, regardless :-)

  • Rodney | January 23, 2013 1:09 PM

    The point being that, by forgoing the mainstream universities in favor of attending Howard, those athletes would increase Howard’s prestige, power and financial position. So his thinking is that if the best black films and filmmakers supported the black film festivals, distributors would respond. Not sure if I agree, regardless.

  • Rodney | January 23, 2013 1:04 PM

    No, I think Jeff’s analogy compared Howard to the larger mainstream universities that recruit top Black players that end up in the NFL.

  • ShareTweetComment | January 23, 2013 10:35 AMReply

    You struggle to get your film made because of money issues. How do you or your film benefit from putting it into a film festival where there isn't a film market with actual buyers and distributors? You don't. The film festival benefits off of your broken back of hard work by selling tickets to people to come see your work. You get paid nothing. They don't help with travel and they act like it's a favor to you to give you a few tickets to come see your own film in their festival. You spend money on flyers and promotional material to pass out while there so people will go see your film but really, that's only benefitting the festival too because that means they'll sell more tickets to your film. I'm sorry, but let's be honest here. Once you've made a film, the most important thing is selling it, making money and paying back your investors because if you don't, you will probably never get a chance to make another film.

    Give us a black film festival with a market and we will be there in droves. Bring in real buyers and distributors. Put out a list of distributor attendees before the festival so we can do our homework properly and be ready to pitch our projects. Stop disrespecting the process.

    A film festival without a market is just a big party weekend and the only people who benefit from it are the festival owners if they're smart. The filmmakers are left with nothing. It's cool for festival attendees but they didn't spend all the money they could scrape together making a film and they're not taking a bus into South Beach from the cheap hotel they could afford that they are sharing with two other broke filmmakers.

    Friday has had 17 years to get this right.

  • NO BRAINER | January 24, 2013 12:26 AM

    Wow... lol

  • Jeremiah | January 23, 2013 9:00 AMReply

    What is the most frustrating about this is that this is a discussion and a problem we've been talking about for so many years and yet it seems like nothing changes from year to year. So what is the point of all the discussion when it doesn't really change anything and we'll probably be having this same discussion and asking the same questions on both sides this time next year. My point being that it's going to take more than words. And it's a two-way street.

  • Akim | January 23, 2013 1:28 AMReply

    It comes down to this for me: as a black filmmaker with a feature-length film that I believe can compete with the best of the best, I see absolutely no reason to send my film to any black film festivals, definitely not to premiere. I'll instead be sending it to those festivals that I believe will give me the best opportunity for success, which means making sure the film is seen by people who can help get my film out as widely as possible. And to be honest, no existing black film festival does not do that. The numbers don't lie. But let's not forget the black audience too, because just like filmmakers, I don't think black audiences respect black filmmakers the same way they respect the mainstream festivals. A black film that has the Sundance sticker on its cover will probably mean more to the average person than an ABFF sticket. We've been conditioned like that. There's a definite hierarchy. How do you break down the hierarchy, I don't know.

  • Akim | January 24, 2013 12:39 AM

    Excuse my typos. I just read over what I said and saw a few. This should read "And to be honest, no existing black film festival DOES that."

    And this should say: "I don't think black audiences respect black FILM FESTIVALS the same way they respect the mainstream festivals."

    And "Sticket" should be "Sticker."

    Typing on this phone ain't easy. LOL

  • NO BRAINER | January 24, 2013 12:29 AM

    Akim says, "But let's not forget the black audience too, because just like filmmakers, I don't think black audiences respect black filmmakers the same way they respect the mainstream festivals." Say it again, Mac.

  • willie dynamite | January 23, 2013 11:54 AM

    Yes Akim, the black audience IS another part of this messed up equation. That is a topic worthy of its very own discussion. The hierarchy is broken down by which festivals generate acquisitions, Sundance, Cannes, American Film Market. Every other film festival is striving to get to a place where they can announce a film in their festival was acquired at their festival. Acquisitions raise the level of competition, that is why Sundance gets over 5,000 submissions for feature films every year. That is also why politics are prevalent. Every year there is a film at Sundance that makes you wonder how and why it is there. I digress, after Reservoir dogs premiered, the industry took notice and started sending delegates, now entire companies are down there, as well as agents, managers, and other producers. The Cinderella story is real, look at the director of Beasts of a Southern Wild. He got global distribution for his film, critical acclaim, and has been nominated for an Oscar. This is the type of experience that fuels the machine. Festivals that can not provide that type of opportunity are lower on the rung of hierarchy. The bottom rung is for film enthusiasts that just love film.

  • Aaron | January 23, 2013 9:02 AM

    I don't think that translates to film since I see so many ratchet films from people on my friends list on facebook that are just plain low budget and low quality but yet they get on Netflix and pay-per-view. Sad times.

  • Aaron | January 23, 2013 9:01 AM

    I agree with what you said and one thing I learned from black entrepreneurs is that it is really sad that black business owners have to hide the fact that they are black from other black people because once it is found you are black then all of a sudden the support starts to drop. That slave mentality is still alive so if you want to remain in business you have to think universal and leave behind the black consumer.

  • willie dynamite | January 23, 2013 1:07 AMReply

    I have to say the Jeff Friday has been doing the ABFF for 17 years. He HAS been a staunch supporter of black independent filmmakers, he even created a company and released a film back in 2001. Friday has spoken in depth with young filmmakers??? The elephant in the room is distribution. That is why every filmmakers want to get in to sundance because sundance provides a platform that gives them a great opportunity to obtain distribution, as well as representation, and in some cases, jobs. The fact remains, that a film that wins best picture at the Pan African Film Festival will not have half of the heat a film that just screens at Sundance will have. Plus it is a catch 22, most of these filmmakers are just trying to pay their investors back, so rarely will you get a filmmaker that chooses to be that anomally forgoing a Sundance for a Black festival with less exposure. It is not a black thing it is a money thing. It is sad and I understand Friday's angst but until BUYERS attend and acquire films at these festivals it will be what it is. Last point, a few years ago, several record label heads in hip hop music decided to band together and create a distribution channel on par with the already established distribution channels. Shortly after it was proposed, one of the lables was raided by the Feds and the whole idea was quietly shelved. It's ALL about distribution!

  • Donella | January 23, 2013 3:20 PM

    "Shortly after it was proposed, one of the lables was raided by the Feds and the whole idea was quietly shelved. It's ALL about distribution!" God in Heaven...

  • Aaron | January 23, 2013 8:50 AM

    " several record label heads in hip hop music decided to band together and create a distribution channel on par with the already established distribution channels. Shortly after it was proposed, one of the lables was raided by the Feds and the whole idea was quietly shelved. It's ALL about distribution!"

    I remember that happening as well. It was Deathrow Records, Murder Inc, and Rap-A-Lot.

  • Nadia | January 23, 2013 12:49 AMReply

    This is how I see the black film festival situation: FIRST - there are too many festivals. It's time to consolidate.

    SECOND - there is very little variety. The same group of films get recycled from one festival to the next. See my first point.

    And THIRD - the model is dying anyway. We're trying to copy an archaic model. It's time we strip it all down and rebuild.

  • Curtis | January 23, 2013 12:39 AMReply

    I must respectfully challenge your argument Mr Friday. A well-written piece that ultimately serves more as an advertisement for your festival. But if your goal really is to make a difference, it'll take more than an op-ed. Instead, some really nitty-gritty hands-on work will be required, starting with sitting down and talking to directly with young filmmakers today about their concerns and what they really expect from black film festivals.

  • Bickers McBixby | January 23, 2013 12:35 AMReply

    This is a horrible and not particularly well-thought argument suggesting Black Filmmakers apply to Black film festivals instead of bigger, more nationally renowned and arguably "White" film festivals. Obviously Black fests do a great deal to support and uplift Black film, but when was the last time you saw a filmmaker making a feature get a deal after premiering at ABFF or any other Black fest?

    Whether or not bigger fests have bigger budgets and machines behind them is another story, but let's not act like there isn't a clear reason the aforementioned folks went and applied to Sundance. Folks want a future and a career, not some weak pub lip-service and the possibility of screening on HBO at a random time that no one will see. Let's be real. Folks want to thrive.

  • K. Wilson | January 22, 2013 10:44 PMReply

    What if the American Black Film Festival created a distributing company and focused on one WIDE theater release each year to start? Then you'll be in a better place to compete especially if you pick good films. You have to make yourself stand out. If racism and this long history of oppression didn't exist, what would be your major selling point? Make that answer available to those Black filmmakers.

  • Cinexa | January 22, 2013 9:01 PMReply

    Well said. You can't argue with reason!

  • Crosby Tatum | January 22, 2013 8:32 PMReply

    A well written article Jeff. I have been keeping my eye on your festival for a year and I must say that it is very impressive. I hope to submit my film to it and have it world premiere at ABFF this year, hoping you will be pleased by it. Again, I cannot wait for ABFF this year. Best wishes.

    Crosby Tatum - Surprise, Surprise!!!

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