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Newark’s Black film festival legacy continues

BY lyanne

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Shara L. Morrow

Tuesday marked  the closing of the the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), it first time being held in New York City, and the beginning of the Newark Black Film festival celebrating it 40 year making it the longest running showcase of Black films in the country.  What do these two festivals have in common, both have their roots in Newark.  The Newark Film festival begins today, 7pm, at the Newark Museum featuring “Freedom Riders” film screening and discussion, with Junius Williams

The first American Black Film Festival (originally called the Acapulco Black Film Festival, or ABFF, until the name was changed in 2002) was held in June 1997, the festival then moved to Miami, where its been for 11 years. The aim of its founders, Jeffrey Friday, Byron E. Lewis and Warrington Hudlin, was to create a venue at which members of “Black Hollywood” could meet, network, collaborate, and celebrate Black cinema. In an interview, Friday said that one of the main motivations for the festival was that, “All minorities are shut down from the private party we call Hollywood. We are let in one at a time, and the masses don’t get the information, or don’t have access to the decision making, or are not in a position to green-light a project. Our mission to provide minorities and people of color with a fair shot at breaking into the Hollywood system.”

“The Black experience is an integral part of American culture; and the universal appeal of Black stories is becoming more apparent as African Americans make substantial inroads into the motion picture industry. As we look to the future, it is our goal to not only support Black filmmakers, but to promote their work for everyone’s enjoyment! The ABFF is committed to broadening the mainstream embrace of Black culture, to have as great an impact through cinema as we have had through music, fashion and sports.”, said Jeffrey Friday, CEO of the ABFF, also born and raised in the city of Newark.

Lewis, CEO of UniWorld Group, and Friday, at the time president of UniWorld’s film division, met with Hudlin, then-president of the Black Filmmakers Foundation, to speak about (and were ultimately inspired to create the festival by) the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s call to boycott the Oscars as a result of the lack of Black nominees that year. The Oscars had historically had a reputation for leaving out Black members of cinema; until 1980, only two African-Americans had won academy awards for acting.  The founders of the ABFF decided, though, that rather than investing time and energy in supporting a boycott, they would hold an event of their own to celebrate Black cinematic achievements, and thus the festival was born.

This year marked ABFF 18th year, this festival by those that attended was “Fantastic. That’s how I describe in one word the 2014 ABFF in NYC. I really enjoyed it. The energy was high and it was a delight to see so many talented black youth have their work showcased and awarded. People migrated from all over to be a part of the festival. I met folk from Chicago, Atlanta, DC, Dallas and Florida.  This is the first time I’ve seen this amount of black movie stars”

Thursday the opening day, the premier movies was “Think Like a Man Too”, movie description.  All the couples are back for a wedding in Las Vegas, but plans for a romantic weekend go awry when their various misadventures get them into some compromising situations that threaten to derail the big event.

Director: Tim Story, Written: Keith Merryman (screenplay), David A. Newman (screenplay).  Stars: Kevin Hart, Gabrielle Union, Wendi McLendon-Covey. Read carpet, and a conversation with the cast and stars.  The movie was funny up temptoed and as sharp as the first installation.

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The conversation with Rolland Martin and Spike Lee was great. Spike was candid and funny as he spoke about his film work over the years. ABFF recognized him for his body of work and as a true pioneer of employ for many blacks in the film industry – behind and in front of the camera. Denzel Washington also came on via pre-recorded video to give kudos to Spike.

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There was also a conversation with Phylicia Rashad and her daughter, Condola Rashad, moderated by Starr Jones. Both women spoke about their experiences in the business – television and stage. Phylicia Rashad gave the audience some words of wisdom – especially relevant to aspiring actors. It was a point in the conversation when her daughter also sat back and just listened to her profound words like the rest of the audience. They were both so poised. Phylicia is such a woman of grace!

There were also conversations with some of the cast of the HBO seriesTrueBlood, Boardwalk Empire and upcoming series Getting On starring Niecy Nash, as well as the cast and director of the upcoming James Brown biopic, Get On Up.

The closing premiere was Spike Lees latest, Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,the independent romantic horror comedy was the first of Lee’s films to be funded through Kickstarter. It stars Michael K. Williams, Felicia Pearson, Elvis Nolasco, Zaraah Abrahams, Steven Hauck and Stephen Tyrone Williams. A few familiar faces attended the premiere/screening including actors Omari Hardwick and Eriq Lasalle, director Malcolm Lee and Love & Hip Hop NY’s Yandy Smith.  A create artistic and funny piece that combine both horror and comedic forms without the slap-stick take off, like the Wayan’s in Halloween

“The conversations were remarkable. It felt like we really got to know the stars. They were all so candid and down-to-earth”.

 

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