The American Black Film Festival (originally called the Acalpulco Black Film Festival) is an independent film festival that focuses primarily on black film -- works by Black members of the film industry. It is held to recognize achievements of film actors of African descent and to honor films that stand out in their portrayal of Black experience.
It has been called "the nation’s most prominent film festival." The festival is held annually and features full-length narratives, short films, mobile entertainment (defined by the official website as "all short form content including experimental films, music videos and webisodes"), and documentaries, all by and/or featuring Black writers, directors, actors, and actresses. The festival is held annually in Miami Beach. The American Black Film Festival was formerly named the Black Movie Awards.
Founding: "Because Hollywouldn't"
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 aim of its founders, Jeff 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. What we have plan[ned] is more of the same, which is more information, more network opportunities, and to further our mission to provide minorities and people of color with a fair shot at breaking into the Hollywood system."
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.
Acapulco Black Film Festival: 1997-2001
In its first years, the festival was held in Acapulco, Mexico. The first annual festival had a turnout of about 600. Over five days, nine independent films were screened and seven awards were given, recognizing "artistic achievement" (male and female), "best actor," "best actress," "best director," "film of the year," and "soundtrack of the year."
In 1998, HBO established the HBO Short Film Award to be presented at the ABFF to honor works in the genre of short film. HBO thus became a major partner and supporter of the ABFF, along with UniWorld and the Black Filmmakers Foundation.
1999 saw the festival’s first Trailblazer award for significant contributions to Black screen media. This award would remain a consistent part of the festival until 2002.
In 2000, the Lincoln Filmmaker’s Trophy was established. This award was one of only two honors, along with the HBO Short Film Award, that would survive the festival’s move to Florida in 2002.
Aside from awards, the festival in its early incarnations had seminars, actors’ training workshops and meet-and-greets, all with the aim of strengthening the skills and networks of Black filmmakers, actors and actresses, and screenwriters.
Changes from 2002-Present
The year 2002 saw many changes for the film festival. Jeff Friday, who one year previous had purchased UniWorld Film (and rebranded it as Film Life), took over execution of the festival, which he renamed the American Black Film Festival (also abbreviated as ABFF). Since its transformation in 2002, the ABFF has drawn new corporate sponsors (including Grey Goose, Ford, NBC, CBS, and Nickelodeon) and a dramatically increased attendance.
The first American Black Film Festival was held in South Beach, Florida on June 26. The Festival stayed in Florida until 2007 when it was moved to Los Angeles, California, in an effort to attract more celebrity attendees and thereby generating more general interest in the festival. While initially successful, the change in venue ultimately resulted in a decline in attendance from members of the actual Black filmmaking community. The festival changed venues once more in 2010, returning to Florida, and it was confirmed that the 2011 festival would be held in South Beach.
The 2011 festival ran from July 6 through July 9.
Over the course of the festival, there are numerous events held at numerous locations. Typically, there will be an opening ceremony, either featuring a big-name movie or an award presentation. The following three (some years four) days will include screenings of other films, actors’ and directors’ workshops (for example, 2010’s "Master Class on Cinematography led by Cliff Charles"), and symposiums (for example 2010’s "Inside Nickelodeon" symposium). Each year, the festival concludes with the main awards ceremony. Hosts of this ceremony have included: Robert Townsend and Shaun Robinson (co-hosts), Anthony Anderson, and Niecy Nash.
- Will Packer: Founder & Producer (Will Packer Productions)
- Rob Hardy: Co-Founder (Rainforest Films)
- Jeff Clanagan: President & CEO (Codeblack Entertainment)
- Zola Mashariki: Senior Vice President of Production (Fox Searchlight Pictures)
- Debra Langford: Vice President of Inclusion & Business Diversity (NBC Universal)
- Valerie Watts Meraz: Vice President of Content Acquisitions (Showtime)
- DeVon Franklin: Vice President of Production (Columbia Pictures)
- Robert Townsend: Founding Board Member (Townsend Entertainment)
- Andrea Nelson Meigs: Motion Picture Talent Agent (International Creative Management)
The festival has five objectives, or "Programming Initiatives"  which are:
- Education in the form of programs to teach and help develop the skills of African-Americans in film.
- Artistic Expression through screening of African-American films.
- ‘Collaboration between members of the Black cinema industry thereby strengthening the industry as a whole.
- Access to "industry insiders" for up-and-coming filmmakers and producers.
- Recognition of outstanding work on the part of Black independent filmmakers.
Awards and Recipients 1997-2001
Below is a list of award winners and honorees of the Acapulco Black Film Festival.
- Artistic Achievement: Halle Berry and Bill Duke
- Best Actress: Queen Latifah for her role in Set It Off
- Best Actor: Ossie Davis for his role in Get On The Bus
- Best Director: F. Gary Gray for Set It Off
- 1996 Film of the Year: Once Upon a Time...When We Were Colored
- 1996 Soundtrack of the Year: Set It Off
- Career Achievement Award: Debbie Allen and Morgan Freeman
- Best Film: Tie between Soul Food and Eve's Bayou
- Best Director: Kasi Lemmons for Eve's Bayou
- Best Actor: Samuel L. Jackson for his role in Eve's Bayou
- Best Actress: Vivica A. Fox for her role in Soul Food
- Best Soundtrack: lovejones
- HBO Short Film Award: Two Seasons
- Trailblazer Award: Byron Lewis
- Career Achievement: Pam Grier and Samuel L. Jackson
- Best Film: The Negotiator
- Best Director: F. Gary Gray for The Negotiator
- Best Actress: Angela Bassett for her role in How Stella Got Her Groove Back
- Best Actor: Larenz Tate for his role in Why Do Fools Fall In Love
- Best Screenplay: Christopher Scott Cherot for Hav Plenty
- Best Soundtrack: The Player’s Club
- HBO Short Film Award: Twin
- Trailblazer Award: Melvin Van Peebles
- Best International Film: Bellyful
- Star of the Year: Nia Long
- Best Film Entrepreneur: Master P
- Best USA Film: One Week
- Best Work in Progress: Seventeen Again
- Lincoln Filmmaker’s Trophy: Carl Seaton
- HBO Short Film Award: My Father’s Hand
- Best U.S. Film: Blue Hill Avenue
- Audience Award for Best International Film: Love Come Down
- Audience Award for Best Work in Progress: Jacked
- HBO Short Film Award: Kickin’ Chicken
- Lincoln Filmmaker Trophy: Raoul Peck
- Coca-Cola Film Score Award: Malcolm Rector
- Career Achievement Award: John Singleton
- Trailblazer Award: Suzanne De Passe
- Rising Star Award: Sanaa Lathan and Anthony Anderson
Awards and Recipients 2002-2010
- Blockbuster Award for Best Feature Film: Civil Brand
- HBO Short Film Award: Quest to Ref
- Lincoln Filmmaker Trophy: The Riff
- Career Achievement Award: Robert Townsend
- Best Performance by an Actress: Monica Calhoun, for Pandora's Box
- Rising Star Award: Mekhi Phifer
- Blockbuster Award for Best Feature Film: All About You
- HBO Short Film Award: Swallow
- Lincoln Filmmaker Trophy: Skin Deep
- AOL Time Warner Innovator Award: Russell Simmons
- AOL Time Warner Rising Star Award: Gabrielle Union
- Best Performance by an Actress: Janice Richardson*, for Anne B. Real
- Best Performance by an Actor: Steve White, for Skin Deep
- Time Warner Innovator Award: Spike Lee
- Rising Star Award: Rosario Dawson
- HBO Short Film Award: Time Out
- Blockbuster Audience Award for Best Feature Film: Tie between Love, Sex and Eating the Bones and Woman Thou Art Loosed
- Best Performance by an Actress: Sanaa Lathan, for Out of Time
- Best Performance by an Actor: Chiwetel Ejiofor, for Dirty Pretty Things
- Best Director: F. Gary Gray, for The Italian Job
- Film of the Year: The Fighting Temptations
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture: On the One
- HBO Short Film Award: Shards
- Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature: One the One
- The Filmmaker Trophy for Best Narrative Feature: Mario Van Peebles
- Voices of Color Best Documentary Award: Bastards of the Party
- Melvin Van Peebles Trailblazer Award: Warrington Hudlin
- Best Performance by an Actor: On the One
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture: My Brother
- HBO Short Film Award: Pop Foul
- Audience Award for Best U.S. Feature: Dirty Laundry
- Voices of Color Best Documentary Award: If I Die Tonight
- Founder’s Award for Outstanding Achievement in Independent Cinema: Christopher Scott, for My Brother
- Define Luxury Commercial Contest Winner: Award Show
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Picture presented by Kodak: South of Pico
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary: Back to our Roots
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Screenplay presented by Allstate: Mansfield 12
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Actor: Henry Simmons
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Director: Craig Ross, Jr.
- Audience Award for Best U.S. Feature: I’m Through With White Girls
- HBO Short Film Award: The Second Coming
- Allstate Beyond February "Be Reel" Contest Winner: Give Along the Way
- Heineken Red Star Award: South of Pico
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Film: The Abduction of Jesse Bookman
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Actor: Mel Jackson for The Abduction of Jesse Bookman
- HBO Short Film Award: Premature
- The Best Documentary presented by BET J: Slaying Goliath
- Allstate Beyond February "Be Reel" Contest Winner: The Lucky Suit
- Target Filmmaker Award for Inspiration to Dream in Color: Pip & Zastrow
- Heineken* Red Star Award: L.A. Proper
- HBO Short Film Award: The Roe Effect
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature: Mississippi Damned
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Documentary: Kirk Fraser, for Len Bias
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Actor: Tessa Thompson, for Mississippi Damned
- Allstate Beyond February "Be Reel" Film Award: The Broken Sole
- Film Life’s Star Project Winners Best Actress: Khalilah Joi Dubose
- Film Life’s Star Project Winners Best Actor: Bechir Sylvain
- ABFF Audience Award Winner: Blue
- HBO Short Film Competition: Stag & Doe
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Actor: Golden Brooks, for her role in The Inheritance
- Grand Jury Prize for Best Film: Legacy
- 2010 ABFF Star Project Winners: Emayatzy Corinealdi and Stephen Hill
- Rising Icon Award: Chrisette Michele
- Career Achievement Award: Lee Daniels
The ABFF has been acclaimed for its positive effect on the Black filmmaking community. The festival has through its various programs helped the careers of countless actors, writers and directors. Numerous Hollywood insiders, including director Antoine Fuqua (Director of ‘’Training Day’’) and Charlie Jordan Brookins of MTV Films have endorsed the festival, as well as rapper/actor Common who has stated that, "[I]t’s a good vehicle to get out great art that we... want the world to see."
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