The 22nd annual American Black Film Festival is a wrap. Aside from putting together the annual showcase of Black film and TV talent, founder Jeff Friday’s festival can now boast of jump-starting the career of the most successful Black movie director in history.
Director Ryan Coogler (you may have heard of the little movie he directed, Black Panther) launched his career at the 2011 festival by winning the HBO short film competition. This year, he returned to ABFF to give other aspiring filmmakers a sense of hope by sharing the trajectory of his success in the time since.
Other highlights were the premiere of Superfly and of the second, family-approved Whitney Houston doc, Whitney, a partial screening of the upcoming Bobby Brown BET movie with Bobby in attendance and the world premiere of The First Purge, the prequel to the successful franchise that already boasts the original movie and a sequel.
Celebs spotted around the festival included celebrity ambassador Jay Ellis, our own Sherri Shepherd and Kym Whitley, Roland Martin, Boris Kodjoe, actor/musician Tristan Wilds, Queen Sugar actors Kofi Siriboe and Dondre Whitfield, Issa Rae, model Tyson Beckford, Bobby Brown, Pat Houston and more.
Here’s a look at some of the festival highlights this year:
It’s hard to call the Whitney documentary a triumph. Directed by acclaimed Scottish filmmaker Kevin MacDonald, who also did the Marley documentary, it’s a searing portrait of Houston’s tragic downfall. It had the full cooperation of Houston’s family, many of who damn themselves as enablers, co-dependents and other less charitable descriptions as they detail how they directly contributed to her eventual demise.
Some viewers were bawling by the end, which is understandable as it’s an unflinching look at how fame and its attendant temptations can destroy both the famous and those around them. Actor Kofi Siriboe of Queen Sugar echoed the struggles that come with losing your anonymity is his panel ‘Hot In Hollywood’ which included Bresha Webb, Logan Browning and Ashley Featherstone. Siriboe said at the height of his star turn as Ralph Angel, that he became depressed and wanted desperately to return to his pre-QS life.
A 17-minute clip of BET’s upcoming The Bobby Brown Story received rave reviews. One of the scenes showed Brown insisting on working with Teddy Riley despite his label’s resistance, and another scene showed the fictional Bobby, played by Woody McClain (who also portrayed him in the New Edition movie), telling the fictional Whitney that he had gotten an ex-girlfriend pregnant right at the same time she was pregnant with Bobbi Kristina. Brown was a large presence during ABFF, as he’s also prominently featured in the Whitney doc, although mostly in footage and through the memories of others. He was interviewed for the documentary but doesn’t say much.
Ryan Coogler, the Black Panther director, has got to be the most humble person ever to direct a billion dollar film. Among the most touching things he shared in his talk with Entertainment Tonight’s Nischelle Turrner is that he became interested in filmmaking through his close-knit family. Both of his parents were film buffs and his father especially loved the Rocky movies.
Coogler said that while Sylvester Stallone rejected his first pitch for Creed (before Fruitvale Station came out) he was just happy that Stallone could sign a Rocky DVD for his dad. Coogler also said that his then girlfriend, now wife, Zinzi, believed in him enough to buy him the screenwriting program Final Draft. That has got to be, after Spielberg’s mother buying him a camera, the best investment in film history. Coogler also said his prize money from the ABFF competition helped him get the apartment that he still lives in today.
ABFF ended with a Community Day at Overtown’s historic Lyric Theatre to a capacity crowd for community members who didn’t have access to the ABFF Festival. In other words, admission was free. Actor/choreographer and former Soul Food star Darrin Henson told his inspiring story and gave attendees a new manifesto to follow. He calls it NOW (Next Opportunity Window), and basically he means when an opportunity presents itself, you better go for it.
Check out other highlights at www.abff.com.