Thursday, July 28, 2011

Cadillac Helps Fuel the Next-Generation of Black Filmmakers


Like a hurricane, the American Black Film Festival, also known as the ABFF, and a fleet of Cadillacs took over Miami’s South Beach earlier this month. Over a four-day period approximately 5,000 industry movers and shakers, independent filmmakers, script writers, aspiring actors, self-appointed film critics, fans of independent black films and those who just wanted to be in the mix were in Miami for what has become one of the world’s premiere culture events.

Yes, even the NFL’s T. O. surfaced at the festival, making a respectable acting debut in the must-see comedy-drama, Dysfunctional Friends, which is expected to be a hit once it’s released on the big screen.

And unlike the previous film festivals, this one was truly a special occasion for the ABFF, since it was celebrating its 15th year. As Jeff Friday, the founder of the ABFF, and his model-like, super-smart wife Nicole revealed at a private luncheon attended by a few folks from the media, they never envisioned that this festival would grow this large or have such an impact.

During the course of the conversation, Friday also recalled how it was just a few years ago when the festival was only attracting around 200 or so attendees where he literally knew everyone in attendance on a first-name basis. Well, of course this isn’t the case today.

Thank God Friday and a close niche of associates decided to step-up their game when it finally dawned on them that the mainstream film festivals like Sundance weren’t embracing black films or those that were directed by black filmmakers. As opposed to boycotting the event and/or meeting with the leadership team of the mainstream festival to request that they make provisions, Friday decided to turn his dream into reality, launching what we now know as this much needed outlet to help discover the next-generation of black filmmakers.

So because of Friday and his determination to turn his larger than life dream into reality, we now have a viable outlet for black storytellers, screenwriters and the like who only hope that they too will someday have the longevity of such trailblazers as Melvin Van Peebles, Spike Lee, Tyler Perry, Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans.

In fact, Wayans was being honored at this year’s festival for being one of the few people in the film and TV industry providing a platform for cultivating talents such as Jim Carey, Jenifer Lopez, David Alan Grier and Tommy Davidson through his hit comedy TV show - In Living Color. And we can’t forget that Keenan Wayans has also been instrumental in personally nurturing the careers of his siblings and the next-generation of Wayans too.

In addition to the ABFF sticking to its usual format of debuting twenty independent films, which is the ultimate dream of any independent filmmaker to have his work to make the cut out of over 400 films that were submitted to the film festival for consideration, Friday along with his wife surprised the audience by kicking off the event’s first ever ABFF Hall of Fame Class. The inductees of the inaugural class, who were all in attendance, included such notables as Robert Townsend, Bill Duke, former HBO executive Olivia Smashum and Chairman and CEO of the Uniworld Group Inc., Byron E. Lewis Sr., who provided the seed money to launch the ABFF.

Cadillac also lent a hand at this year’s Award Show by having Dave Fitzwater, one of the automaker’s regional sales and marketing managers, present a $5,000 check to Stephen Lloyd Jackson. Jackson won in the Best Directed Independent Film category at this year’s ABFF for David Is Dying, which tells the story of a young, successful hedge fund manager who has just been told he is HIV positive.

So as one can tell, with out the help of such sponsors as Cadillac, stories like Fitzwater and others from our community would never get told nor would the story have an opportunity to reach a wider audience like a HBO or in some cases make it to the big screen.

Moreover, the folks from Cadillac teamed-up with the ABFF to bring HBCU graduate and actor Laz Alonso to this year’s festival. Alonso, who left Wall Street as an investment banker to launch his acting career, recently appeared in the blockbuster film - Jumping the Broom. Attendees of this year’s ABFF got a chance to find out first-hand from the down-to-earth actor in a one-on-one conversation the grind that’s needed to make it in Hollywood. As a side note, it was ironic that the crowd was mostly made-up of women. Go figure?

Furthermore, it’s really not surprising that Cadillac decided to join Jeff Friday by supporting the ABFF in its history. The luxury automaker has a history of helping to fuel dreams. Many from the community believed that the pinnacle of buying a car was getting a Cadillac. And it doesn’t hurt that Ed Welburn, a HBCU graduate like Alonso, oversees all of GM’s designs, the first black person in the auto industry to hold such a position.

By owning a Cadillac, it has always made a statement in our community showing that we truly had arrived. Cadillac has also created a generation of entrepreneurs (along with several millionaires too) -- providing an outlet for black-owned Cadillac dealerships to exist.

Moreover, since Cadillac is in the business of making dreams come true, the luxury automaker agreed to fulfill Alonzo’s dream too, loaning him the ultimate whip, a high-powered 556-horsepower, limited-edition Cadillac CTS-V Coupe, which were the feature vehicles at this year’s ABFF, to cruise around in L. A. for a week. Yes, even a big-time movie star wouldn’t pass-up on this offer.

Besides Alonzo’s revealing conversation, Paul Patton also made an appearance at this year’s festival to provide a one-on-one intimate conversation too. Also courses known as Master Classes were taught by Bill Duke, Robert Townsend and Michael Elliott, the award-winning writer of the movie Brown Sugar.

So as you can see, Friday’s understated film fest not only showcase independent films, which may or may not have a black theme, but it also serves as a training ground for those looking to break into the industry.

Yes, this low-key, star-studded vacation retreat with the vivacious night life surrounded by water and inspiring folks is the place to be next year, if you’re into films (or attempting to make connections in the industry). And we’re almost sure that Cadillac will be in the house again, helping to fuel and fund the dreams of future storytellers, scriptwriters and the like just as they did this year.

To learn more about the ABFF, click here.


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