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American Black Film Festival

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American Black Film Festival

The American Black Film Festival (originally called the Acalpulco Black Film Festival) is an independent film festival that focuses primarily on works by Black members of the film industry. It has been called “the nation’s most prominent film festival.”[1] The festival is held annually and features full-length narratives, short films, mobile entertainment (defined by the official website[2] 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.


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.”[3]

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.[4] 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.[5] 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.[6] 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.”[7]

In 1998, HBO established the HBO Short Film Award to be presented at the ABFF to honor works in the genre of short film.[8] 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.[9] 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.

Early hosts and presenters included Robert Townsend (1997), Denzel Washington (1998), Isaac Hayes (1999 and 2000), and Mari Morrow and Kim Whitley who co-hosted the event in 2001.

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.[3]

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.[3]

Recent notable films screened at the ABFF between include crime film Takers and Stomp the Yard 2 , sequel to the 2007 dance-based drama.

The 2011 festival ran from July 6 through July 9.[10]



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.[11] Hosts of this ceremony have included: Robert Townsend and Shaun Robinson (co-hosts),[12] Anthony Anderson,[13] and Niecy Nash.[14]

Advisory Board

Below is a list of the ABFF’s current advisory board, and the members’ professional affiliations, as found on the official website.[15]

Programming Initiatives

The festival has five objectives, or “Programming Initiatives” [16] 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.






Awards and Recipients 2002-2010[20][21]

Below is a list of American Black Film Festival award winners and honorees.





  • 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







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.”[22]


  1. ^ "Hollywood's Biggest African American Stars Snub the 2010 ABFF".
  2. ^ "American Black Film Festival". Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  3. ^ a b c Morales, Wilson (2010-04-05). "ABFF Founder Jeff Friday Speaks About Upcoming Festival". BV on Movies. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  4. ^ Crawford-Tichawonna, Nicole (2006). "Because 'Hollywouldn't': The American Black Film Festival Celebrates 10-Year Anniversary" The Crisis 113 (4): 40-41.
  5. ^ Fink, Rob. "Actors and Actresses." Encyclopedia of African American History. Vol. 1. 2009.
  6. ^ Duckett, Josie W. (1998). "The Acapulco Black Film Festival" PAJ: A Journal of Performance and Art 20 (1): 44-47.
  7. ^ a b Columnist. (1997). "Acapulco Film Festival". Jet 92 (11): 39
  8. ^ "HBO Short Film Award Competition Opens Film Life's 8th Annual American Black Film Festival in South Beach, July 14-18; - Five aspiring filmmakers to vie for $20,000 grand prize to be awarded by HBO at festival's closing ceremonies -. - Free Online Library". 2004-06-29. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  9. ^ a b Columnist. (1999). "Advertising Pioneer Byron Lewis Lauded At Acapulco Black Film Festival; Pam Grier And Samuel L. Jackson Named Career Achievers". Jet 96 (8): 24
  10. ^ "ABFF 2011 Schedule". Archived from the original on 2011-07-07. Retrieved 2012-11-09. 
  11. ^
  12. ^ "American Black Film Festival : Press release". July 8, 2002. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  13. ^ "American Black Film Festival : Press release". July 19, 2005. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  14. ^ "American Black Film Festival : Press release". August 11, 2008. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  15. ^ "American Black Film Festival :About - Advisory board". 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  16. ^ "American Black Film Festival : Programming Initiatives". 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  17. ^ Columnist. (1998). "Debbie Allen, Morgan Freeman Honored At 2nd Annual Acapulco Black Film Festival". Jet 94 (11): 63-64
  18. ^ Columnist. (2000). "Martin Van Peebles Saluted At Acapulco Black Film Festival". Jet 98 (7): 24
  19. ^ Columnist. (2001). "Acapulco Film Festival Announces Award-Winning Films". Jet 100 (6): 46
  20. ^ "American Black Film Festival : History of Award Winners". 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  21. ^ "American Black Film Festival : Press release". June 28, 2010. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
  22. ^ "American Black Film Festival : About - Testimonials". 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2012-11-10. 
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