Friday at the Movies

How this champion of black films keeps diversity on the screen

How has the festival evolved over the years?
When people showed up in [1997], we realized that African Americans had an amazing interest in film and that we could be the conduit to people who had very little access to Hollywood and create a platform for future filmmakers. Over the years, hundreds of folks have come out and met people that they’re working with now, parlaying those relationships into fruitful careers in TV and film.

So education represents a vital component?
We’re clear why we’re valuable: We nurture filmmakers. This year, Robert Townsend conducted a class on producing and pitching; Bill Duke did an amazing acting class; and in the past, Spike Lee, Lee Daniels, and John Singleton have all taught. Now we’re in the process of finding a sponsorship source so we can offer a master class series in cities around the country.

What are some films that have earned their wings at ABFF?
This festival is about giving filmmakers an opportunity to tell their stories, and giving audiences a chance to share in that experience. The film on the screen may not ever get distribution, so when people ask me about my breakout movies, I say, ‘Nope, I’ll tell you my breakout people.’ Obviously the Rainforest folks: Will Packer and Rob Hardy [producers of Stomp the Yard, Obsessed, and Takers]. There’s Roger Bobb, who’s the only person to win best film at ABFF twice. Bobb met Tyler Perry through a connection made at our fest about seven years ago, and got hired when Tyler Perry set up his studio, so he’s been a producer on all his movies and TV shows. He’s now leaving Tyler Perry Studios to start Bobbcat Films in Atlanta. Sylvain White [the director of Stomp the Yard and The Losers] also came out of this festival. He’s now working in TV and film as is Saladin Patterson [who served as the producer of The Bernie Mac Show, Frasier, and The Fighting Temptations].

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