MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — The 15th annual American Black Film Festival was hardly disrupted by the battalion of menacing storm clouds that spit nonstop precipitation over the proceedings. If anything, it made the indoor celebrations and parties that much more intense. The likes of the legendary Bill Duke, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend, Mekhi Phifer, and Naturi Naughton of NBC’s “The Playboy Club” spiced up an already popping scene at the festival and at the The Playboy Party in South Beach.
The opening evening began with a red-carpet world premiere of the Robert Townsend-directed In the Hive, featuring a constellation of urban stars such as Loretta Devine, Michael Clarke Duncan, Vivica A. Fox and Johnathan “Little J” McDaniel, the star of the film. This powerful and electric film is based on a true story of a woman who started an alternative school for wayward adolescent students in North Carolina.
Prior to the screening of In the Hive, which blew almost everyone’s wig back because of its intensity and quality of acting by the cast, ABFF founder Jeff Friday reflected on the first 15 years and how the festival was started as a result of what seemed to be just an innocent conversation over lunch in Manhattan. An idea quickly blossomed into the nation’s most respected urban film festival with an unquestioned track record of being an incubator for black Hollywood stars.
Friday also brought in the largest sponsors and the hilariously colorful Miami Beach mayor Matti Herrera Bower to bestow good wishes on the 5,000 or so film makers who made the trek from around the nation. But the speaker who seemed to make the greatest impact was Terrell Suggs, a current NFL star who has put colossal sums of money behind the ABFF and his own film production company, Team Sizzle Films. In just 18 months, Suggs has produced four films, including When Beautiful People Do Ugly Things, a film that he produced and co-wrote and was good enough to be screened at the world-famous Cannes Film Festival in the South of France.