Film Life’s 18th Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) concluded on Sunday, June 22 after five days of film screenings, industry panels, celebrity interviews, master classes, talent showcases, symposiums, and soirees presented by its corporate sponsors. This year the festival, founded by Jeff Friday, had actors Morris Chestnut and Tonya Lewis Lee (wife of Spike Lee) as its ABFF Celebrity Ambassadors.
AlwaysAList.com traveled with premier sponsor Cadillac to the Big Apple for the festival, which attracts more than 5,000 participants each year. Cadillac presented several functions during ABFF including the opening night gilm, “Think Like A Man Too,” their signature Cadillac Conversations luncheons, a career retrospective Q&A with Spike Lee hosted by Roland S. Martin, and Lee’s closing night film, “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.” Cadillac also showcased their latest luxury models and introduced its latest vehicle, the Cadillac ELR.
ABFF’s move to New York City received mixed reviews when it was announced last fall. Let’s be honest, New York City needs another film festival as much as Joan Rivers needs more plastic surgery. But Friday was adamant that bringing ABFF to the concrete jungle was about being in the center of “the industry,” which would offer the up-and-coming filmmakers and actors access to the real power-players in the game.
“The ABFF is committed to broadening the mainstream embrace of Black culture, to have as great an impact through cinema as we have had through music, fashion and sports,” said Friday, during a Cadillac kickoff luncheon at the Gansevoort Hotel in the Meatpacking district of Manhattan.
Actor Eriq LaSalle also attended the Cadillac luncheon and spoke about why it was so important for ABFF to launch 18 years ago.
“We as people of color were starving to see our lips touch lips that look like ours. We were starving to see the black exploration into sexuality on screen. It’s all of our responsibility to perpetuate and enhance Jeff’s vision to make sure that we have a voice. We all need to step up,” expressed LaSalle.
Throughout the five-day festival, stars like Kevin Hart, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Charles Dutton, Star Jones, Vanessa Williams, rapper T.I., Will Packer, Jasmine Guy, Bill Duke, Aunjanue Ellis, Keith Robinson, Omari Hardwick, Niecy Nash, Ice-T and Coco, Chadwick Boseman, Tika Sumpter, Terrence Jenkins, Hassan Johnson, Adrienne Bailon, Leon, Nelsan Ellis, Phyllicia and Condola Rashad, Gayle King, Robert Townsend, Romany Malco, Brad James, Tatayna Ali, Chris Spencer, director Tate Taylor, Ashanti, rapper Fabolous, DJ D-Nice, Bevy Smith, Yandy Smith (“Love & Hip-Hop NY”), director Malcolm Lee, Geneva S. Thomas (“Blood, Sweat & Heels”), A.J. Calloway, Savion Glover, Alicia Quarles, Joseph Sikora, boxer Roy Jones, Jr. Al Thompson, Lanre Idewu, Jackie Long, Vladimir Versailles, Taimak, Lola Ogunnaike, Flo Anthony and “Real Housewives of Atlanta” stars Cynthia Bailey, Peter Thomas and Kenya Moore were among those spotted by AlwaysAList.com.
Cadillac’s involvement in ABFF is reflective of Cadillac’s long history in the African American community. According to Sabin Blake, Marketing Manager for Cadillac’s ELR, the organization works to connect with events that have “style, quality craftsmanship and reliability.” Those are attributes that he and Jocelyn K. Allen, Director of General Motors Global Marketing Operations, explained are key when developing partnerships. “We are very selective about who we partner with at Cadillac,” Allen emphasized.
Apparently, ABFF has signed on to return to New York City for two more years—something most attendees did not seem happy about. With its registration being at a Residence Inn in Midtown New York; panels and exhibits at the Metropolitan Pavilion on 18th Street; film screenings at the School of Visual Arts (SVA) Theater on 23rd Street; parties held uptown and hotels all over the place, there was no gathering place that made the festival feel like a festival. If ABFF is unable to find a community in Manhattan where it can centralize the festival, having events, hotels and parties in walking distance like Miami offered, their Big Apple move could really work against them.
PHOTOS: Check out these images from ABFF courtesy of Cadillac and shot by Kenny Rodriguez.