ABFF ’12 | Showcasing Male Struggles

25 06 2012

By Tonya Pendleton | BlackAmericaWeb

Stars and film and TV folks descended on Miami Florida last week along with Miami Heat championship revelers for the 16th Annual American Black Film Festival in South Beach. 

Held at the Ritz-Carlton, the four-day festival brought out luminaries like festival ambassador Tracee Ellis Ross, producer Will Packer, his partner Rob Hardy, director Tim Story, Mara and Salim Akil, “Soul Food” alumni Boris Kodjoe, Malinda Williams and Vanessa Williams, actress Vanessa Bell Calloway, casting director Twinkie Byrd, producer/writer Elizabeth Hunter, actress Robinne Lee and more. Although the ABFF doesn’t focus on distribution deals like Sundance does, the movies were still the highlight of the festival.  This year, a common theme was the struggles of manhood. Here’s a list of the best of the festival along with the winners.

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LUV
Writer/director Sheldon Candis takes a page from his own experience in this story about an ex-con uncle hoping to change his life. Instead, he changes his impressionable nephew’s life by taking him on an impromptu run that turns deadly. Common stars as Uncle Vincent a former criminal who worked for a shady figure named Fish, played convincingly by Dennis Haysbert.  Despite a stellar cast and some strong writing, “Luv” falls prey to some credibility problems, particularly in its rather less than feasible ending. A strong performance by Common and Michael Rainey, Jr. as well as it’s take on black masculinity ultimately make “Luv” a compelling, if flawed, film.

* * *


THE LAST FALL
Writer/director Matthew Cherry falls on his own experiences as a former NFL player in this movie about an NFL journeyman who faces reality when he’s released from what looks to be his last team. Upon his return, he struggles with family, career and love drama. The screenplay took top honors at ABFF, and Lance Gross, Nicole Behaire and Vanessa Bell Calloway turn in solid performances. Gross bears the lion’s share of scenes in this film and he handles his first lead role with a sensitive performance.

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THE UNDERSHEPHERD
Isaiah Washington and Malinda Williams both give searing performances in this portrait of the ballooning ego of a pastor in waiting who schemes to become the lead pastor. Once he does, he predictably loses his mind, in a clear indictment of the scandals that have rocked the Black church in recent years. Parr says that’s what inspired the script, which has a great premise but is overwrought at times and with competing subplots. However, Parr pulls it off for the most part and Washington sinks his teeth into the material. Williams however won the acting award, in a tie with Sheldon Shepherd, the actor from “Better Mus’ Come, ” a film about political unrest in Jamaica in the 70’s.

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THE COALITION
While football player and movie maker don’t generally co-exist, Baltimore Raven Terrell Suggs does a decent job in pulling off this Hail Mary with “The Coalition.” While it’s not a great film, it’s a highly entertaining one. A group of girlfriends after bad treatment from a group of guy friends set out to enact revenge and it’s pretty fun to watch. The cast is mostly newcomers, though some may recognize the actors from some small roles they’ve played. Denyce Lawton of “Tyler Perry’s House of Payne” and Adrienne Bailon are the more recognizable faces but newcomer Eddie Goines (Beyonce’s If I Were a Boy” video) and Ingrid Clay make a good case for further work.

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BEASTS OF THE SOUTHERN WILD
This film has gotten its fair share of accolades on the film festival circuit winning the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance. Although it does not have a Black director, the performances by untrained newcomers Dwight Henry and Quvenzhane Wallis are worth of your viewing time. Yes, it’s yet another film that deals with black pathology and poverty but its remarkable portrayal of the strength of a father/daughter relationship complicated by environmental, social and physical squalor as well as unique point of view of a Black female child, make it required viewing. Writer/director Ben Zeitlin’s idiosyncratic style of storytelling will likely endear him some portion of Hollywood bored by color-by-numbers action films but he’s just accessible enough for audiences to enjoy.

ABFF Winners

Webisode Challenge:
Creator Donnie Leapheart, “Osiris: The Series”

Grand Jury Prize Best Narrative Feature:
“The Undershepherd,” USA/106 min – Produced and directed by Russ Parr

Grand Jury Prize Best Performance by an Actor (Male or Female) ***TIE**
Sheldon Shepherd “Better Mus’ Come”
Malinda Williams “The Undershepherd”

Grand Jury Prize Best Director
Russ Parr “The Undershepherd”

Grand Jury Prize Best Screenplay
Matthew Cherry “The Last Fall”

Grand Jury Prize Best Documentary
“Soul Food Junkies” – Produced by Lisa Durden/Directed by Byron Hurt

Short Film
“Cherry Waves” – Carey C. Williams

Screenplay Competition
Nzinga Kadalie Kemp


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