For the past few years, many critics have skewered the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) as a festival of films where the budding filmmaker is overlooked. Indeed, Black Hollywood has been known for staying in out of reach hotels and lounging their days on the beach when it comes to ABFF. However, for the 15th Annual ABFF, festival founder, Jeff Friday, decided to take a new approach to his nurtured project.
“This year, we want to focus on the filmmaker. So the theme is to have everyone meet 10 people and keep in touch with those 10 people to build relationships,” said Friday at the opening night ceremony of the festival, held last weekend in various locations in South Beach.
Black Hollywood elite were in full effect, among those in attendance were actors and producers like Lamman Rucker (Tyler Perry’s Meet the Browns), Laz Alonso (Jumping the Broom), Sean Blakemore (Motives), Eric Benet (Trinity Goodheart), Robert Townsend, Bill Duke, Terrell Suggs, and John Singleton (Baby Boy).
One of the festival’s major sponsors, HBO, picked Singleton to head its Talk Series: “The Enduring Significance of Boyz N The Hood.” The idea being, 20 years after the film’s release, it still has a major impact on black cinema today. In keeping with the theme set forth by Friday, Singleton showed more concern for encouraging the filmmakers in the audience, who are looking to have the same successful career as the filmmaker.
In 1991, Singleton directed his first feature, Boyz N The Hood, a film about the realities of living in South Central, Los Angeles. It starred a virtually unknown cast, Laurence Fishburne, Cuba Gooding Jr., Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Regina King, and Angela Bassett. Twenty years later, Sony Pictures Entertainment has announced that it will be releasing the film on Blue Ray on July 19.
“What’s important about festivals like ABFF is making alliances with people who are always dreaming,” Singleton said to a packed salon room in the Ritz-Carlton South Beach Hotel.
Singleton began his career as a writing major at the University of Southern California. He worked a stint on the children’s television show, Pee Wee’s Playhouse. While there, he met Fishburne, who played Cowboy Curtis on the show. At the time, Fishburne had achieved critical acclaim for his role in Spike Lee’s School Daze.
“I said to Laurence, ‘I’m going to write you something so you don’t have to wear that Jeri curl wave’,” said the filmmaker, who was 19 years old at the time. “Three years later, I had the script for Boyz N The Hood.”
According to Singleton, the studio execs at Columbia Pictures were so impressed with his Boyz script, because it “read like a movie,” that they figured he would be perfect to direct the film.
“The cheapest way to make a movie is to write it,” said the director of Boyz and the Tyrese Gibson follow-up, Baby Boy. “My advice: learn how to write. No one will get your vision better than you. It’s the first and foremost blueprint to a movie.”
Singleton was adamant that scripts submitted to studios should be interesting with no grammatical errors. Singleton’s mentor, August Wilson, told him the story should “jump off the page.”
Singleton admonished the crowd of budding filmmakers, directors, producers, screenwriters, and lovers of film that they must be prepared for their opportunities when they come. Preparedness will help to ensure that their project will not die. Also, to be open to change for the good of the film because there’s no way to have full control over a film project once a studio has a controlling interest in it.
In regards to screenwriting, the filmmaker said, “I’ve got passion for what I do…I want people to read it and not put it down.”
The outspoken director said that keeping the audience guessing is important, but challenging.
“The hardest thing to do is to shock black people. I tried to shock black people with Baby Boy. It didn’t work,” said the filmmaker. “Ultimately, I have to make films that feel indelible to who I am.”
Kimberly Grant may be reached at KAliciaG@aol.com