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ABFF Announces 2011 Winners


American Black Film Festival Announces 2011 Winners
by Wilson Morales

July 10th, 2011

Film Life’s 15th annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) announced the winners of their independent film awards at the Fillmore/ Jackie Gleason Theater on July 9, 2011. The ‘ABFF Honors‘ event was hosted by actors Regina King and Anthony Anderson.

Anderson and King thanked Jeff Friday and the festival for giving them a venue where they could see a host of blacks films, whether they had distribution or not. Anderson also thanked Friday for giving him his first award, the festival’s Rising Star Award in 2000, and for being named ambassador for the 2007 American Black Film Festival.

With HBO as the festival’s founding and title sponsor, the ABFF is the premier international marketplace for films that showcase the best new work by and about people of African descent.

The Grand Jury Prize for Best Film was handed to The Tested,’ directed by Russell Costanzo. The award was presented by actress Jaszmine Lewis and Alisa Joseph. VP, Marketing and Communications at Wachovia, A Wells Fargo Company, the winner receives film stock valued at $5000.

Starring Aunjanue Ellis, Frank Vincent, Armando Riesco, Nathan Corbett, Annie Parisse and Michael Morris, the film, which is based on the award winning short of the same name, is a life shattering tragedy that sends three people on vastly different paths to a similar goal of redemption and understanding.

Accepting the award for producer Melissa Miller were Miss Black USA 2010 Nigerian beauty/actress Osas Ighodaro and Yolanda Rodgers-Howsie, Co-Chair, Arts and Letters Commission of Delta Sigma Theta.

The Grand Jury Prize for Best Performance by an Actor was a tie with Persia White for her performance in ‘Dysfunctional Friends,‘ and to Lonyo Engele for his performance in ‘David is Dying.’  The award was presented by actress Terri J. Vaughn and Mark Pitts, VP and General Manager of Coffee and Tea for Coco-Cola. Prize includes $5000 sponsored by Gold Peak Tea.

Directed by Corey Grant, White co-stars with Keith Robinson, Meagan Good, Stacey Dash, Tatyana Ali, Essence Atkins, Vanessa Simmons, Erica Hubbard, Hosea Sanchez, Wesley Jonathan, Jason Weaver, Datari Turner, Reagan Gomez, Stacy Keibler, Rodney Jerkins, Dennis White, Antwon Tanner, Meagan Markle, Christian Keys, Laila Odom, and NFL Superstar Terrell “T.O.” Owens, who’s making his big screen debut.

A comedy/ drama that’s billed as a modern day version of ‘The Big Chill,’ ‘Dysfunctional Friends‘ is about 10 friends who went to college together but have not spoken to each other in seven years. The reunite when their larger then life friend Dennis (Keith Robinson) unexpectedly dies from a freak skydiving accident.

The Grand Jury Award for Best Screenplay, sponsored by Team Sizzle Worldwide, was given to Jeta Amata for his film, Black Gold.’ The award was presented by Team Sizzle owner and NFL player Terrell Suggs and actress Elise Neal.

Starring Mbong Amata, Vivica A. Fox, Hakeem Kae-Kazim, and Billy Zane, ‘Black Gold‘ is about one local Niger Delta community, who led by an orphan struggle against its own government and a multi-national oil corporation that has plundered their land and destroyed the environment. It’s a powerful story of greed, murder and corruption pitted against human and environmental justice.

The Grand Jury Prize for Best Director was given to Stephen Lloyd Jackson for his film ‘David is Dying.’ The award was presented by Dave Fitzwater, Regional Sales & Marketing Manager Cadillac SE Region at General Motors, and actor Laz Alonso.

The film centers on a young, successful hedge fund manager who has just been told that he is HIV positive. Through an intense therapy session, David takes us on a dark, pernicious journey that displays the ugly side of love.

The HBO Short Film Award was given to ‘FIG,’ which was directed by Ryan Coogler. The $20,000 grand prize award was presented by Olivia Smashum and Lucinda Martinez-Decir of HBO.

The short centers on Candace, a young, single mother in South Los Angeles. One night, when she is without food or money, she makes a desperate choice–and risks losing the most important thing in her life, as the bond with her daughter is put to the ultimate test.

In the first ever GMC Faith and Family Screenplay Competition, the winner was David Martyn Conley of St. Louis for his feature film screenplay entitled, ‘Raising Izzie.’ The $5000 Grand Prize award was presented by singer Eric Benet and DeEtta West.

Benet’s film, ‘Trinity Goodheart,’ had an exclusive sneak-preview screening at the festival. The film will air on GMC in August.

This year’s HBO Star Project two grand-prize winners are Tiffany D. Hobbs of Dallas and Sheaun McKinney from Los Angeles. The award was presented by Kendra Carter, Director of Talent Diversity Initiatives, NBC Universal Casting, actor Mekhi Phifer, and Debra Langford, Vice President, Inclusion and Business Diversity, NBC Universal.

Star Project is an international acting competition for emerging multicultural artists. The winners are afforded the opportunity to audition for a leading casting director and one person will be selected to participate in a walk on role on the award-winning NBC daytime drama ‘Days of Our Lives.’

Hobbs began acting, dancing and singing at the age of 3. In 2009, she was accepted to the attend Southern Methodist University’s (SMU) prestigious three-year Master of Fine Arts graduate acting program on full scholarship. To date, Hobbs has been cast in the lead role in numerous SMU campus production, including Carise in “La Dispute,” Mrs. Gibbs in “Our Town,” and Gloria in “You Never Can Tell.” She is currently in Santa Rosa, Calif., in rehearsals for the Summer Repertory Theater’s productions of “Hairspray,” “Company” and “The Piano Lesson.” Hobbs will be entering her final year in graduate school at SMU in the fall.

McKinney has appeared in professional commercial, TV and feature-film projects. His film and television credits include “Know Thy Enemy” for Lionsgate, “Bahama Hustle” for Maverick Entertainment and “Burn Notice” for USA Network. He has also expanded his repertoire in co-writing and producing while starring in his own Web-based show “Make It Happen,” for which he has received many accolades and is looking to shop around to networks later this year. McKinney attended Miami-Dade College and received an Associate in Arts degree in theater education.

The second annual national ‘Rising Icons’ award was given to the talented actress Naturi Naughton. Sponsored by Grey Goose vodka, the award was presented to her by actress Mari Marrow and Grey Goose Brand Manager Chauncey Hamlet.

Naughton, who starred in ‘Notorious‘ and the remake of ‘Fame,’ will appear in the upcoming NBC drama series, ‘The Playboy Club.’

‘Rising Icons’ is a TV series on BET network honoring the spirit of musical excellence by recognizing the world’s most influential newfound artists.

The award for best documentary was given to ‘Brown Babies,’ directed by Regina Griffin. The award was presented by actor Dennis Smith and a CNN spokesperson.

‘Brown Babies: The Mischlingskinder Story‘ is a powerful new documentary which tells the story of six so-called “brown babies” born in postwar occupation Germany.

The festival brought out hundreds of filmgoers and credit goes to Jeff Friday, CEO of Film Life and founder of the American Black Film Festival and to the staff that helped make the event a success. He thanked his Founding Sponsors HBO, Premiere Sponsors Grey Goose and Team Sizzle Worldwide, and his wife Nicole Friday.

Friday then asked his loyal supporters throughout the 15 years, filmmakers Robert Townsend and Bill Duke, HBO’s Olivia Smashum, and Byron E. Lewis Sr, chairman and CEO of UniWorld to join him on stage and surprised them by inducting them in the first ever ABFF Hall of Fame.

Townsend’s film ‘In The Hive’ opened the festival and he was also on hand to teach a class on pitching ideas to the right executives and studios, while Duke held a 3-day course on the business of acting and how to hone and craft your career. Byron E. Lewis Sr is also a cofounder of ABFF, which was original known as the Acapulco Black Film Festival.

In celebration of his success, and in recognition of his great talent, producer, director, and actor Keenen Ivory Wayans was honored with the Entertainment Icon Award at the festival’s culminating event, ABFF Honors.

Keenen’s credits includes writing and producing films from Eddie Murphy’s RAW, The Five Heartbeats, Scary Movie, and White Chicks. Before they were stars, he also gave comedians like Jim Carey, Jamie Foxx, and David Alan Grier a place to showcase their talent with his skit comedy show In Living Color.

Past honorees have included Spike Lee, Melvin Van Peebles, and Lee Daniels.

Before accepting the award, the audience heard plenty of stories and saw clips of his Keenen’s work on from his longtime friend Robert Townsend and his brothers, Damon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, and nephew Damien Wayans. As a surprise, Keenen’s junior high school teacher came on stage and spoke how gifted Keenen was that far back and she knew he would take those talents to greater heights.

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