Why He’s a Game Changer: Jeff Friday, founder of the American Black Film Festival, boldly compares his work to that of a Historically Black College or University. Friday writes in Ebony:
Black film festivals work year-round to find new ways to help promote our stories and storytellers who too often remain marginalized. We rally to build a strong network within the industry, to grow the power base and the opportunities. Yet, our efficacy is often challenged: “What’s the relevance of Black film festivals?”
The same question is often asked of Black colleges. And across the board, it’s a level response: Underlying their respective missions is the goal of creating a supportive community. And let’s not fool ourselves – we can use all the support we can get!
The mantra of Friday’s company, “Because Hollywoodn’t,” says it all. Friday sees the film festival as a way of uncovering marginalized story tellers. The festival, hosted in Miami, celebrated its 16th anniversary in 2012. The 5,500 attendees were more than double when the festival first launched.
This summer, the festival screened the Oscar-nominated film “Beasts of the Southern Wild.” The festival has provided an outlet for independent filmmakers as movie studios pursue a strategy of blockbusters, sequels, and super-hero movies.
“There are essentially two or three films a year, in the past three or four years – if you count them … that are either directed by or made for an African-American audience,” Friday told The Grio.
Given that the playing field has changed, Friday’s advice to Black filmmakers has also shifted. Instead of aiming solely for mainstream theatrical releases, Friday told The Grio he sees opportunities in television. New channels, such as Magic Johnson‘s Aspire, are looking for independent films. The American Black Film Festival has a show on the channel. There are also opportunities at places like HBO.
I think filmmakers have to recalibrate how they think about their film, [and ask] is it realistic that a big studio’s going to pick my film up and it’s going to be on 3,000 screens? Probably not. But can I come to ABFF and get in front of all the major networks that support us and get exposure and possibly get acquired by HBO or one of the other networks I mentioned?
The answer is yes.
So TV (and the Internet) are really the next frontier for independent film. The theatrical thing I think might just continue to be a challenge.”
And Friday wants the film festival to be there to help with those challenges.
“I think true artists have to stay on course,” he says. “Because art breaks through. Art breaks through all kind of biases; I truly believe that.”