The 15th Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) Concludes a Stellar Landmark Year with its Star-studded Culminating Event Recognizing Aspiring Talent and Filmmakers While Paying Tribute to Icons



NEW YORK, July 11, 2011 – The 15th Annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF), which took place in South Beach Miami July 6-9, was an amazing four-day experience for nearly 5,000 festivalgoers and film industry professionals. In keeping with tradition was the closing night ceremony, ABFF Honors. Hosted by actors Anthony Anderson and Regina King on Saturday, July 9, at The Fillmore Miami Beach-Jackie Gleason Theater, the evening was a grand production as Emmy Award-winning producer/director Keenen Ivory Wayans was presented with the Entertainment Icon Award in recognition of his success in the film and television industry for nearly 25 years. On hand for the tribute were his brothers Damon Wayans, Shawn Wayans, nephew Damien Dante Wayans and longtime friend Robert Townsend. Adding to the acknowledgment was a special surprise by Keenen’s junior high school teacher, Ms. Dorothy Jackson, who recognized his potential and encouraged his creative development at a very young age.

“Keenen Ivory Wayans is a trailblazer in the truest sense of the word,” states ABFF Founder Jeff Friday. “In fact, very few people in the industry have provided such a dynamic platform in cultivating such notable talent and revolutionizing comedy and comedic television. Beyond that, Wayans has proven to be an amazing mentor to his family by nurturing the careers of his siblings in the industry, and we are proud to bestow upon him the festival’s highest distinction, especially on our anniversary year.”

Humbled by the recognition, but imbued with his classic comedic flair, Wayans emotionally thanked and acknowledged those who have influenced and contributed to his success, including Robert Townsend; Chris Albrecht; the late, great Richard Pryor for being his beacon; the late Johnny Carson, on whose show it had been Keenen’s dream to appear; brothers Damon, Marlon and Shawn; and others for making the family business a reality. In his acceptance speech Wayans stated, “I thank you all for this honor and it is a great honor.” He further encouraged rising stars to be strong, “…and to all the future generations…be a hurricane.”

Another highlight and emotional element of the show was when founder Jeff Friday took the stage and saluted his loyal supporters — filmmakers Robert Townsend and Bill Duke, former HBO executive Olivia Smashum and Chairman and CEO of UniWorld Group, Inc., Byron E. Lewis Sr. – and inducted them as the very first ABFF Hall of Fame recipients.

The success of this landmark year is due in part to the unyielding support of the festival’s fantastic sponsor family led by Founding and Premier Sponsor HBO®. Friday continued, “I can’t say that I have ever seen a non-televised event with as many leading brands as corporate partners as this year’s ABFF. It is through their ongoing support that we are now considered one of the leading film festivals in the world.”

The complete list of ABFF Honors Awards is as follows:

  • HBO® Short Film CompetitionFIG, written by Alex George Pickering and directed by Ryan Coogler. Award presented by Lucinda Martinez, VP/Domestic Network Distribution & Multicultural Marketing for HBO, and former HBO executive Olivia Smashum. Grand Prize of $20,000.
  • Best Documentary, presented by CNNBROWN BABIES, directed by Regina Griffin. Award presented by Janet Rolle, EVP and Chief Marketing Officer of CNN Worldwide, and actor Dennis White. Grand Prize of $5,000.
  • Grey Goose “Rising Icon” Award – Actress Naturi Naughton. Award presented by Chauncey Hamlett, Grey Goose Brand Manager, and actress Mari Marrow.
  • The Star Project Winners, presented by NBCUniversal – Sheaun McKinney of Los Angeles and Tiffany D. Hobbs of Dallas. Award presented by Kendra Carter, Director of Talent Diversity Initiatives, NBCUniversal Casting; Debra Langford, VP of Inclusion and Business Diversity, NBCUniversal; and actor Mekhi Phifer. Grand Prize winner to receive walk-on role on NBC’s daytime drama “Days of Our Lives.”
  • The gmc Television Network Screenplay Competition — David Martyn Conley for RAISING IZZIE. Award presented by singer Eric Benet and actress DeEtta West. Grand Prize of $5,000.

Grand Jury Winners:

  • Best Screenplay presented by Team Sizzle Worldwide – BLACK GOLD, directed by Jeta Amata. Award presented by Team Sizzle Worldwide CEO Terrell Suggs of the Baltimore Ravens and actress Elise Neal. Grand Prize of $5,000.
  • Best Actor, presented by Gold Peak Tea (tie) – Lonyo Engele for his role as David Brown in DAVID IS DYING and Persia White for her role as Trenyce in DYSFUNCTIONAL FRIENDS. Award presented by Mark Pitts, VP and General Manager of Coffee and Tea for Coca-Cola, and actress Terri J. Vaughn. Grand Prize of $5,000.
  • Best Director, presented by Cadillac – Stephen Lloyd Jackson for DAVID IS DYING. Award presented by Dave Fitzwater, Regional Sales & Marketing Manager SE Region at General Motors, and actor Laz Alonso. Grand Prize of $5,000.
  • Best Film, presented by Wells Fargo THE TESTED, directed by Russell Constanzo. Award presented by Alisa Joseph, VP of Marketing & Communications, and actress Jaszmine Lewis. Grand Prize of $5,000.
  • Grand Jury winners received special presentation by American Airlines. Faye Wright, Regional Managing Director/Flight Service SE Region and Latin America, presented each winner with two round-trip airline tickets.

The festival opened with the premiere of Robert Townsend’s In the Hive (Townsend Entertainment) and a festive after-party at Club Play sponsored by NBC’s upcoming series The Playboy Club. Throughout the week, attendees experienced a diverse range of film screenings and master classes led by acclaimed filmmakers Townsend, Bill Duke and screenwriter Michael Elliot. Additionally, ABFF also welcomed Hollywood actress Paula Patton (Jumping the Broom, Just Wright, Precious and Idlewild) as this year’s special guest for “A Conversation with Paula Patton,” on July 8, sponsored by American Airlines and moderated by Kevin Frazier, from CBS’ The Insider. Patton was candid about her rising career, recent life changes as well as her perspective on the entertainment industry. Other symposiums were sponsored by leading media companies including Codeblack Entertainment, Grab Networks, The Nielsen Company, Black Enterprise, UBCUniversal, HBO, CBS and The gmc Television Network.

In between classes and screenings, festivalgoers visited the Gold Peak Tea Bars, Cadillac Showrooms, Grey Goose Cocktail Hour “Summer Soirees,” and Sponsor Hospitality & Diversity Suites for serious industry networking. Towards the end of the festival, sponsored screenings of Kevin Hart’s Laugh at My Pain (courtesy of Codeblack Entertainment), Do Women Know What They Want? (courtesy of Michael Baisden) and Trinity Goodheart (courtesy of The gmc Television Network) proved to be big hits to sold-out audiences.

Per usual, festival attendees also let loose at the renowned ABFF parties and this year was no exception. The 15th anniversary celebration of Film Life proved to be extra-special when Grammy-nominated recording artist Melanie Fiona hit the stage dazzling the crowd with her vocals at the trendy Miami nightclub LIV, sponsored by Team Sizzle Worldwide.

Returning for a second year was the “Pro-Hollywood Initiative” (PHI), which brought together an impressive group of athletes with an equally impressive group of filmmakers to stimulate athletes’ interest in the movie business, connecting them with talented filmmakers, educating them about the workings of the industry and promoting their involvement in the production of quality independent films.

The PHI roundtable was hosted by founder Jeff Friday and attended by filmmakers Robert Townsend, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Roger Bobb; athletes Terrell Suggs, Calais Campbell, Rod Smart, Isaac Keys and Jalen Rose; with a special presentation by Keith Clinkscales, SVP Content Development and Enterprises at ESPN. Terrell Suggs served as this year’s ABFF Sports Ambassador.

New to the festival’s lineup was the first annual gmc Faith & Family Screenplay Competition, presented by The gmc Television Network. Four original screenplays were presented in a table read event by actors Lamann Rucker, Elise Neal, Jazsmin Lewis and Keith Robinson. The competition was judged by a distinguished panel including Brad Siegel, Vice Chairman/gmc Television Network; Rhonda Baraka, writer of gmc’s first original movie, Trinity Goodheart; and William Morris Endeavor Agent, Charles King.

HBO was the festival’s Founding & Premier Sponsor. Other sponsors included Grey Goose and Team Sizzle Worldwide (Premier Sponsors); the gmc Television Network, Cadillac, American Airlines, Gold Peak Tea, Wells Fargo and AT&T (Official Sponsors); The Nielsen Company, Nickelodeon, NBCUniversal, Codeblack Entertainment, Grab Networks and CNN (Supporting Sponsors); Miami Beach Visitor & Convention Authority and The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (Host Sponsors); CBS, Stella Artois, Writers Guild of America West, SAGIndie and FOX Searchlight Pictures (Diversity Partners). Media Sponsors include Black Enterprise, The Michael Baisden Show and Uptown (Official Level); AOL Black Voices, Upscale, Heart & Soul, Automotive Rhythms, Monarch and Precious Times (Supporting Level). Promotional Partners: NBC’s The Playboy Club and HanesBrands.

Established in 1997, the core mission of the ABFF is to promote cultural diversity within the motion picture industry. Through its film showcases and special contests, it annually introduces the top echelon of emerging artists to the film and television industry.

The ABFF is a property of Film Life, Inc., a New York-based event marketing, production and film distribution company founded in 2000 by Jeff Friday (CEO). For full details on this year’s festival, please visit For media inquiries, contact The Sorensen McQueen Group Lisa Sorensen or Chandra McQueen at (646) 330-5458 or via email at or