ABFF postscript: How the American Black Film Festival impacted my life

Special to theGrio: Aspiring filmmaker Khalil Thomas writes about his experience at the 16th Annual American Black Film Festival, which was held June 20-24 in Miami Beach. For more ABFF coverage on theGrio, click here.

It seems that it wasn’t too long ago, when as a kid, I played in all types of weather. During the summer, I ran until the sweat saturated my shirt and clung to my skin. In the winter, my fingers longed for the warmth of my mother’s small, three-bedroom home. And in the spring, the skies sifted pools of water, sometimes forming small oceans, which exploded upon impact whenever my basketball slammed onto the pavement. The constant splash of that afternoon remains with me still, and as I make my way to the various events at this year’s American Black Film Festival, I am wet; I am drenched (it rained for days) – yet I embrace the possibility of the unknown.

My feet step over puddles and glide through small streams of rain, but I am not alone. I see others like me; making similar pilgrimages to various destinations at the festival – unmoved, unchanged, delighted at the prospect of having their ideas observed by not only ABFF founder Jeff Friday, actors Robert Townsend, Mekhi Phifer and the like, but by those who share the same vision and dream of one day having their work acknowledged by the wider public.

My particular journey began at 2 a.m. Wednesday in Atlanta, Georgia. I drove down to Miami Beach, unsure of what was expected of me or what to expect of the event itself. It’s one thing to read about such affairs, but to actually experience such an occasion can be quite intimidating, especially for a first time attendee such as myself. Needless to say, I arrived at my destination unscathed, proceeded to check in, and found that it was not cumbersome at all. Afterwards, I was enticed to see one of the featured films, “Beasts of the Southern Wild”, and was enamored at the quality and artistry of the movie. However, it was not the film that left the most lasting impression on me; I was simply at a loss for words at the support for each of the films shown at either the Colony Theatre or The Miami Beach Cinematheque. That afternoon also served as a springboard to various networking opportunities as I was able to score interviews with attendees at the festival who were privy to sharing their experiences in film.

The next day I took advantage of the countless seminars given in the various Salons of the Ritz Carlton. I was able to learn so much about “how” and “why” things work in Hollywood, and drew on the inspiration of those who had made it despite not having the same opportunities as others in the business.

I am currently working on an original screenplay based in my city of Atlanta, Georgia titled “Red Dogs.” The story offers insight into an unstable, defunct police unit in Atlanta, notoriously known for their cruel tactics in enforcing the law. That, along with my iAM Classic Hip Hop Films project, are the kinds of ideas that without the availability of festivals like the ABFF would have little direction and could fade away without any semblance of ever existing at all.

The magic of ABFF is that it is entirely community-based. I’ve met people from New York, Cleveland, Miami, and Atlanta, and all of them were adamant in reaching out to try and make their dreams come alive.

Toward the end of the festival, I attended the ABFF awards ceremony. After watching the various winners and nominees, I smiled, knowing that next year, that could very well be me up on stage seeing my vision come to fruition. Upon my exit from the event, I was approached by a writer from TheGrio, who asked me to share my experiences at ABFF. I smiled, agreed, and began to make my way to my room. As I walked the streets of South Beach, I was once again greeted by a familiar friend; the rain. It fell harmlessly from the sky and I, in my elation, began to walk excitedly toward my future; splashing through puddles of water all the way.

Khalil Thomas is an aspiring screenwriter and filmmaker from Atlanta, Georgia. Find him on his website: www.iamclassichiphop.com or follow him on Twitter at @jozeywellzATL

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