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2018 ABFF Recap

Mike McKenzie

“PURCHASE TICKET”. One click of my index finger would seal my fate. I’d had ABFF SOBE PASS tickets in my cart for weeks, but my inner chump, (we’ll call him Herby), always found a way to win out. “I ain’t got nobody to go with”, “Am I gonna even get anything from this?”, “ Who these people think they are wit these ticket prices?!”.  So sat they did in my cart.  Coupled with the skepticism and the incessant input from Herby,  was a stirring need for change. The day I decided to click that button was particularly hum drum. I got home and started making my pro and con list for going back to work the next day. This had become sort of a routine. I even think I had nightmares about asking people if they had Apple Pay.  So then... never mind all that. This is supposed to a recap of ABFF, not a spotlight on my terrible decision making skills.  Long story short, I clicked the button and made my way to Miami for #ABFF2018. Here’s how it looked for me. 




BET executives spoke about competitions they sponsor for aspiring filmmakers (Project CRE8 and From Script to Screen).  I'm looking forward to seeing those programs materialize.




Tasked with sharing the way Netflix is championing inclusion and diversity, this all black, female panel broke down, impeccably, how they are doing it.  This includes discussions with department heads, creating a talent master list, and liasing with HBCU's to find and develop qualified and diverse talent.  

An insight into their acquisition of new content was very important to me.  This is usually done via purchasing scripts or purchasing finished projects from film festivals.  Romance/"Rom-Coms", elevated horror, sci fi, action/thrillers, comedies and foreign language films top the list of genres they are interested in making.




This group of speakers included executives from tbs, TNT, HBO, truTV and Warner Bros. Many writers and filmmakers, including myself, struggle with figuring out how to get our stuff read by development and/or acquisition folks. BE A SELF STARTER.  Get that project into any festival. It’s easier to get stuff looked at or picked up when you have something to show. Have a cohort and lean on them for constructive criticism. And packaging doesn’t always help as much as it hurts.  So make sure it’s additive! 



These we panel discussions with Hollywood’s new and buzzing talent. The first that I went to was highlighted by Jacob Latimore (The Chi), Kofi Siriboe (Queen Sugar), Logan Browning (Dear White People), Ashley Blaine Featherson (Dear White People) and Bresha Webb (Marlon). Stories of how they got started in the industry, how they keep he momentum going and things that ground them dominated the conversation. Tenacity and consistency seemed, to no surprise, the common denominator. 

The second was with none other than, the YAY representer himself that had everyone wanting to go back to Wakanda, Ryan Coogler. This was one of the highlights for me. I hadn’t anticipated hearing any new gems from him but I was still excited.  More so because when I hear and or see him, I feel relatable. Young, Black, ex athlete from the hood who’s making it happen.  And to know his journey started at ABFF seven years ago is mind blowing. How can you not be a fan?   One of the things he said that resonated with me was him urging us to treat every film we make as our last. Would we be happy with it? 






This is going to have a lot of commercial success. The story started a bit slow but it hit its stride and was pretty good overall.  Be sure to check it out. Great young cast including Trevor Jackson (Burning Sands), Jason Mitchell (The Chi, Straight Out of Compton), and Lex Scott Davis (The First Purge) guided by an OG in the game Director X



Fantastic: The Legacy of Slum Village 

Directed and produced by husband and wife duo Moe and Nicki Lynch. This documentary chronicled the life and times of Slum Village and the iconic J Dilla. It was very informative and took us on the journey of the group from the beginning until now.  These guys left an indelible impact on the game, pairing impeccable word play with soul rattling beats produced by J Dilla.



This was a great one. Sprinter told the story of a Jamaican track athlete that has to juggle school, track and a collapsing family life. Directed by Storm Saulter. Starring IG comedian Dale Elliott. Also loved that Storm used other Jamaican IG comedians (@prince_pine and @fatskull). My only disappointment was in David Alan Grier’s “accent”. 




This was one of the leading reasons for me going to ABFF. (I’m coming for the award next year!)

DAYS AFTER YOUR DEPARTURE-- directed by Joekenneth Museau/Sam Sneed

EMERGENCY-- directed by Kristen Davila/Carey Williams

HAIR WOLF-- directed by Mariama Diallo

MOTHS & BUTTERFLIES-- directed by Alfonso Johnson

SUITABLE-- Rochée Jeffrey/Thembi Banks

My favorites were Hair Wolf, a thriller about black girl appropriation by white girls, and Suitable, about a young women coming to terms with her sexuality via her prom outfit.                                  




There were three different blocks of these non competitive showcases but I only made it to one of them. This one showcased six different short films. 

BODEGA!-- directed by Donna Augustin/Talibah L. Newman

WHERE THE WATER RUNS-- directed by DuBois Ashong

A FATHER'S LOVE-- directed by RonReaco Lee

PROTOTYPE-- directed by Christopher Ortega

FEVAH-- directed by Randall Dottin 

A CRAFTSMAN-- directed by Sanford Jenkins 

All of these short films were pretty good.  If I had to choose just one, it would be FEVAH.  The story took a bunch of turns and left us with a cliffhanger.  My type of film!




My four days in Miami for ABFF far exceeded any poor excuse my inner Herby could have mustered up. Inspiration and motivation shone like a halo around these beautiful black auras all around me. I went out there pretty sure of myself and the project I’m working on. I left feeling like I had to start over again.  But not in a bad way.  More like I understand the ways that I can get better. Here were some of the common themes I took away. 


Develop your writing and story telling. If you haven’t rewritten 50 times, don’t even look at a camera. 

Have a cohort. There’s power in numbers. 

Keep practicing. Get your “10,000 hours” in. 

Packaging isn’t always advisable. Having a great producer on board is always helpful but be a self starter. Show, stop telling. 

Networking is always a plus. But what does it matter if you don’t have talent? Hone ur craft and get better.

Self doubt rarely goes away. Push through it for best results. 


And that was my ABFF 2018 experience. This recap in no way highlights all of the things that were going on. There was a plethora of seminars, talks and screenings. These were the things that were at the top of my list. Oh, and ABFF 2019 dates have posted. See you next year!!

FRASS at The Palace Recap

Mike McKenzie

The turn out for our first cannabis lifestyle experience was great.  Thanks to those who came out to support.  The vibes were excellent and the HERBS was in the air heavy! We look forward to sharing more with you guys!