ABFF 2012: Best Films at the Festival

These must-see movies tackle a gamut of topics from Jamaican gang life to our soul food addiction.

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(The Root) -- Celebrating its 16th year of showcasing some of the most buzzworthy indie movies about black life, the American Black Film Festival has kicked off this week in Miami. Organized by industry vet Jeff Friday, the four-day event (June 20-23) is what some consider to be the black Sundance -- a meeting ground for aspiring filmmakers and moviegoers and the premier venue for black cinema to attract the attention of distribution companies looking for the next breakout hit.

During a call last week, Friday mentioned how he looks forward to continuing to provide a platform for new and established black talent for years to come. "Sixteen years is a long time," he said. "I'd like to have the same history as Cannes and Sundance. I want this to be our event."

This year there are several reasons to think that the festival has a bright future. The Root has already tipped Russ Parr's The Undershepherd with our Q&A with one of its stars, Malinda Williams. We surveyed the other films now at ABFF and have highlighted some of the most promising works. If you're in Miami, try to score tickets. If not, keep an eye out for when the following films are coming to a theater near you.

The festival opened Wednesday with two screenings of Beasts of the Southern Wild, a beautifully shot and scored debut from director Benh Zeitlin. If you liked the childlike exuberance, wild imagination and dark edge of a film like Where the Wild Things Are, this movie captures all of that in a unique tale of father-daughter love in Hurricane Katrina-torn Louisiana. Starring amateur actors -- the magnetic (now) 8-year-old Quvenzhané Wallis (Hushpuppy) and the live-wire Dwight Henry, who plays her dad (Wink) -- the movie shows the height of what can be accomplished with a relatively small budget and an amazing script.

Friday counts its inclusion at the festival as a major sign of the event's focus on presenting a diverse set of films. "It's an extraordinary movie, and it was not made by an African-American director," Friday told The Root about the film, which is set for limited release on June 27. "One of the things we've been trying to do as a festival is that we don't want to project an exclusionary voice. We want to include people other than our community. We all win when black things are more widely accepted."

 

Another movie that deserves attention is Better Mus Come. Directed by Storm Saulter, the film is set in 1970s Jamaica in the months leading up to the mass killing of suspected gang leaders by government soldiers. The event, known as the Green Bay Massacre, was a flash point in the island's wave of rampant street violence and federal corruption.

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