Film: 2012 Hollywood Black Film Festival

by H. Clent Bowers

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Written by H. Clent Bowers for THE ARTISTS FORUM MAGAZINE
Edited by
2012 Hollywood Black Film Festival

4 out of 5 stars


LOS ANGELES, CA (October 29, 2012) The 12th Annual Hollywood Black Film Festival (HBFF) was held at the famous Ricardo Montalbán Theater on Vine Street at Hollywood Boulevard in Los Angeles, California.

The crowd was pouring into the street opening night. Fans, celebrities, filmmakers mostly, African American actors, including all professional Industry members, students, general public, press, and all that goes with any large opening of film in Hollywood.

The festivities started early in the afternoon. The opening night film was, Note to Self.  Afterwards, a gala opening night party of the same theme was held in the upstairs reception room at the theater. Refreshments were served to the many people attending and you could barely move. The excitement was electric. 

The African American film society has grown so quickly and becoming an industry all it’s own. Remember the time when Black films couldn’t get made or after being made not distributed? Those days are all but over.  America now has in place formative black film companies distributing within the market on several fronts delivering exclusive products to the public.

Here at the HBFF is the opportunity to meet the movers and shakers on a personal level. There are also many seminars on everything from pitching your project to how to write, package, develop, shoot, act in, and market your project. Founder Tanya Kersey has year around development assistance available to you. This resource is vital to the community. Everyone who loves the medium of film should be supportive to this organization. I also enjoyed the ethical conversations about film as it pertains to the black community.

The festivities continued non-stop for four days and nights with exciting events to participate in. The HBFF, unlike the famous Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), focuses on the culture of American Blacks, whereas The PAFF focuses on Black culture world wide. Naturally, both are vital to the development of wonderful storytelling of the Black experience. Please go to the website and see all the entries and events that took place this year:

Here are a few reviews of outstanding films from this years Hollywood Black Film Festival:

Director: Elias G. Mael
Writer: Elias G. Mael
Stars: Vaughn Wilkinson, Amaris Davidson, and Sewell Whitney

There isn’t  any wonder why this modern day Menace to Society came in first place this year. Against the Grain is a great film all around.  A heart warming story about a young African American man who gets it.  I would like to believe Isaiah is the man most of the young African American men reflect in todays society. He is smart, obedient,  strong, determined, compassionate, loving, and long suffering. He is a winner.

There really is no antagonist in this film except wrong thinking on his or society’s part. You know from the beginning that he has been equipped with everything he needs by strong, working class parents who taught him faith in a power greater than himself which keeps him humble and  grounded. He has enough common sense to choose the higher ground with each test he encounters or to be responsible and repentant if a mistake has been made. The question is will he make the positive choices at this crucial time in his life.

Isaiah (played admirably by Vaughn Wilkinson)  has been accepted into college to become a neural surgeon.  Brain cancer runs in his family and unfortunately his mother has it.  During his first few days on campus he suffers a loud privileged Jewish roommate (later they become close friends), meets a girl who is someone else’s love, and also invites his two insistent home boys to his first college frat party.  

When he sees the young girl at the party alone he wanders over to talk with her. The boyfriend of the girl he admires steps up to Isaiah with his other frat boys to back him.  So, one of  Isaiah’s homies pulls a gun and the party is over.  Everyone scatters to the four corners and Isaiah takes the fall for everything, never mentioning his friends nor explaining the situation. Because he has no record he is put on probation and must maintain an A average or he will suffer the sentencing of the court.  He has study problems.  With the help of Nicolette (played by the beautiful Ameris Davidson),  soon to be his sort-of girlfriend, he has a chance to pass this life test.  

Writer/Director Elias G. Mael has given us a story that  twists and turns with the elements true to class struggle. Isaiah doesn’t do the usual faltering of a young man. His trials are the walls that most young black men have to face even when doing the right things.  That makes our society the antagonistic force in this story.  Mael doesn’t instruct by the example of these young men fighting back or pouting and pointing fingers, but instead, he makes our hero stop and think. He shows how Isaiah weighs out the the most effective decisions using the tools he has learned.  His parents are always there to remind him of those tools.  We watch Isaiah make the choices of least resistance towards the good. It is through this virtuous quality that he is able to win and allow everyone else to win as well.  As a result we are all enlightened.

Trey Haley
Writer: Christian Keyes
Stars: Christian Keyes, Richard T. Jones, and Sebastian Siegel

Christian Keyes both writes and stars in this coming to manhood film. Curtis (Christian Keyes) is a star basketball player who is about to graduate from college. From all indications he has everything going for him. The girls can’t get enough of him and his buddies look up to him. His teachers admire him. He is in counseling because of his home situation. His mother (Vallerie Pettiford) is a single parent and is his rock. She is gravely ill. He never really knew his father but knows he is alive and in the neighborhood and wants nothing to do with him. His counselor has become the male figure in his life.

We meet Curtis at a turning point of his life. He is finished with college social life and is ready to find the real thing — a good woman and a future. He finds breaking old habits fairly easy but old habits and friends do not want him to change just yet. Through his faith and counseling and the love of a faithful woman, Curtis is able to move through the hard paces he is dealt in this film and come out on the other side whole.

This is a feel-good movie with a great cast. I congratulate Mr. Keyes on getting it made. He comes across so virtuous that I wonder if some of the over the top sexual play could have been toned down. The story really doesn’t need it.  At times it feels as if it is there because someone thought the story wasn’t strong enough. Actually, because of the presumed demographic, it pulls you out of the story and it’s message. Again, I am only speaking of the few over the top moments.   All and all, the film still manages to bring a tear to the eye and you feel uplifted with hope at the outcome of this young man and the circle of family and friends who care about him.

Director: Ibrahim Yilla
Writers: Jalene Mack, Robert Irvin, Gary B. Wilkins
Stars: Tichina Arnold, Golden Brooks, Victoria Galen, Richard T. Jones

Bring the hilarious Tichina Arnold to a party and you’re in for a good time. Let her throw the party with several of her eclectic girlfriends and their husbands or significant others, make the theme tantric sexual games, and we have two hours of pure fun.  This comedy, as any good comedy should, also has some uncomfortable truths about men and women in relationships that come to light during this romp. The Great Divide is really about the metaphor that tantric sexual yoga ensues. Meaning that tantric sex is the art of assuming many sexual positions that bring you to the height of sexual pleasure and hold there in pleasure, experiencing the Divine, the best of your true spiritual nature. Climax is not the goal. This is a lot like marriage isn’t it? The journey is life long and the goal is to experience being connected in spiritual heightened pleasure for most, if not all the duration.

Like any discipline, it is the attempting of perfection that keeps us happy or frustrated while moving forward. The climax in marriage means an ending. No one wants that really… unless it is minor one in the perspective. I love the attempt of this movie. It is well done. However, I think we could have gone a little deeper into the tantric analogy making the film clearer for more of the audience. Many people will see the film and not know what tantric love is.  Tosha (Tichina Arnold) doesn’t really get to tell or show us why she has to make this game for her class and why the costume she is wearing is even worth the major effort. What has she learned from the class? Why does she feel she needs to learn it? Afraid that it would become to serious? On the contrary — it would have been even funnier. Still, you can not stop laughing at this modern day Lucille Ball like comedy as she turns a simple party into a tour de force. The direction and cinematography are just first rate, and is a wonderful writing idea as a new subject for Black film making. It just needed to go a little further for my taste.  Well done on the multi-racial cast.

EVEN ME (USA, 2012)
Director, Writer, Producer: Megan Ebor
Trailer: Vimeo

These Beautiful women have mountains of which to speak. Even Me, no doubt from the spiritual of the same name, is a personal view of several women who represent the fastest growing community of people living with HIV. That surprisingly is, Afro American women over 50. You will be spellbound as these beautiful women bravely tell their stories of how they contracted the condition and how they are now living with HIV/AIDS. Director Megan Ebor has shot this film with so much grace that it flows from the screen. “Even me Lord yes, even me… let some (cleansing ) drops now fall on me… ” Beautiful!

For more information about Megan Ebor, please visit :

Director: Maya Washington
Writer: Maya Washington
Stars: Tanya Alexander, Ant Black, and Mona Jean Cedar
Short Film:

When this award winning short starts, you think possibly a robbery is going to take place. This hooded white man hanging out in the subway is looking sheepishly at a lone normal couple. You see that he is struggling with the thought of what to do. You watch hoping that he will do the right thing and leave without robbing the couple. You notice the couple he has been looking at are deaf and you say, “Oh good, he has enough compassion not to rob the deaf people.”  Then he turns and goes back down towards them, but instead turns without a pause and catches the train, now you’re confused. In the next scene, we’re at an inner city black poetry club were a sizzling jam session is about to end.

Then you think, “Oh I get it, he’s going to the hood and he’s afraid to go to the poetry jam. Maybe he met a young lady who asked him to meet her there to hang out.” What happens next is jaw dropping, cathartic (by exposing my own prejudices), and wonderful. This young man takes the stage and beautifully tells a poem about the white light of love in his heart that we all share, without making a sound; this young man is also deaf. Director Maya Washington has written and directed this short using all the nuances of a mystery drama, leading you down this scary path only to find yourself in a new romantic place of understanding. She opens your mind to another culture that we have yet to embrace. These silent voices are anything but… they are as loud as the sun, powerful as the wind, and as refreshing as the moon. Very well done.

For more information about Maya Washington, visit:

The black filmmaker is here to stay. The spectrum in which the culture sees itself has only tapped the surface of possible storytelling. No matter your background, race, or gender, you are hereby urged to contribute and participate in this exciting new developing art form. The HBFF is the perfect place to be. Join the organization, contribute in anyway you can. This year the crowd was huge. I can only imagine the attendance for next year.

For more information about the Hollywood Black Film Festival and their 2012 winners, visit:

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