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Miami site nurtures Black Film Fest

AOL TW presenting event, launching new features

MIAMI — The seventh annual American Black Film Festival unspools June 18-22 in Miami, with a bigger industry sponsor and a bigger industry presence in its second year Stateside.

Fest first bowed in 1997 as the Acapulco Black Film Festival, moving to Miami Beach last year. HBO came on board as a sponsor in 1998, and now its parent AOL Time Warner is presenting the five-day event of screenings, panels and workshops.

Nine features and feature-length docus will world preem in and outside competition. Fest will also serve as a launching pad for Jonathan Lynn’s “The Fighting Temptations,” an MTV production in association with Handprint Films that is skedded for theatrical release this year. Cast includes Cuba Gooding Jr., Mike Epps, Steve Harvey and Beyonce Knowles, with Knowles expected to attend to introduce the pic.

“One of our goals is to make this a major festival. … and we can’t do that without the participation of the industry,” Friday told Daily Variety.

Fest is produced by Gotham-based marketing/distrib Film Life, of which Friday is the prexy and CEO.

The U.S. locale has helped the fest beef up its appeal, Friday said. But it’s not yet clear whether the fest will return to Miami Beach next year; Friday is still in talks with various local officials about government funding.

The 2003 fest includes several prominent additions.

The Network Casting Room will give the 150 thesps participating in the three-day Actors Boot Camp, led by actor-director Bill Duke, the chance to audition for casting execs from broadcasters ABC, CBS, Fox and NBC.

Also making its debut this year, with AOL TW backing, is “A Conversation With…,” a one-hour interview by New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell of a to-be-determined black actor of note.The AOL TW multimedia muscle will be in evidence with reps from its properties — AOL, Atlantic Records, New Line Cinema, Time Inc., Turner Broadcasting System and Warner Bros. Studios — coming in for the panel “Innovation: Developing the Idea With AOL Time Warner.”

Eight feature films are in competition this year, ranging from Lisa France’s family drama “Anne B. Real,” inspired by “The Diary of Anne Frank,” to Tyler Maddox-Simms’ romantic comedy “Love Chronicles,” about a radio personality and a relationship therapist.

The films are vying for the Lincoln Filmmaker Trophy (winning director gets a two-year lease of a Lincoln Navigator); the Blockbuster Audience Award for best feature film, which carries a $15,000 cash award; and actor and actress kudos.

Another 11 full-length features will screen outside competition in the fest’s world showcase, and the event added this year a separate section for feature-length documentaries, of which it will unspool four.

HBO sponsors a short film award, which carries a prize of $20,000.

Kudos will be handed out at the June 21 Film Life Movie Awards Show, hosted by actor-director Robert Townsend and Shaun Robinson of “Access Hollywood.”

Kudofest will honor hip-hop multimedia impresario Russell Simmons, now chairman and CEO of Rush Communications, with the AOL Time Warner Innovator Award, to be presented by Cedric the Entertainer.

Thesp Gabrielle Union has been tapped for the AOL Time Warner Rising Star Award.

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