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American Black Film Festival Winners Include Tubi’s ‘Cinnamon’

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Cinnamon” and “A Song From the Dark” were two of the big winners at the “Best of the ABFF Awards” presented Saturday during the American Black Film Festival.

Following its world premiere at the Tribeca Festival, “Cinnamon” continued its festival run at ABFF in Miami Beach, Fl., where it was awarded the prize for best narrative feature and best director for writer-director Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr.

The Tubi original film stars Hailey Kilgore, Damon Wayans, Pam Grier, David Iacono and Jeremie Harris. Kilgore plays Jodi, a struggling small-town gas station attendant with “killer pipes and big dreams,” who falls hopelessly in love with a hustler (Iacono) and falls foul of a local crime lord (Grier) and her murderous family. The noir thriller serves as the inaugural project filmed under Village Roadshow Pictures’ Black Noir Cinema banner, co-founded by NBA all-star Kevin Garnett. Veteran producer Oz Scott oversees the content slate, which also includes “Murder City,” a film starring Mike Colter, Antonio Fargas and Stephanie Sigman that made its world premiere at ABFF.

“A Song From the Dark” also won two prizes, with filmmaker Ogo Okpue (who wrote, directed and produced the film) also winning a best director award and the film’s lead Vanessa Vanderpuye named best actor. The supernatural horror drama centers on a woman with a dark family secret who, after the mysterious death of her husband, hires a spirit-hunter to expel a spirit from tormenting her family. Nse Ikpe Etim, Wale Ojo, Garcia Brown and Paul Coster round out the cast.

Nice Crowd’s Jeff and Nicole Friday with the Best of ABFF Award winners “A Song From the Dark” filmmaker Ogo Okpue and star Vanessa Vanderpuye; “I Was a Soul Train Dancer” Timiza Sanyika; “Cinnamon” filmmakers Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. and Oz Scott; and host Dondré Whitfield. (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton / ABFF)
Aaron J. Thornton

Emmy nominee Dondré Whitfield returned to host the “Best of the ABFF Awards” on Saturday at the Miami Beach Convention Center, presenting the winners of this year’s independent film awards and talent contests.

One of the festival’s premiere honors, the HBO Short Film award, was presented to writer-director Anndi Jinelle Liggett for “Jelly.” Narrated by André Holland, the short follows a young Black girl in Bed-stuy named Jelly who has a “peculiar fascination with death. While trying to solve the mysterious case of a missing neighbor, she comes to terms with a more personal disappearance.”

The award, sponsored by HBO and Warner Bros. Discovery, is now in its 26th year at ABFF, which is a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards’ short film categories. Five finalists are invited to present their films during a special showcase, hosted by Bevy Smith, and the award comes with a $10,000 cash prize. Previous winners include Sherif Alebede (awarded in 2022), Ryan Coogler, Steven Caple Jr., Nikyatu Jusu, Solvan ‘Slick’ Naim and Rashaad Ernesto Green.

The best series award went to Timiza Sanyika’s “I Was a Soul Train Dancer,” a mini-docs series that profiles some of the most recognizable and memorable “Soul Train” dancers from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s. “Locked Out,” directed by Kate Davis and Luchina Fisher, won the documentary feature award. Set in Detroit, the film focuses on the racial gap in homeownership and features a group of Black Black female grassroots activists who fight for justice and equal access.

The full list of 2023 ABFF jury winners are:

HBO Short Film Award (showcased by Warner Bros. Discovery and HBO): “Jelly,” written and directed by Anndi Jinelle Liggett

Best Director (presented by Cadillac): Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr. (“Cinnamon”) and Ogo Okpue (“A Song from the Dark”)

Best Series, Television or Web (presented by Comcast NBCU Universal’s Black Experience on XFINITY): “I Was a Soul Train Dancer,” written, directed & produced by Timza Sanyika

Best Documentary Feature: “Locked Out,” directed by Kate Davis and Luchina Fisher

Best Actor (presented by Ally) – Vanessa Vanderpuye in “A Song from the Dark”

Best Narrative Feature (presented by Andscape): “Cinnamon,” written and directed by Bryian Keith Montgomery Jr.

ABFF podcast competition: Archie Jay – “Archie: The Podcast,” Ken Lewis – “Gangsta Island” and Sophia Stephens – “The Maiden Myth

ABFF podcast competition winners Ken Lewis, Sophia Stephens and Archie Jay flanked by Nice Crowd’s Jeff and Nicole Friday and Dondré Whitfield at the Best of ABFF Awards (Photo by Aaron J. Thornton / ABFF)
Aaron J. Thornton



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