One of the most notable short film competitions each year comes out of the American Black Film Festival (ABFF). 2023 marks the 26th year that HBO presents a filmmaker with a cash award of $10,000 to the winner of the HBO Short Film Award. This is the same competition that awarded director Ryan Coogler back in 2011 and Steven Caple Jr. in 2013. The following represents the finalists this year and some highlights of what make each of these titles unique and worth keeping on your radar.
2023 | USA | 20 minutes
Written by: Nakia Secrest
Directed by: Ric Serena
As a successful radio DJ, Tracey (Nakia Secrest) made a career out of her love for music and its connection to the human experience. But when confronted with her mother’s illness, she is forced to reevaluate her own life. Divided between the hauntingly beautiful memories of her past, fears of the future and the painful realities of her present, she gives herself the ultimate challenge — a broadcast of reconciliation. Secrest delivers a tender and meaningful performance in this drama as a woman connects with the broken pieces of life. With jarring cuts executed with precision and focused direction from Serena, the movie feels like pieces of a puzzle carefully placed together scene by scene as the story moves forward.
USA | 2023 | 14 minutes
Written and Directed by: Gianfranco Fernández-Ruiz
Basketball connects Jerome (Elias Ferguson) to his long-absent father, though not in the ways he wishes. As Jerome wrestles with his own concept of family, he must confront his father’s legacy on and off the court. The core of this film is not only Jerome’s longing for his absentee father but his powerful and profound relationship with his mother Jade (Aries Sanders). The two bring an emotionally-charged performance on screen that will resonate with you.
USA | 2023| 10 minutes
Written and Directed by: Anndi Jinelle Liggett
Jelly (Khloe Bruno) is a young Black girl in Bed-Stuy with 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. This whimsical film narrated by actor André Holland is a beautiful narrative about coming to terms with death. Bruno delivers an incredible performance as the film’s protagonist in this sweet and endearing short film.
USA | 2022 | 17 minutes
Written and Directed by: Quamé A. Hamlin
After Tru (Jakobe Brownlee) is evicted by his mother, the rebellious teen must adapt to life with his distant father (Kendrix Lamaz Brown) and his father’s new family. This short film is about the familial ties that bind and significance of a father and son relationship. As Tru picks up the pieces after being kicked out, he learns what it is to be a man and grow through the process of his own recovery.
USA | 2023| 20 minutes
Written and Directed by: c. Craig Patterson
When one of the last free children of Junkyard Paradise has her brother stolen away from her, no Ragamuffin army or vicious beasts will stop her from getting him back. Starring Tika Sumpter as Mother in one of her most creative and bizarre performances yet, this short includes an ensemble cast depicting this ambitious ragtag group of outliers. Fathead comes with remarkable production design and elaborate costume design that gives a steampunk kind of vibe. Think the Lost Boys from Hook in a Mad Max: Fury Road movie — this is what you get in Fathead.
The American Black Film Festival runs June 14 to 18, 2023, in Miami, Florida.
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Jamie Broadnax is the creator of the online publication and multimedia space for Black women called Black Girl Nerds. Jamie has appeared on MSNBC's The Melissa Harris-Perry Show and The Grio's Top 100. Her Twitter personality has been recognized by Shonda Rhimes as one of her favorites to follow. She is a member of the Critics Choice Association and executive producer of the Black Girl Nerds Podcast.