The Hollywood Black Film Festival: An Interview with Tanya Kersey

This year’s Hollywood Black Film Festival runs October 25-28, 2012 in Hollywood, CA. Dubbed “The Black Sundance”,

Tanya Kersey, founder of HBFF

HBFF is an annual 4-day celebration of black cinema drawing together established and rising filmmakers, popular film and television stars, writers, industry executives, emerging filmmakers, writers and actors as well as diverse audiences from Southern California and around the world.

I had the privilege of sitting down with HBFF’s founder, Tanya Kersey, to discuss the benefits of film festivals and HBFF, in particular. 

Mark Travis: You began the Hollywood Black Film Festival in 1998. What inspired you to start it?

Tanya Kersey: I was running an entertainment trade publication called Black Talent News, and I had been doing a conference called the Infotainment Conference as a standalone weekend event for a few years at Loyola Marymount University.   I had also hosted panels and workshops at other film festivals so I was very familiar with what a film festival was.  HBFF grew organically from the conference.  I thought I was putting on a small, local conference and it turned into an international weekend event.  The filmmakers started asking when I was going to start screening films and a light bulb went off.  There wasn’t a Hollywood-styled black film festival in the LA area and I thankfully had strong connections in the industry that helped me jump start the festival and launch it at USC School of Cinema-Television.  I was inspired by the need to fill a gap and offer black filmmakers an opportunity to have their works seen.

MT: What are the benefits to submitting work for screening in a film festival?

TK: If you get accepted, you have the opportunity to have your film screened in front of a diverse audience.  You have the possibility of attracting a distribution deal, attracting an agent, networking with your colleagues and other industry professionals, seeing your film in front of a paying audience and gauging their reaction, getting press attention and reviews that you can build momentum on, and building buzz for your film. If your film gets accepted by a major film festival, that’s validation!

MT: What benefits, in particular, does HBFF offer filmmakers and writers?

TK: HBFF is focused on fostering and developing the vision of independent filmmakers and writers by bringing their films to the attention of the industry, media and public through an exhibition and competition program.  There aren’t many opportunities for the creative Black Hollywood community to come together to share in our collective creative energy, watch films, attend panels and workshops, network, make deals, develop business relationships and create partnerships.  HBFF is the perfect storm for Black filmmakers and writers in Hollywood that have few other avenues to be inspired, empowered and educated, and to take their careers to the next level.   But HBFF IS NOT only for Black filmmakers and writers, the information and opportunities that the festival offers can enhance the career of any filmmaker and writer.

MT: Oftentimes it remains a mystery why some films get chosen to be showcased in film festivals while others are passed over. How do you choose which films make it into HBFF?

TK: The films that we choose are based on exceptional stories.  It really comes down to story.  Story drives everything!  No matter how good the acting is, and how big your budget is, or how experienced your creative team is, if the story is not tight, the film won’t be right!  I always implore filmmakers not to rush to shoot a movie from a script that hasn’t been vetted.  It takes at least six months, on average, to develop a good script in terms of dialogue, character development, tone, continuity, and storyline.  Before you go before the lenses make sure you invest in professional coverage.  It makes absolutely no sense shooting a movie based on a script that isn’t ready.  All the tricks in the world can’t make a bad script good and if you invest before you shoot, you stand a much better chance of producing a film that will be a big winner on the film festival circuit.

MT: HBFF isn’t just about screening films. What other activities are available for filmmakers and writers to participate in?

Cast from “A Million Colours”, HBFF 2011

TK: Panels and workshops with leading industry professionals where you can learn about the business, refine your talent and development new opportunities.  We have a pitchathon where you have an opportunity to pitch your film project; and a monologue slam where actors do a monologue in front of a live audience and get comments and critiques from a panel of casting professionals.  The parties and receptions are, of course, great networking opportunities.We attract such stars and industry insiders as Academy Award® winners Sidney Poitier and Forest Whitaker, John Singleton, Bill Duke, George Singleton, Cedric The Entertainer, Ice-T, Anthony Anderson, Blair Underwood, Sanaa Lathan, Rockmond Dunbar and Loretta Devine. The festival has become a hotbed for the Black Hollywood community.

 This year’s festival runs October 25-28, 2012 in Hollywood, CA.  The festival website is http://www.hbff.org.  You can find out all about the conference panels and workshops at http://www.hbff.org/infotainment-conference-2012/.

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