Hazel Joyner-Smith, founder of the International Black Film Festival of Nashville, acknowledges that things were a bit tough for the 7-year-old event last year, when IBFFN temporarily opted to present everything online rather than at a site and on screens.
Fans and supporters wondered if the festival's time had come and gone, worried whether one of the best places in Music City to see top domestic and foreign African-American and African independent productions had fallen victim to continuing tough fiscal times nationwide for locally operated black programs.
Nothing could be further from the truth. As the IBFF begins its 2013 fall festival Thursday, running through Nov. 3, they have plenty to celebrate. The first is the opening-night event, the U.S. premiere of the much-anticipated sequel The Best Man Holiday at 7:30 p.m. The second is the relocation of the festival screenings to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum's 700-seat CMA Theater, a move Joyner-Smith says was critical for IBFFN.
"This gives us downtown proximity and also a central location for our events," Joyner-Smith says. "We started working months ago on lining up Best Man Holiday for our opening night. Unfortunately, it took so long for the studio to finally decide to go with us for the national premiere it got backed up against the rollout for the press campaign. So we won't have anyone here from the film for a Q&A, but there will be a studio representative to discuss the production and its importance."
The Best Man was a sizable hit in 1999, a relationship/buddy comedy/drama about secrets, alliances and surprises among old friends reuniting for a wedding. It may have been most notable for the sterling cast it assembled, catching talents such as Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan and Harold Perrineau on their way up. Again written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee, the sequel checks in with the group 15 years later as they gather during the Christmas holidays, bringing back excellent performers such as Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Regina Hall and Melissa De Souza. It opens nationally Nov. 15.
This year's festival also has ties to popular TV shows. An upcoming episode of the series Unsung featuring gospel, soul and pop songstress CeCe Peniston will be shown 7:30 p.m. Friday, with Peniston and TV One director of programming and production Jubba Seyyid participating in a Q&A afterward, followed by a party. At 4 p.m. Friday, the festival hosts an episode of Truth Hall — The Series, adapted from Jade Dixon's 2008 film.
A meet-and-greet mixer follows the world premiere 5 p.m. Saturday of the new Bravo reality series Thicker Than Water. The show (airing 8 p.m. Sundays starting Nov. 10) features the daily family exploits of gospel star Ben Tankard, his wife Julie and their six children. The Tankards will attend the event.
Saturday night at 10:30, a spotlight weekend concert and awards presentation features the rap/hip-hop group Arrested Development, still the only rap act to ever win the Best New Artist Grammy. The festival closes 5 p.m. Sunday with its "Faith in Film" selection God's Amazing Grace, a true story of redemption and salvation set in 1950s Baltimore starring actor/singer/songwriter Clifton Davis.
Joining it at the 2013 festival are more than 20 features and shorts, from native Tennessean Robert Poole's "The Exchange," with Michael Beach as a married man who seeks an extreme solution to his problems, to documentaries on The Prisonaires and Memphis session great Teenie Hodges. In addition, the festival offers a wide spectrum of seminars and panels, covering topics such as the expanding urban market and possible properties for it, reality TV and what topics really work within the genre, the explosion of opportunities to work in the music end of the film world, and discussions about cinematography, content and marketing.
"It is vital that the studio executives we've invited understand Nashville is a diverse place with plenty of talented filmmakers and actors," Joyner-Smith says. "We're hoping people come out and support the films, seminars and events. The creative and business types in Hollywood and on the West Coast need to see that not everything has to happen in Atlanta."
All screenings and seminars are at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 222 Fifth Ave. S. Many IBFFN films will also be available online. Tickets are $35 for the opening-night film and party, $50 for daily passes and $300 for a full event pass. For more information about 2013 IBFFN events, movies, seminars, panels and parties, see ibffnfestivalevents.com.