ABFFV and Lightbox, an award-winning multiplatform media company focused on creating high-quality non-fiction programming to further diversity in the feature documentary arena, have partnered to establish a Documentary Competition open to African American filmmakers and any documentary filmmakers interested in exploring non-fiction stories and themes that speak directly to the Black experience. Selected films will be developed and produced by Lightbox and ABFF Films division and executive produced by ABFF Ventures CEO Jeff Friday and Lightbox co-founders Simon Chinn and Jonathan Chinn. Selected films will be financed by 21st Century Fox Studios and National Geographic.
Based in London and Los Angeles, Lightbox has produced several acclaimed documentaries that speak directly to the experience of people of color in America, including ESPN’s “Fantastic Lies” about the 2006 Duke Lacrosse scandal and National Geographic’s “LA 92” that marked the 25th anniversary of the civil unrest in Los Angeles following the verdicts in the Rodney King beating case. The company is currently in production on the only authorized documentary about the life and legacy of the late Whitney Houston.
MUTA’ALI’S STORM OVER BROOKLYN
Muta’Ali’s Storm Over Brooklyn was selected from over 200 submissions for documentary films that covered a wide range of topics that reflect the experiences of people of color today. ABBF and Lightbox hope to get the film funded and finished in time to have its world premiere at the 23rd annual American Black Film Festival in Miami in June 2019.
Storm Over Brooklyn will revisit the story of Yusuf Hawkins, a black American teenager who was shot to death after being trapped by a group of white youths in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, on the evening of Aug. 23, 1989. Hawkins had come to Bensonhurst with three friends that day to look at a used car when they were attacked by the hostile mob, whose members mistakenly believed that Hawkins was dating a neighborhood girl who was white. The incident shocked New York and the nation, and unleashed a torrent of racial tension in an already divided city and led to nationally televised protests and marches led by the Rev. Al Sharpton. The growing unrest indubitably contributed to the ousting of New York City Mayor Ed Koch in favor of David Dinkins, who became the city’s first — and as of now, only — African-American mayor. Hawkins was just 16 years old at the time of his death.
“2019 will mark the 30th anniversary of Yusuf Hawkins’ death and all these years later, it is fair to say, we are still living in very precarious times,” said Jeff Friday, founder and CEO, ABFF. “We were incredibly moved by the relevance and power of this story and Muta’Ali’s vision for the film. The ABFF Lightbox Documentary Film Initiative is an extension of what I started with the American Black Film Festival, and I am delighted to be able to provide this new platform in partnership with Lightbox, and we are deeply grateful to National Geographic and 21st Century Fox for standing behind this meaningful initiative.”
Lightbox’s Jonathan Chinn added, “I was immediately impressed with Muta’Ali’s passion and creative ambition for the film. The fact that he has already secured Yusuf’s family’s blessing and their active participation in the film along with the participation of many of the key players in the story points to a film that cannot only enter the ongoing conversation we are still having about racial discrimination in America, but that can do justice to the memory and legacy of Yusuf Hawkins. Lightbox and ABFF are thrilled to be collaborating with Muta’Ali on this important and timely film.”
Lightbox and initiative sponsor National Geographic recently collaborated on the Emmy Award-winning feature documentary LA 92, which used only archival footage to tell the story of the lead-up and conflagration of the civil unrest in Los Angeles in 1992 that followed the acquittal of four white LAPD officers accused of beating Rodney King. LA 92 has recently been nominated for a Cinema Eye Award and two International Documentary Association Awards, including the award for Best Feature.
“National Geographic is thrilled to be part of this year’s inaugural competition, and the selection of Muta’Ali as this year’s winner is a perfect choice,” said Tim Pastore, president of original programming and production for National Geographic Channel. “Nurturing up-and-coming talent is incredibly important to us at National Geographic, and working with Lightbox and ABFF on this initiative and discovering filmmakers like Muta’Ali is really exciting.”
Muta’Ali hails from Westchester County, New York. His debut film, “Life’s Essentials With Ruby Dee,” a documentary about his late grandmother, featured notable subjects including Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Phylicia Rashad and Spike Lee. His goal is to have his artistic body of work be wholly focused on what he calls “Love, Art & Activism.” In response to winning the ABFF Lightbox Documentary Film Initiative, Muta’Ali stated, “I am thrilled to have been selected as the first beneficiary of this important initiative. Jeff and Jonathan are the ideal partners to help me take the complex story of Yusuf Hawkins and his killing out of my head and onto screens. I have the utmost respect and appreciation for this opportunity and I look forward to creating a film that is true to who Yusuf was and true to all the people who have fought for equality in his name.”