June 28, 2002 10:45 AM

There were no operating tables Thursday night in Miami Beach, where former “ER” star Eriq LaSalle helped celebrate the American Black Film Festival at the swank Delano Hotel. LaSalle, who just finished up his last season on the hit NBC medical drama, told PEOPLE: I always said I left ‘ER’ to pursue filmmaking, and here it comes.” LaSalle, 39, has directed, produced and stars in “Crazy As Hell,” a psychological thriller costarring “Third Watch” star Michael Beach; the film will compete against seven others in the festival. Winners will be announced this Saturday at the nearby Jackie Gleason Theater. “In general and historically,” said LaSalle, taking a break from dining on lobster and chatting with “Hollywood Shuffle” actor Robert Townsend ,”independent films have been more artistic and allow filmmakers more freedom with their creativity.” Townsend, 45, agrees: “Independent filmmaking gives those involved a sense of encouragement and keeps their dreams alive.” Townsend calls LaSalle’s film “twisted and edgy.” In September it will be released theatrically in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Atlanta and Washington before it goes to video in January.

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