BY: JELANI GRANT
Based on the continuous flow of new talent highlighted each year of the Toronto Black Film Festival, the growth and development of the festival has become undeniable. Despite tackling difficult issues that are regularly discussed across every social network, such as rape, culture, the festival certainly offered films for everyone. No blanket statement can properly describe each film or day. Add in live performances by poets and musicians four of the six days, and if you didn’t take the time to find and watch a movie you might like, you’ve simply missed out.
This year’s opening of Toronto’s Black Film Festival assessed the trend of speaking on sexual assault with an illustration, directed by Nancy Buirski, called The Rape of Recy Taylor. The Canadian premiere presented to a full house at the Isabel Bader Theatre is the documentary-style film that tells the story of Taylor starting when she was twenty-four years old, abducted as she made her way home from church. She was raped and then left for dead by six armed white men in Jim Crow era Alabama. Taylor identified her attackers, despite the many threats of violence or death she received before and after she spoke about what happened to her. The NAACP sent their chief rape investigator, Rosa Parks, and what followed sparked a movement towards justice. Her story has significant similarities to the many women who have told their stories through #metoo.
During the opening, Colas spoke about her introduction to the film industry, initially trying as an actress in Haiti. It wasn’t until after moving to Canada that she realized there were key differences that made it difficult for her acting career to excel. “Unfortunately, I couldn’t find work as an actress. I discovered I was only a young immigrant black woman with an accent…so here I was a young black woman with an accent and no platform. This is when I felt disappointed, sad, hopeless, and frustrated. With that frustration, I decided that Montreal deserved another festival.”
The Fabienne Colas Foundation was already established in Haiti, promoting and supporting diversity through cinema, and after it’s recreation, Colas created the Montreal-Haitian Film Festival. Since expanding into the Montreal International Black Film Festival it has become the largest black film fest in Canada.
The TBFF Black Market returned at both the Carlton Cinema and with workshops from established filmmakers from Canada and abroad who spoke on their experience with filmmaking from creation, to distribution. Names at the Meet the Filmmakers workshop included Aaron Greer, Peter Wangugi Gitau, and Jennia Fredique Aponte. One workshop was called Movie-Talk with Lamman Rucker, Morgan Auld & Aaron Greer + Film: Service to Man involved a screening of the film followed by a Q&A. Rucker spoke on his experience filming saying, “What really spoke to me was the young people. The youthful spirit of these people trying to find themselves.”
Another workshop, Tribute with Robi Reed, focused on an aspect of background work through the lens of two experienced producers. Producer Diane L. Johnstone and Reed, the first African-American to win an Emmy for casting, spoke in depth about the process of successful casting at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Day four of the festival ended at the Kiza Lounge for an After Party. The Meet the Producers workshop was held on Feb 18th, at the Carlton Cinema. On the line-up for discussion were producers from Canada and overseas, with Randy Thomas as moderator.
For the first time, a Kids Film Festival was held, in collaboration with TD Bank and Global News. This portion of the festival was located at Carlton Cinemas on Family Day, demonstrating examples of kids in films to encourage youth to pursue any cinema dreams they have. A sell-out film during both of its screenings, Bilal, A New Breed Of Hero is an animated tale based 1,000 years ago when a boy with a dream of becoming a great warrior is abducted with his sister and taken to a land far away from home. “It’s important for those children to have role models on screen and see themselves on screen,” Colas said.
Canadian award-nominated actresses Allison Austin and Ava Augustin, are two sisters that have been attending TBFF since year one and were selected to be the TBFF Kids Film Festival Ambassadors.
Boost was another feature film based in Montreal that movie columnist Eric Cohen recommended last year calling it a film with “local talent, done really well”. Written and directed by Darren Curtis, the film focuses on two teenage best friends who become entangled with the mob after a car they stole is involved in a fatal accident. The teen-thriller had its Ontario premiere on day two of the festival.
The closing screening for the festival was a narrative feature film directed by Mandla Dube and filmed in South Africa. It is a true story about a nineteen-year-old hawker, Solomon Mahlangu from the streets of Mamelodi a ghetto township outside Pretoria in South Africa. Following the 1976 Soweto uprisings and being brutally beaten by police, Kalushi goes into exile to join the liberation movement. He returns from military training in Angola en route to their mission, his friend and comrade, Mondy, loses control and shoots two innocent people on Goch Street in Johannesburg.
Due to its distinct and challenging content, Toronto’s Black Film Festival continues to grow, standing as a testament to the talent diversity can produce. The Fabienne Colas Foundation has already created Haiti en Folie in Montreal, Halifax Black Film Festival, Fade to Black Festival, Dansomania, and the Quebecois Film Festival in Haiti. Fans can only wait to see where Colas will expand to next.