Black Excellence on the Silver Screen: Toronto Black Film Festival Announces This Year’s Lineup

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BY: DELLIA RISMAY 

The Toronto Black Film Festival, or TBFF for short, has returned for its sixth year in the city and is here to not only help audiences celebrate black history month but to remind audiences that black voices and experiences need to be shared. Taking place from February 14th to 19th, the festival features 60 films from 20 countries, including Brazil, South Africa, France, Haiti, Kenya, Swaziland, the UK, Nigeria, Canada, and the US. Founded by the Fabienne Colas Foundation and co-presented by TD in collaboration with Global News, TBFF gives creators a unique platform to share their stories and allows audiences to discuss cultural, social and socio-economic issues. The event follows in the footsteps of its sister festival, the Montreal International Black Film Festival, which was also created by the Fabienne Colas Foundation, and is in its 14th year.

Opening the film festival and making its Canadian premiere is “The Rape of Recy Taylor”, directed by Nancy Buirski. When Taylor was twenty-four years old, she was 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. Despite the threat of violence or death if she revealed what happened to her, Taylor identified her attackers. The NAACP sent their chief rape investigator, Rosa Parks, and what followed sparked a movement towards justice.  Oprah spoke about Taylor in her impassioned Golden Globes speech applauding the strength of women for speaking their truth despite the threats from corrupted men in power.

Colas says that she and her team have been trying to get Buirski’s film at their festival for quite some time and were happy to finally have it for this year’s event. And with Oprah’s Golden Globes speech, it turned into the gift that kept giving. “We were going to screen the film, then we heard Oprah talking about it. That was like, ‘O la la!’ That was a great gift for the director that put so much effort into the film,” Colas says. Due to the hype that Oprah stirred up, as well as being awarded the Human Rights Nights Special Prize for Human rights at the Venice Film Festival, Colas predicts that the film’s screening at TBFF will sell out very quickly. 

Other poignant films that will be shown at TBFF include “Tagged” by Jual DaCosta. Centering around a mother trying to grieve her son after he was murdered, the film delves into the issue of how black youth are stereotyped: that those that die by the gun, live by the gun. “Not only is the media portraying that her son was gang-affiliated, but it also influences her community and her family to start thinking that same thing. They also make her feel as though she shouldn’t even grieve her son, because in their eyes he’s a villain, when in fact, he was not,” DaCosta says. The inspiration for “Tagged” came from DaCosta witnessing situations like this happen in her own community. She says that it’s a story that needs to be told, especially in this city. “A lot of people think that these things only happen in the States, and I wanted to show that it does happen in Toronto.”

For younger audiences interested in attending TBFF, this year, for the first time, there will be a day dedicated to children’s films. Not only is this a first for TBFF, but a first for all black film festivals across Canada. “I’m very happy, because for so long people have been asking for kids’ films, and now they have their own day!” says Colas. Not only is the children’s day a way to encourage families to experience the festival, but also to plant the seed of pride, curiosity, and critical thinking in relation to blackness. “We wanted to expose kids to black history and black stories. We cannot just wait for us to be grown-ups, and then we get exposed to all that. It’s okay if you’re already grown-up and then you start to get exposed to that. But we can start with the kids as well,” she explains.

Those hoping to get some insider info on what goes into filmmaking are in luck: the festival will be bringing back their Masterclass/Workshop called TBFF Black Market, where filmmakers from across the country and around the world will gather to give participants information about all the stages of creating a film. The series will be held over two days, with the “meet the filmmakers” portion as well as a tribute and workshop with casting director and producer Robi Reed held on February 17th, and the “meet the producers” portion on the 18th.

For the full schedule, screening locations, and to purchase tickets for what’s sure to be an amazing film festival, head to www.torontoblackfilm.com. For a limited time, you can purchase an all-access pass for $140, valued at $250.  But hurry, this is a festival you won’t want to miss!

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