BLACK FILM SIZZLES IN TORONTO by Aundreya Thompson

Ms. Fabienne Colas can pen another successful installment of the Toronto Black Film Festival (#TBFF16) into the record books. During the red carpet opening night, the air was electric, the festival team on point and the caliber of the festival’s opener, Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us), directed by Ernest Nkosi of South Africa, left attendees salivating for more. Organizers did not disappoint.

Every evening since Thursday has seen the intimate Carlton Theatre almost overrun by patrons excited to watch and discuss the festival’s films. Some highlights of the four day festival are Christmas Wedding Baby(Netflix), a romantic comedy written and directed by Kiara C. Jones, starring Stephen Hill (Boardwalk Empire, HBO) and Lisa Arrindell Anderson (Madea’s Family Reunion, Clockers).

Beyond narrative features, the festival offers a wide selection of documentaries as well, with the screening ofThe Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution. Reviews from the Sundance Film Festival describe the movie as powerful and the perfect accompaniment to observe the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party. Toronto viewers are no less affected. Maybe it’s because it is Black History Month or it possibly could be that we are still reeling from the effects of Beyonce’s Superbowl performance, or perhaps it is because of the increasing frequency of the very necessary conversations about diversity in the entertainment industry, whatever the reason this film resonates. Organizers quickly added two additional screenings, the third one on the closing day of the festival at 11am.

Filmmakers, Ngardy Conteh George and Damon Kwame (click the link to view trailers) also delivered well-received documentaries, praised as being brilliant and deeply poignant contributions to the festival line up.

A common theme throughout #TBFF16 is the resurrection of the strong black woman. From its founder, Fabienne, who started its sister festival in Montreal 12 years ago in response to the lack of outlets for black film, to Trey Anthony who premiered her short, When Black Mother’s Don’t Say I Love You, and up to and including even the female protagonist in Thina Sobabili (The Two of Us), determined to find a way out from underneath her brother’s thumb, everywhere the audience looks, there are stories of strength.

To me, this is the most essential reason why festivals and events such as this need to exist. I want to be appropriately and positively represented; on film, in the boardrooms, in the media – everywhere. I want to be able to reach out and talk to someone in the industry about issues that affect lives and careers without it being near impossible to get the attention and/or respect of those who can make a difference. Events like the Toronto Black Film Festival bring all of that down to earth.

The event, happily sponsored by Global Television and TD Bank, is credible and despite the naysayers, very mainstream. Black women, we are able. Relatable, likeable, cashable and that’s just naming a few. Our contribution to the black experience and society on the whole is more than relevant; our x chromosome is the scientifically proven birthplace of life. We have and continue to lead from behind, and especially now, it is time to unapologetically celebrate that fact by calling attention to our efforts, supporting each other and encouraging those who will come up after us.

The Toronto Black Film Festival does this in grand fashion, paying homage to Alfre Woodard, presenting her with the TBFF Career Achievement Award at the Art Gallery of Ontario for her work on the large and small screens (Grey’s Anatomy, True Blood, and the upcoming: Luke Cage) before premiering her new feature directed by Ben Bowman at the festival.

We are black and we are proud, and thankfully, it hasn’t been that long of a minute since someone with a platform has stood up and said it really loud.

For the rest of us in mid-construction, #TBFF16 has our backs too. The Black Market, a festival first, is a masterclass series with local and internationally renowned industry professionals. Trey Anthony, ACTRA panelists, and 12-time Canadian Screen Award nominee for his work on the epic miniseries, The Book of Negroes, Clement Virgo will share insights during talk backs about filmmaking entrepreneurship.  Check out details here.

Written by Aundreya Thompson for eBOSS Canada

Special Thanks to Max Mosher at ClutchPR for his amazing work behind the scenes of pulling everything together.

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