Film has power to shape ideas and influence the world around us.
It can affect how we see others, and how we see ourselves. Which is why accurate, authentic representation in film is so important. Movies short and full-length can aid in breaking down barriers, exposing audiences to new ways of thinking, providing role models, and inspiring us to tell our stories.
The voices and unique experiences of five up-and-coming Black Torontonian filmmakers are gaining representation on the screen (and streaming) thanks to a unique mentorship program—The Fabienne Colas Foundation’s Being Black in Canada, mentorship, and creation program. But this is not just a win for the filmmakers selected, it’s a win for the BIPOC community as it provides the community with representation—stories and characters they can relate to. And the films are winning accolades.
The five shorts debuted at the 2021 Toronto Black Film Festival, which promotes a selection of African, Caribbean, African American and Black Canadian films. The collection, Being Black in Toronto, made history for the mentorship program by being awarded Best Direction in a Documentary Series at the 2021 Canadian Screen Awards (CSA). If you are interested in checking out the films, the five shorts are being streamed on CBC Gem.
The Being Black in Canada program, created by the Fabienne Colas Foundation (FCF), has several goals including make up for the lack of diversity in the industry, both in front and behind the camera in Canada. As well, the documentaries aim to give a voice and platform to creators who would not otherwise be seen or heard.
Founded in 2012, it provides emerging Black filmmakers aged 18 to 30 from Black communities across Canada with expert guidance and mentorship in film production—screenwriting, directing, editing and more—as well as the professional film equipment they need. Complete creative control gave each of the emerging documentarians an opportunity to tell the stories they felt passionate about and resonated with their communities.
“Find a story that you’re really passionate about, have fun with it, don’t take anything too seriously,” filmmaker Selina McCullum tells other emerging filmmakers. She wants her film to inspire. It investigates the life of Canadian-Caribbean journalist Simone Jennifer Smith who served time in a Panamanian jail and five years of house arrest in Toronto before achieving her success.
“I wanted people to see no matter what you go through, and what bad mistakes you make in your youth, you’re still able to make it out of that and change your life around.”
For Bethlehem Tsegaye, who immigrated to Canada at 12, it was a chance to start a much-needed discussion. Her documentary sheds light on depression and mental illness in Toronto’s Eritrean and Ethiopian communities, where religion and culture don’t always encourage conversations on the topics. For others, like Shani McKenzie, the documentary provided an opportunity to showcase the breadth of Black culture, such as through her look at Black punk rocker Daniel Wilson’s journey in a primarily white music industry and genre.
While technical skills are paramount to producing their films, many of the young Torontonians call out the lessons in teamwork, trust and leadership, and the wide range of skills that go into film production and post-production.
“The biggest challenge was putting your ideas together to tell people what you want to see… Being able to tell other people, ‘Hey this is what I want to see.’ Usually, I just shoot it and work on it myself,” said Uranranebi Agbeyegbe, whose documentary Movements looked at Rodney Diverlus, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Toronto.
“Being able to take charge is one of the things I found honestly difficult.” He says mentorship helped overcome the challenge.
For David Peddie, it was an exciting opportunity to have his work, a film about activists fighting against racial inequality in the Canadian education system, presented on a national stage at the FCF Black Film Festivals in Toronto, Montréal and Halifax.
The works of the next Being Black in Toronto cohort, featuring five new stories from emerging Black Torontonian filmmakers, will debut at the 10th annual Toronto Black Film Festival running from Feb 16 to 21, 2022.