Festival celebrates Black stories from around the world

While the Oscars are receiving backlash for the award show’s lack of racial diversity, Black film will be celebrated and discussed this month in Toronto. The fourth annual Toronto Black Film Festival (TBFF) will feature 44 films from 20 countries playing over five days (Feb. 10 to 14).

“I feel that it’s very necessary and it’s important. We have a voice and we have stories to tell and the only way we’re going to get an opportunity to tell our stories is if people come out and support festivals like this,” says actor Adrian Holmes, who is nominated for a Canadian Screen Award in the best performance by an actor in a continuing dramatic leading role category.

“This is a very important platform,” Holmes adds. “That’s why I came [to the launch] because it’s really important that we do our part to spread the word.”

Actor Adrian Holmes from television show "19-2" // Photo By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine

Actor Adrian Holmes from television show “19-2” // Photo By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine

Holmes plays Nick Barron in “19-2”, a television show that follows the life of two Montreal police department officers as they patrol downtown’s 19th district in police cruiser number two.

TBFF will feature films like White Water, an American history film set in 1963 about Michael, a Black youth growing up in segregated Opelika, Alabama. He becomes obsessed with wanting to drink from the “whites only” drinking fountain and sets out on a mission to do just that.

Closing the festival is Breathe Umphefumlo, which comes from South Africa, Germany and the United Kingdom. The musical drama speaks on the realities of students struggling for food, shelter and medication one of whom, Mimi, suffers death from tuberculosis.

Founder of the Toronto Black Film Festival, Fabienne Colas // Photo By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine

Founder of the Toronto Black Film Festival, Fabienne Colas // Photo By. Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine

Although there is no theme for this year’s TBFF, founder Fabienne Colas explains there are many more options available without one. “We wanted to be as broad as possible, which turned out to be great because that helped us pull off great programming.”

TBFF will also show the first feature-length documentary on the Black Panther Party (BPP) by Stanley Nelson, The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution. It is a fitting time as this year marks the 50th anniversary of the BPP and the screening will coincide with Black History Month. After this, and several other films at the festival, there will be a discussion where guests will be able to ask filmmakers questions.

“There’s a need, there’s a gap because some creators don’t have their voice heard,” explains Colas. “We just need to give them a platform and a voice.”

Nineteen-year-old Toronto filmmaker friends, Samuel Lehner and Alexander Weiditch, demonstrate an understanding of that need. Their film Wes will premiere Feb. 13 at Jackman Hall at the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The film captures the life of prominent businessman, Jamaican Canadian Wes Hall, most recently named one of Canada’s Most Powerful Business People by Canadian Business magazine, and all of the moments – both positive and heartbreaking – that made up the journey to his success.

Platforms like TBFF help showcase, spread the word about and shine light on Black films and filmmakers from around the world.

“This is really a wonderful film festival and it’s really an important one and so we’re happy to say that our movie is definitely worthy of being here because it shares those same characteristics,” explains Weiditch.

“It’s great to have Wes’ film showcase and premier in Toronto and to be part of the [Toronto] Black Film Festival,” adds Lehner.

Platforms like TBFF help showcase, spread the word about and shine light on Black films and filmmakers from around the world.

“First people thought we were crazy to do something here,” recalls Colas. “I just love that, when people say that, because it’s like a motivation for me. They said the same thing about me, even worse, in Montreal 12 years ago when we started the Montreal Black Film Festival, which became Canada’s largest Black film festival.”

The Toronto Black Film Festival runs Feb. 10 through Feb. 14. 

Photos By: Janelle Scott-Johnson © Urbanology Magazine