Nineteen countries, 79 films and two billion people represented. The opening night of the 14th annual ReelWorld Film Festival kicked off with flashing lights, champagne and ample smiles as the packed house of actors, directors, producers, media and film supporters took the opportunity to celebrate diversity in film.

Founder and executive director of ReelWorld Film Festival, Tonya Williams, took a moment to smile for the cameras as well as take her own selfies on the red carpet during the opening night gala. With a beaming smile, she mingled with everyone who packed into the cinema’s lounge, to acknowledge 14 years of the growing festival created to highlight films from the Aboriginal, Asian, African, Caribbean, Latino, Middle Eastern and South Asian communities, amongst others.

“I hope we’ll be here for at least another 14 years. It means that we’ve learned a lot…” Tonya Lee Williams

“I hope we’ll be here for at least another 14 years. It means that we’ve learned a lot and we’re starting to reap the rewards of a lot of emerging filmmakers that were in year one who are now some of our mentors and some of the people that are sitting on our board and this is what I really wanted ReelWorld to be, which is building this community,” says Williams, in between greeting everyone entering the theatre.

To kick off the two weeks of films shown in Toronto and Markham, the festival presented the world premiere of Destiny, the first feature film from Canadian filmmaker Jeremy Whittaker, who was radiating from the swarm of press when he entered the building, especially when surprised by his mother who flew from Jamaica for the occasion.

“It’s nuts. It’s a good feeling to be so welcomed by ReelWorld and I’m honoured to be given opening night,” says Whittaker. “They contacted me. They invited me and I’m really honoured by that.”

There wasn’t an empty seat in the house as guests laughed along to the opening night film, the perfect way to start the most established year of ReelWorld yet.

Words By. Samantha O’Connor + Photos By. Janelle Scott-Johnson