Pat Dillon Moore
This year, I celebrate my 40th year of being in the film world. Ever since filming the John N. Smith-directed docu-drama, Sitting in Limbo, one way or another, my love of film and much of my professional life has been intertwined with Canadian and world cinema. Hence, my trip to cover the 2023 Toronto International Film Festival edition. Beyond being in a celebratory and indulgent mood, it was easy for me to rationalize picking up and going. As I look back on the heady days of being immersed in such a rich milieu of artistry, reconnecting with my film industry friends, especially the plethora of Black film creatives and stars and the frantic pace, the films themselves were my absolute joy! Ultimately, to me, a festival must be evocative and create new thinking and spark discussions. Here are a few Black films that I urge you to make a point of duty to watch.
Origin by Ava Duvernay
Oscar-nominated director, Ava Duvernay (Selma, A Wrinkle in Time), delivers a seminal film, Origin. This is the film that you will leave the theatre and head to a coffee shop to discuss or sit in your car and talk about it before you put the key in the ignition. Origin had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival and Ms. Duvernay went straight to Toronto for the film’s the North American Premiere at the Roy Thompson Hall. The film is a wonderfully crafted visual pastiche and a fictionalized account of author Isabel Wilkinson’s 2020 bestseller, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents. Pun intended, the film is brilliantly cast with lead, Aunjanue Ellis (The Help, King Richard), Niecy Nash and Blair Underwood. Aunjanue burns up the screen with the depth and width of her emotions. You can’t take your eyes off her and we all have lived some of her joys and pain.
In Origin, the race question surfaces when a colleague approaches Isabel to write about Trayvon Martin’s death. Interested in the core of where racial injustice comes from and confronted with personal tragedy, Wilkinson is forced to reorient her life with the globe-trotting travel for the research of this book.
Venice film fest then TIFF denotes an Oscar campaign and with this film and its romp through the history of our collective discontent, the film deserves the best picture nod. Trust me your soul needs to see this film as it will position us to take on life’s big questions and ideas around race and interconnectivity.
Black Life: Untold Stories
Black Life is an eight-part documentary series that reframes the rich and complex histories of Black experiences in Canada, dispelling commonly accepted myths and celebrating the many contributions of Black Canadians. The series spans over 400 years with an eye towards contemporary issues, music, policing, Black liberation, immigration, culture, and sports.
At TIFF four of the eight films screened. The films brilliantly amplify Montrealer and their contributions to that which we call Canada. It does a great job at regional representation of the diaspora. The best thing about some of the films that premiere at film festivals is when cinephiles can point their audiences to where they can see these productions. The series will air weekly online on CBC Gem as of October 18 and the broadcast premieres on the CBC Network on October 25.
Director Alicia K. Harris’ Haven But No Heaven is an unflinching examination of slavery in Canada that dispels the myth of Canada as a haven for Black people. The episode on slavery vividly documents the history and sociology of slavery in Canada and its legacy in terms of the racial codes and structural and systemic racism that shape our daily lives. It combines beautiful and yet disturbing imagery depicting slavery and includes a number of academics such as Afua Cooper, Charmaine Nelson, and Montreal’s Dorothy Williams.’
Award-winning former Montrealer, Michèle Stephenson’s Revolution Remix captures the spirit of Black politics in the sixties painstakingly showing the level of activism and advocacy. Shot in captivating black and white, the film is a veritable work of political art. Michèle Stephenson is also this year’s winner of the Sundance award for her documentary (co-directed with Joe Brewster) on the life of poet Niki Giovanni.
My personal favorite of the series is Justice Denied by director Duane Crichton. The doc for me is searing and drew tears from me. Scholars and activists analyze historic criminalization of Black Canadians and the effect on policing. The scope and history of policing Black communities in Canada is laid bare. The film will be a must-see for parents with the children, not only with our sons but watch it with our daughters too. Every human rights organizations, grass-roots anti-policing and advocacy groups and throw in some of our White brothers and sisters who finally got “it” during the pandemic when George Floyd was brutally killed, you ALL need to see this doc. Black professionals and academics whose work has included the policing of Black citizens, like Dave Austin lend authentic and authoritative voice to this episode.
Lots to learn in this series and a lot that we as Black citizens who are amongst the “living while Black in Canada” already know. However, the cinematic treatment and tying of the then with now is strong. We will stand up in our collective living rooms or wherever we screen films and applaud the creative teams around Black Life: Untold Stories. The series is produced by Studio 112 in association with Northwood Entertainment, and Ugly Duck Productions. The executive producers are the Emmy-award winning Leslie Norville, P.K. Subban, Miranda de Pencier, and Nelson George; Sandy Hudson serves as co-executive producer.