Fresh local voices part of Black Film Festival

Beyond the River, an inspiring drama based on the true story of a pair of South African gold medal rowers, is the opening film at the 2019 Halifax Black Film Festival, running Friday through Sunday at Cineplex Theatres in Park Lane and Dartmouth Crossing, and the Halifax Central Library. - The Chronicle Herald


The Academy Awards presented this week to If Beale Street Could Talk, Black Panther, BlacKkKlansman and yes, even the divisive Green Book, made it seem like 2018 was a breakthrough year for presenting the African and African-American experience on screen. But as someone who takes a deep dive into world cinema every year, Halifax Black Film Festival founder Fabienne Colas knows, that’s barely even scratching the surface of what’s really happening.

The event’s third instalment takes place this weekend, with screenings at Cineplex Theatres in Park Lane and Dartmouth Crossing, and titles that take viewers from South Africa, in the Friday night opener Beyond the River, to historic St. Louis in Sunday’s closing documentary The Color of Medicine. In-between there are stories from Germany, Ghana, Kenya and suburban America.

A majority of the films this year have a focus on women — including Halifax filmmaker Andrea Dorfman’s heartbreaking-but-hopeful documentary Girls of Meru — while Saturday’s panels at the Halifax Central Library will examine ways to get a more diverse range of perspectives on screen and persuade viewers to broaden their horizons.

“I always say, diversity is a fact, but inclusion is a choice,” says Colas, who encourages cinema lovers from all walks of life to carve out some time this weekend for the three-day event. “I believe we’re literally changing lives with this festival, and that’s why it’s important for all people from Halifax to take part, whatever their skin colour.

“It’s not about black filmmakers only, Jim Button and the Engine Driver was made by a white filmmaker from Germany, but it stars a black boy in the main role. So we applaud him for that, we need more people like this. We want to have more black filmmakers telling their stories, but also non-black filmmakers joining the movement and giving a chance to black actors and talking about black realities. We’re all part of the same big family.”

This year, the 2019 HBFF expands its family with the addition of the Being Black in Halifax mentorship program based on similar outreach Colas has performed at the Montreal Black Film Festival. Designed to encourage first-time African-Canadian filmmakers, the new initiative spreads its wings with the help of Nova Scotia writer and filmmaker Juanita Peters as co-ordinator and mentor and on Saturday at 1 p.m. will present four very different stories from its inaugural participants.

“I’m the person who takes the scariness out of it,” laughs Peters, who loved sharing the energy and enthusiasm of these developing artists.

Peters notes she grew up in an era where the tools of filmmaking were not so easily accessible, whereas now elementary school students are making movies on their phones. But with more tools at your disposal, it can make the choices ahead of a young filmmaker that much more difficult to navigate.

“In some ways, there’s some exposure to how to have fun in making these films, but when it comes down to actually creating a narrative, you have to learn how to do that and tell a story that’s going to keep an audience informed and entertained,” she says.

This year the stories include Weymouth native Bradley Bright, who made a documentary short about living with a rare medical condition. Halifax-based Nigerian writer and artist Francesca Ekwuyasi and Antigonish hip-hop musician Harmony Adesola took different approaches to making films about how they express their experiences through their art, and Halifax’s Latesha Auger tells a very personal story in her documentary short, The Journey of Self-Love.

“It’s about myself, my mom and my daughter, and it took a lot of courage and bravery on my part to get to this point,” says Auger, whose only previous on-camera experience was making YouTube vlog entries.

“I faced a lot of challenges in the process, and it seems surreal to this day that I even had this opportunity. I’m just going with the flow of things now.”

The Journey of Self-Love focuses on the theme of moving forward and making a life for yourself, after a rough beginning as a youth. Currently working for a community housing organization, Auger is a single mother who made a determined effort to turn her life around when things seemed beyond her control.

“It touches on community upbringing, drug addiction and getting caught up in the system,” she says. “I went into the system at a very young age, there were a lot of things that I lacked growing up. I didn’t have a lot of family members to help me growing up, I kinda lost my dad and my mom, I lost everybody and it was just myself.

“Then I got pregnant with my daughter and that’s pretty much when the journey of self-love began. It touches a lot on things that everybody’s going through today, but I really wanted to highlight the resilience, and the bravery, that it took us to get to the point where we are today.”

Auger calls the filmmaking process a challenge that was at times frustrating, but also revelatory as she sifted through enough footage for three documentaries to find the focus that would make her story ring true for all viewers.

She might not have been prepared for the level of honesty that was required, but she says she tried to stay positive and think about how her story might help others.

“Honestly, there were a couple of times when I could say I was ready to walk out,” she says. “My nerves were just everywhere, I was a bit of a mess, especially in the editing suite where there were a lot of pieces I wanted to include, but then you realize how important that last piece is.

“It really is a universal story, and I’m proud of myself for realizing that I’m not the only one whose gone through this. For the longest time, I felt like it was just me, so to put this story out there and to shed light on my own story, and those of my daughter and my mom, I hope it’s inspirational for those who feel like they’re alone, and let them know that they’re not.”

Auger thanks Peters and the other mentors for helping her see her project through to the end, from shooting the footage to performing the final mix, and ultimately loved the process of being part of a team effort on a project that she hopes will make a change.

“When you are able to break through that moment of being scared, and approach somebody in the field that you think knows so much more than you, and you watch it happening as you work together, it’s just so wonderful,” says Peters of her experience with the four young filmmakers.

“I always say everything’s difficult until you’ve done it. And then you do it a few more times and wonder what all the fuss was about.”