A Fast Track to Industry Insiders
It all started from a statement of Alexa Joy’s dissatisfaction with Winnipeg’s film status quo, “We have no representation here.” During Black History Month the Afro Prairie Film Festival (APFF) wrapped up its third year with a whirlwind of screenings while setting a solid platform for people interested in film careers. The quaint Cinematheque theatre was outfitted with a red carpet, photobooth backdrop, refreshments and networking space to make community connections from February 19-23, 2020.
Winnipeg Film Group (WFG) and Black Space Winnipeg co-presented the event. WFG Production Centre Director Ben Williams kept the mood light during the festivities by regularly reminding attendees that no, he was not related to the illustrious, award-winning, visiting guest actress Tonya Williams. Tonya Williams carved out her acting career with her nearly 20 year role as Dr. Olivia Barber Winters on daytime drama The Young and the Restless.
An Invitation to Indulge in Black Cinema
The variety of films available on the reel encouraged continual indulgence. The original 1975 Dolemite ‘blaxploitation’ comedy movie that screened can now be compared to the recent 2019 hit My Name is Dolemite featuring Eddie Murphy. Another throwback film shown was Poetic Justice—screened as a tribute to late renowned director John Singleton. Miles Davis: Birth of Cool, Clemency, Queen and Slim, and award winning actress Cynthia Erivo’s portrayal of Harriet were all popular 2019 feature films that filled the theatre.
Local and National Support for Black Filmmakers
The Networking Luncheon for Womxn in Film drew womxn in all spheres of the industry that encouraged community collaboration and network building amongst emerging and established womxn industry professionals. APFF Director Alexa Joy led the group mixer where all womxn present were intrigued and engaged. Participants learned the names and a little bit about everyone attending—even shameless plugs were encouraged. The atmosphere was warm and authentically weaved with sentiments of support for one another.
After Alexa Joy lamented to Ben Williams three years ago that, “We have no (film) representation here,” the evidence in the Platform Gallery room was telling a different story. This dramatic change is due to Joy’s unapologetic, afrocentric, advocacy—and love for her community. Local love permeated the air through Reelworld Screen Institute’s award recognition to local Director Bisong Taiwo for his sci-fi film Time Sleeper, 2019. Taiwo also appreciated the additional $500 award he received, saying it will help him with production costs.
Tonya Williams’s Reelworld Screen Institute and Afro Prairie Film Festival jointly presented an award to recently appointed CEO, Joy Lowen, of the National Screen Institute. Lowen received the 2020 Black Leadership Award of Distinction for her role in supporting Black-Canadian artists. “I am here to support all of you. I can’t write. I can’t produce. You don’t wanna see me with a camera,” Lowen shared.
The late Gerry Atwell was also acknowledged through a tribute before the screening of 2003 movie Barbara James, Directed by Winston W. Moxam. After the screening, a tribute dedicated to Atwell highlighted his work connecting with one of his Atwel’s mentees, Arinze Eze, who shared memories of Atwell's leadership and dedication to his community through the arts and sister of Atwell, Judy who spoke on the future plans to honour her brother's legacy with a fund and plans to support artists in the community. Atwell was a Manitoban music icon, an impactful music mentor and advocate in the Black community.
ACCESS TO INDUSTRY INSIDERS
Both Alison Duke’s Keynote Address and Acting Masterclass with Tonya Williams offered crucial industry insider information that can’t just be discovered through a Google search.
Oya Media Group Co-founder and visiting filmmaker Alison Duke captured festival participant attention with her Keynote Address Duke’s Keynote Address that provided insight into her 25 year film career that began with Canadian music video production. But she stressed the importance of listening to your own voice. Duke expanded on the benefits of knowing the industry and how to build a team for success. Duke is walking-her-talk by offering a hand-up for emerging Black youth in film that entered the program with eight percent employment. Through her Black Youth! Pathway 2 Industry Program, she reports that after year one of her mentorship program: 90% of the 20 youth that entered her program were employed and; 81% secured employment in film and television. Today, many companies contact Duke to hire industry professionals. The impact of those measured statistics is far reaching and life-changing
“There’s a lot of young people and mentorship and hand holding that happened throughout the film. It doesn’t happen in industry. You sink or swim in the industry.” - Fonna Seidu
Tonya Williams’ Masterclass was in-part an autobiography—inviting festival attendees into the career and life decisions that led to her success. As the Reel World Festival Founder, Williams encouraged actors to have their own ‘boundaries’ when it comes to choosing gigs and not be afraid to turn down ‘unsavoury roles’. Playing a television character for nearly 20 years was quite the shift to now directing the Reelworld Film Festival which she calls her ‘baby’. Reelworld offers Canadian BIPOC filmmakers an Emerging-20 Incubator Program where new film projects and creative content ideas are pitched and winners get assistance to help their new venture succeed. She reminded attendees to keep striving for their dreams even if they think they’re too late, too old, or believe they missed their big break.
Both speakers offered the same valuable knowledge nugget about how forming meaningful relationships with other industry professionals is a key to success.
Black Canadian Short Film Awards: A Featured Favourite
The festivities were capped off on the last night of the festival with the New Black Canadian Short Films in Competition screening. Seven short films were showcased including: Wash Day, Kalunga Line, Heron Gate, Measure, PICK, Lagoon, and Promise Me. The Winnipeg Film Group specializes in short film productions and provides available funding, equipment and training resources to support Winnipeg content creators.
The event came full circle when Alison Duke’s short film Promise Me (2019) was presented with the Winston W. Moxam Best Black Canadian Short Film Award. Indie Producer Fonna Seidu accepted the award on Duke’s behalf as the film’s producer and a successful alumni of Duke’s Black Youth! Pathway 2 Industry Program. “There’s a lot of young people and mentorship and hand holding that happened throughout the film. It doesn’t happen in industry. You sink or swim in the industry,” Seidu said.
Black folks can get excited that these phenomenal opportunities were created to help them thrive in the creative industry. Tonya Williams reiterated that we can create our own national Canadian film makers organization and show more support for Canadian films. Ben Williams thanked all festival sponsors, including the Canada Council for the Arts (main festival sponsor) and echoed the importance of supporting local talent to close out the and festival by proclaiming;
“We had the best turnout ever and thanks for coming.”
Shondell Orinthia Babb is a freelance journalist and host that lives in Winnipeg, MB. Contact: [email protected] Babb is also a Certified Curly Hair Consultant. For inquiries: [email protected].
AFRO PRAIRIE FILM FESTIVAL
The Afro Prairie Film Festival hosted on Treaty 1 Territory supports Black filmmakers in Canada. In celebration of Black History Month, Black Space Winnipeg and the Winnipeg Film Group are proud to host this festival that celebrates Black cinema across North America while promoting the work of established and emerging Black filmmakers in Canada. The Afro Prairie Film Festival is provides programming and education that explores Black narratives on screen and behind the scenes.