Inaugural Black Film Festival hailed as a resounding success

Tuesday, April 4, 2023

Originally posted in the The Daily Bulletin for 04/03/23

By Tracelyn Cornelius.

The office of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Anti-Racism (EDI-R) teamed up with the Congress of Black Women (Waterloo Region chapter) and Princess Cinema to host the inaugural Black at Waterloo: Black Film Festival in March. The purpose of the festival is to expose the Waterloo Region to the diversity of Black cinematography and to highlight opportunities in the Black Canadian film industry to Black youth. In an effort to reduce barriers to youth participation in the film festival, organizers provided complimentary tickets to high school students in the region, who were desirous of attending and discounted tickets to university students.

“The Black Film Festival was an excellent opportunity for the University of Waterloo to demonstrate its commitment to community engagement and outreach, particularly with Black youth in the Waterloo Region,” said Dr. Christopher S. Taylor, associate vice-president, EDI-R. “What started as a conversation between the Congress of Black Women and EDI-R, grew to become the region's first Black Film Festival. I am proud to see that our office can support different ways of knowing and expose youth to Black-centred knowledge, culture and thought, that extends beyond our campuses.”

In addition to the students, youth and seniors attending the Black Film Festival, several leaders from the region, such as MP Mike Morrice, MPP Laura Mae Lindo and Mayor Dorothy McCabe supported the event. 

“It was a palpable experience,” said Marcia Smellie, president of the Congress of Black Women, Waterloo Chapter. “You could see it in the impact on the people who attended as they exited the theatre. They were excited and would share that the Film Festival should have been happening for years, adding that they can’t wait for the next one.”  

The festival opened on Wednesday, March 15, 2023 with two short documentaries: Reel Black: Our Film Stories, an exploration of Black Canadian filmmaking by emerging filmmakers Christian Anderson and Ajahnis Charley and a rare screening of Eyes of the Rainbow, a 1997 documentary that looks at the experiences of escaped political prisoner Assata Shakur in Cuba and unique Afro-Cuban practices.  

There were also screenings of the debut film of Black Canadian director Kelly Fyffe-MarshallWhen Morning Comes, which tells the story of a young Jamal who must deal with leaving Jamaica to immigrate to Canada.  

As a palette cleanser between the Canadian features, organizers featured the Academy Award-winning documentary from director Questlove (from The Roots) Summer of Soul, a historical key feature of the 1969 Harlem Cultural Festival with never-before-seen footage of greats such as Nina Simone, Mahalia Jackson and a 19-year-old Stevie Wonder. 

As an ode to Black Canadian cinema, organizers closed out the festival with screenings of Brother, a tribute to Black masculinity, family and growing up in Scarborough, by renowned Black Canadian director Clement Virgo.  

The Black Film Festival created and celebrated community, shared learning and a love for the cinematic arts. The Congress of Black Women are hopeful of future successful collaborations in 2024, and beyond.