TIFF and Toronto Black Film Festival shine a light on Black film of old, new

Feb 15, 2023 | Arts, Canadian News

A restoration of Spike Lee’s 1992 film Malcolm X is set to screen at TIFF on Friday as part of a month- long festival Perpetratin’ Realism: 1990s Black Film.

The film based on Malcolm X’s 1965 autobiography runs over three hours and tells the story of the activist’s life until his untimely assassination during a speech at the Audubon Ballroom in Harlem.

The film will be shown in 4K at TIFF.

The festival began Feb. 2 showcasing films such as Kasi Lemmonds’ 1997 film Eve’s Bayou, the festival is a tribute to the infamous Black realism film movement of the 90s’ with Curtia Wright’s mural ‘Milk n Honey’ showcased at TIFF Bell Lightbox’s atrium.

Wright, a multidisciplinary artist primarily grew up watching films such as Boyz n Hood and House Party, now she’s been tasked with creating a mural for TIFF’s February festival Perpetratin’ Realism: 1990s Black Film.

“I actually had my start in art through murals, but for a while after going to university, I went the fine art route and I did shows around Toronto,” Wright said.

“Then I kind of stumbled back into mural arts about four to five years ago. So it was kind of my introduction into the arts, and has kind of taken over my practice recently.”

When discussing her inspiration for her mural, Wright points to the American Dream and white sugar as key inspirations.

“I realized that the overarching theme of a lot of the films was this chase or this pursuit of the American Dream that wasn’t really attainable in the end for many of the characters,” she said. “ I thought it was pretty interesting that when telling realistic depictions of black people, that was one of the things that kept coming up.”

“The piece is framed by the flowing of white sugar: the artificial, overly processed by-product of rich brown cane sugar. This represents an illusion ― the sweetness that is promised by the American Dream which sugarcoats the ramifications of consumption, rot, and decay.”

While TIFF celebrates the past. Toronto Black Film Festival (TBFF) presented by TD Bank Group (TD) in collaboration with Global News celebrates the now with their festival set to begin today.

Andrea Este, head coordinator of the Toronto Black Film Festival sees this as a chance to be seen and heard.

“The past, we carry our history with us, but it doesn’t have to drown us, it doesn’t have to bury us. I think that it’s very difficult at times, especially when we see what’s still happening in the news with all the senseless Black death,” Este said.

“We have to keep fighting for change. We need to keep being seen, to be heard, to make a difference and to create those pathways to change.”

Fabienne Colas, founder of TBFF, first arrived in Montreal from Haiti over 20 years ago.

She said that identifying a blatant lack of people on screen that looked like her propelled her to start her own festival.

The Toronto Black Film Festival has been running since 2013. It originally began as the Haitian Film Festival, which transitioned into the Montreal International Black Film Festival and then to Toronto.

“When we go to the cinema, especially then, very rarely would you see films about the Black experience or films about Black realities by Black Filmmakers. So we really wanted to create these platforms,” Este said.

“Fabienne really wanted to create these platforms where people from all backgrounds of all races could come and enjoy these beautiful stories, these beautiful films. And in doing so, really start to understand that we have a lot more in common than we realize,” Este said.

The festival opens Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. with the film Lovely Jackson, a story about Rickey Jackson, a man who served 39 years of incarceration for a murder he didn’t commit.

Also featured is the film Aisha, starring Letitia Wright from Black Panther fame.