Black light is a column by Governor General’s Award-winning writer Amanda Parris that highlights, defends and challenges art and popular culture created by Black people and/or Black-centred people.
Forget Christmas. In the city of Toronto, the most wonderful time of the year is for two weeks in September, when the red carpets are rolled out, movie theaters are packed and fans line up hoping to catch a glimpse of a famous face.
You guessed it: the Toronto International Film Festival is right around the corner. And after two years of virtual panels, drive-thru screenings and scaled-down programs, it’s so exciting to be back in person with all the glitz and glamour. (Note that for those unable to attend, TIFF will still provide access to some virtual screenings this year.)
To celebrate my favorite time of the year, this edition of Black Light is dedicated to the black films featured at this year’s festival. Earlier this week, I spoke on the phone with three TIFF programmers: CEO Cameron Baileydirector of programming for the festival and the cinematheque Robyn Citizen, and international programmer; Africa, West Asia Arabic Nataleah Hunter Young to have their opinion on several black films that they have selected for this year.
(For the purposes of this article, a film noir is defined as a film directed by a black filmmaker or featuring a cast or story that strongly centers black people and their perspectives.)
The most surprising movie
Cameron’s pick: The blues of a jazzman by Tyler Perry
“A lot of people think they know what to expect from a Tyler Perry movie – you know, the comedy, the tone. That’s not what The blues of a jazzman is at all. It’s a story with more emotional depth than you might expect, an understanding of history, an understanding of the great migration from the south to the north of the United States and that beautiful feel for the music that was created because of this migration. He has a reach that was a surprise to me.”
“The fact that he was sending it to a festival instead of just coming out commercially and raking in the millions of dollars at the box office that came his way most of the time, made me feel like it had to be something new. for Tyler Perry. And it definitely is.”
Robyn’s choice: Gravity (Gravity) by Cedric Ido
“Cédric Ido is a Burkinabé filmmaker and he’s French. In fact, I’ve been following his work for years. He made a short film in 2011 called Hasaki Ya Suda where he combined the myth of Burkina Faso with the conventions of Japanese samurai. [The Gravity] is a truly creative look at this French suburb. There’s a gang of young people controlling the drug trade in the area. We follow this man and a few of his relatives as they try to enter the land, and unexpected cosmic things happen.”
“Visually it’s really interesting. It’s got all these genre elements that come into play, but it’s also very true to the hundredth emotional drama of the film. It’s like nothing I’ve ever seen before, and I’m really excited that it’s in Platform.”
The movie that will spark a conversation you can’t wait to be a part of
Nataleah’s choice: Umbrella Men by John Barker
“The story focuses on the Cape Malay community and their own history of survival dating back to pre-emancipation, where one day a year slaves descended [and] they would hold a carnival in Cape Town, which continues to this day. And the carnival, interestingly, picks up some aesthetic elements from American minstrels because of the traffic between the United States and South Africa to entertain the colonial class.”
“This story is about Jerome, who returns to Cape Town to bury his father and reluctantly inherits his father’s club and band in this carnival. And he also inherits a huge bank debt. carnival cover. I’m really excited about what’s going to happen in this Q&A and the kind of conversations that will emerge because this is a community that we never see on screen in the West.
The movie with fan merch you would wear
Cameron’s pick: Nope by Jordan Peele
“I mean, look, I could pick anything on this program, but I’ll go with it. Nope. I think there would be amazing fan merch for that.”
The movie that took you on an immersive journey
Robyn’s choice: Nanny by Nikyatu Jusu
“The soundscapes and visuals are so confident, especially for a feature debut. [Nikyatu Jusu] knew exactly the story she wanted to tell. There are these aquatic daydreams that are both beautiful and haunting and there are genre elements. It really incorporates hope and a lot of knowledge about the immigrant experience – people who are looking for the American dream and the ultimate price they have to pay. I came out of it feeling like I was immersed in a different reality.”
The movie that makes you want to see what the filmmaker does next
Nataleah’s choice: Shimoni by Angela Wanjiku Wamai
“I loved the stylistic rhythm that [Angela Wanjiku Wamai] brings to this film. In her director’s note, she wrote that she’s preoccupied with stories of broken men, and that’s central to that story. The central character of this story struggles with internal demons and his own ability to control his body. I found this concern really interesting. And I find her directorial voice really compelling. He’s someone I can’t wait to see more of.”
The movie you can’t wait to see again
Cameron’s pick: sydney by Reginald Hudlin
“I love Sidney Poitier. The documentary really takes you on that whole journey, from, you know, the poor tomato farming family in the Bahamas to being one of the movie icons. And it’s got everyone in it. The arc of this life is beautiful. And I would watch it anytime.”
The movie that made you see the world we live in differently
Robyn’s choice: Slugger by Miles Warren
“I’m really interested in stories about masculinity and different manifestations of masculinity. And I think in the black community in particular, it’s incredibly complex and nuanced. [Bruiser] explains what these gender roles are within the black family and how are they changing? And that doesn’t just stick to the social realism of it. Visually, there are impressionistic and very symbolic and surreal aspects to the story. Shamir [Anderson’s] the performance is so understated and truly amazing. He’s the one who kind of made me see the world in a different way.”
The film you would like to make
Nataleah’s choice: Free Money by Sam Soko and Lauren DeFilippo
“He takes a look at a community that is the subject of [an] experience for a basic income program. I wish I had done it because I have so many questions and I had so many more when the movie was made. It taught me a lot, but there is so much more I want to know. This experiment is going to last about 20 years and I want to know what happens later in this process. Maybe I just need a sequel.”
Cameron’s pick: The female king by Gina Prince Bythewood
“Viola Davis is simply magnificent as the warrior leader of the country’s army. John Boyega is such a pleasure to watch. He looks like he is having fun playing the king of the kingdom of Dahomey. There was a lot of speculation online about this movie – about what he has to say about the involvement of African communities in the slave trade. is just this amazing ride.
Robyn’s choice: When the morning comes by Kelly Fyffe-Marshall
“I think Kelly has become such a great talent in Canadian cinema. [When Morning Comes] corresponds to everything I expected. It’s hot. She’s a brilliant storyteller. I think to have his feature debut in the same year we have Stephen Williams and Clement Virgo with their films, and they helped create this canon of black Canadian cinema, it’s very much come full circle. »
Nataleah’s choice: The King’s Rider by Biyi Bandele
“When we programmed [The King’s Horseman] it wasn’t something we had planned – it would be [Biyi Bandele’s] last movie. So that definitely adds a layer of it. It’s an unforgettable opportunity to see a classic play told in its native language. It was originally written in English and this is an opportunity to relive the work in the form of a film and a translation into the Yoruba language by Biyi himself. This is how he wanted this story to be told. So it’s going to be amazing to be there for that.”
Here are some additional film noir from Canadian filmmakers that I can’t wait to see at TIFF 2022:
black ice by Hubert Davis
A timely look at the long history of anti-black racism in hockey, this documentary has a ton of big names attached, including producers LeBron James and Drake and, of course, Oscar-winning director Hubert Davis.
Brother by Clement Virgo
This highly anticipated adaptation of David Chariandy’s award-winning novel takes audiences to a place rarely seen on screen: Scarborough in the 90s through the eyes of two Caribbean Canadian brothers. This is the one I’m super excited about.
Knight by Stephen Williams
move, Bridgerton – we have an epic new historical drama to swoon over, and based on the credits alone, I’m ready to start fangirling. A screenplay by Stefani Robinson (Atlanta)? A star turn by Kelvin Harrison Jr. (Waves)? And directed by black Canadian film giant Stephen Williams (watchmen)? I’m sold.
Soft, tender by Joseph Amenta
I’m a sucker for a coming-of-age story, and this one is set in Toronto and has three gay kids at its center. I am very excited to see this first feature film by Joseph Amenta.
This year’s Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8-18. To buy tickets, Click here.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to stories of success within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project that Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.