I’ve always enjoyed attending film festivals, and recently I got a chance to attend a new and upcoming one. With the unfortunate news of Vancouver Web Fest disappearing completely after a long hiatus, it’s time to look forward to the new and upcoming festivals of tomorrow as they make their way into our local town and gather people. Like The Vancouver International Black Film Festival. It only started last year (as we gathered from my last article), but it’s getting great traction already even at a start. I have to give some shoutouts to Andrea Este for letting me cover the festival, Fabienne Colas for making it a possibility with her foundation, everyone who made it come to life, and all those who submitted and even attended. Now it’s time for me to do one of my event summaries like I often do for festivals.
Opening Night – Rushing in after taking part in a longish film shoot, I came to Vancity Theatre where the event was, and didn’t find any familiar faces. I was one of the very few from Vancouver’s film industry that night, along with Mostafa Keshvari who has gotten some of his work covered here (and I may have been in a short film of his at one point). But despite the small unfamiliar crowd, I still found a way to enjoy myself in this freshly spawned festival, not to mention I looked smashing in that outfit I wore. Starting off the night was an opening speech by Andrea Este who talked about the festival (stuff I kind of already got from her) and then she introduced Fabienne Colas who also talked quite a bit and even mentioned this festival needed French films (since some folks from Montreal were attending) and definitely more famous people. It’ll be a matter of time, ladies. I’m sure people like Mackenzie Gray and Paul Armstrong will want to check it out next year. Now for the opening film, we got treated to Nairobby. Taking place in Kenya, 6 university students from different courses have just returned from robbing the Dean’s office of 30 million shillings. But they all have issues with each other, getting into arguments and revealing harrowing truths. One named Nick has been horribly injured and is on the verge of dying. Vivian and her boyfriend Yobra are making plans to run away to Zanzibar where they plan to live happier lives. Tasha stays by Nick’s side hoping for him to recover, while Kama tries to help, and Oti finds a gun on Nick’s person. Things get further out of hand when Tasha exposes Vivian, and Oti indulges Vivian in sex after Yobra breaks up with her. But the worst comes when Kama opens the bag to learn their robbery was a big bust and they didn’t collect cash but small slips of paper. Oti turns against his so-called associates threatening to shoot whoever has taken the money for themselves. It’s a big combination of backstabbing and blame games, and truths about each other getting revealed. The lighting, however, changed making it hard to tell if it was day or night or how much time passed between several lines of dialogue. Plus, it seemed to have quite a minimal crew to make for quick credits. But it was a pretty interesting film and the audience had the most interesting reactions to the revelations and other things that happened. There was an afterparty at the Cinema Public House but I couldn’t quite stay for that. It happened much later but if I hadn’t already had an exciting enough day (unrelated to this) I would’ve stayed… for a short while.
Panel 1: Black Community from Past to Present – A great lesson in history about a community I never knew much about, but was glad to learn more of. Moderated by Global BC’s Nadia Tchoumi, she brought up interesting questions and got perspectives from Brian Seremba, Kor Kase, Maya Preshyon, Etaremi Brisibe, and Djaka Blais. They all talked about history being under wraps, the upsetting case of a white racist boy going viral, and focused very heavily on Hogan’s alley, storytelling and how to get perspectives from their community. There were all kinds of interesting stories from this one and lots of details regarding community, addressing mental health, how talking about black culture is reactionary, and how supporting each other must be done with purpose and support. Very informative panel.
Panel 2: Finding Your Creative Space in Vancouver – An important factor is finding somewhere where you can get ideas. Even though there’s an ad before every film that says inspiration can happen anywhere, sometimes it’s best to take that idea and expand it in a place where you can concentrate. Have you ever tried to fully flesh out an idea on a bus or when you were surrounded by noisy kids? It’s not easy, believe me. So what exactly IS a creative space? Filmmaker Giselle Miller moderated the panel which consisted of Gur-Inder Singh, Ian Nsenga, Jamila Pomeroy, Janessa St. Pierre, and Jessie Anthony. They explained what they thought creative spaces were, how they got ideas, what they have made, and even focused on opportunities and challenges. They also brought up other subjects like minor issues, being multi-hyphenate, and getting into the business by networking. Speaking of networking, that was the next panel to come right afterwards.
Panel 3: Networking in the Entertainment Industry – Networking is important if you want to get yourself out there. That’s why I went to many networking events, volunteered at some of them, and handed out business cards to get connections. And now, according to one producer, everyone knows me, but it’s probably because of my distinct hat more than it is about this website I run. With Danielle Piper moderating, we got a small but interesting panel with Giovanna Morales Vargas, Marie Tate, and William ‘Bigsleeps’ Stewart. They all talked about how one should stand out and get noticed. They talked about what black people want and what the strongest roles for black actors were, as well as creating community, and the challenges of representation for BIPOC and women in the industry. However, an important detail mentioned was the fact that a Latino who writes and directs can change perception in the industry, and how diversity and equity in casting is in a progressive process so far. ‘Bigsleeps’ himself had some funny and interesting stories during that panel and afterwards, he told me he would definitely like to act with me on a future film set. That would be cool.
Nobody Was Here – The title was almost relevant to the experience at the theatre. It was only me, some of the front-door staff and ‘Bigsleeps’. A couple came in a short while later though, but I don’t know when. Anyways, it was a documentary about the Graffiti Artist who simply called himself ‘Nobody’. Kind of like that invisible ‘Mr. Nobody’ character who was the main subject of kids’ shows when I was younger. Except this ’nobody’ is more of a character than any Mr. Nobody I’ve heard of. Just a simple black man who often hid his face under a bandana and was quite a character. It explained some of his quirks, then went into his origin story where he started out as Scott Andre Patterson where he was born and raised in a well-known family. It also talked about his disturbing truths, sense of fashion, how he managed to get on the good side of everyone, and the subjects also talked about other matters such as racism and murder, the man’s kids and his dog, and his financial problems from when he got for too focused on his art. Nobody’s self-promotion and style was like no other and this documentary was crammed full of details and eye-opening, especially with the really dark ending. I just wish more people were there to see it.
Colour Blind – Now we’re getting into locally made content. Mostafa Keshvari’s latest production focuses on a young boy named Monet White who lives with his mother Magdalene as they struggle to adjust to apartment life. Years ago, Monet’s father died and just like his mother, Monet is colour-blind so the world looks like it has greyscale tones to him. Magdalene intends to make a profit as a painter and artist but her cranky and racist landlord Wallton Grey seems unsure of her. To make matters more difficult, she hardly makes a profit, gets judged by people, and one day when she supposedly DOES make a profit, the money she was paid with was counterfeit. Mr. Grey notices how the colour is off (something she can’t notice) and one day while she was out shopping for pomegranates, she discovers she forgot her inhaler and then gets caught by the police who got reports on her using the funny money. After her arrest and hospitalization, Mr. Grey is required to watch over Monet for the night while Monet brings up important factors about race and eventually after spending a long time with him, we see despite his hatred of colour, Wallton has a small space of kindness in his heart. However things get really sad as the story progresses, but despite it being troubling, the content was really creative. Mostafa did it with a child’s perspective in mind, and with diversity, that’s what made the story more beautiful.
American Girl – Another minimal audience, but I’m sure more people will be coming to next year’s. It’s all about a young black girl named Sydney who has some altercations with her family and decides to run away from home to Atlanta where she hopes to meet her biological father. Soon her car breaks down and she has to take a ride from a woman named Vornell who isn’t who she seems. Eventually, Sydney makes it to mid-Atlanta where she meets her friend Tasha and her boyfriend. Everything seems fine and dandy until one night during a party Sydney freaks out on some police officers who break it up due to noise complaints. Tasha kicks Sydney out of her apartment for causing a scene and Sydney goes on her journey where she runs afoul of creepy guys, loses her possessions in a public restroom, takes crazy risks in obtaining resources, and looks for both a job and a place to stay. She also does finally meet her father for the first time in years but things aren’t what one would expect. Her final decision in life is quite a surprise and it’s amazing to see what becomes of someone when they really set their mind to something. This movie was quite an adventure and really cool to see how one can go from homeless to productive. The sound could’ve been better though.
Encore Presentation – ACTRA – Hair and Makeup Equity in the Film Industry – Quite a panel of women as they talked about issues they dealt with when in the chairs for hair and makeup, and what they wanted to overcome barriers. Lisa Michelle Cornelius moderated and introduced great ladies such as Angela Mastronardi, Peggy Kyriakidou, Sharon Lewis, Samantha Kaine, and a couple more. One discussed how their needs should be in consideration no matter what number they are on the call sheet. It’s especially important seeing how many black people have textured hair done in very neat and special braids. Some others talked about what it takes to be a hair stylist, and how they were looking to address issues they’ve heard from stories. They also talked about how certain unions offer training to understand skin tones and hair of other races. Samantha felt it was a hard-hitting topic discussion and felt that people should listen up regarding hair and makeup, and wanted to have more conversations about it seeing as she had to bring her own products to prepare herself for camera. Some big deals include people needing to be educated and re-educated about how important hair and makeup is, but there were also some interesting stories as the crew of Murdoch Mysteries know how to take care of hair. There were some other great experiences, but I only wish this could’ve lasted longer.
Where do we fit as Black and racialized creatives in the digital entertainment and interactive industry? – A panel I didn’t see too much of, but still managed to get some facts from it. It was pretty interesting and talked about some important matters in the video game industry and representation for black and racialized characters. Featuring Moderator Arthur Protasio as he talked with Tamara Jeree, Andrew Stewart, and Derek Ng-Cummings. They also talked about how to get more diverse developers out there and what they wanted to do for inclusion. There were lots of challenges discussed and what initiatives people have taken to make the industry more inclusive and get the spotlight they deserve. Initiatives included finding jobs for people, mentors, and other opportunities with encouragement that boost confidence. Discussions on diversity and highlights were so detailed and enjoyable. I may not be big in the gaming industry, but I do hope diversity increases there too as it does in the film industry.
Aside from that VIBFF has plenty of screeners still available online. You’ve got a couple extra days before it’s all over, so go over and purchase a festival pass to see over 40 films to choose from. They all have fantastic stories in them, and they’re professionally made. So get on to the festival’s official website today and watch a screener or two. You might learn something, or relate to it.