Being born and raised in Toronto, there’s never been a shortage of things to do in & around town. With so many events going on in the city, it can be difficult to make up your mind on where to go. I “Just Happened” to stumble upon the 3rd annual Toronto Black Film Festival in February (Better late than never right?). Okay maybe it wasn’t a coincidence, but I was covering the festival on behalf of @thesceneinTO.
Taking place during Black History Month, the Toronto Black Film Festival showcases films from around the world featuring black film makers and/or films with a strong black presence. The festival celebrates Toronto’s multicultural diversity and champions ethnic diversity through its films while creating dialogue about the various socio-economical issues in the many black communities throughout the world. The film festival isn’t just about films though (That’d be kinda boring if you ask me), TBFF featured a series of panel discussions over the 6-day festival which ranged from topics “Inclusivity in screen” which tackled the issue of films creating a more diverse representation of different ethnicities on screen to the “Black Actors in Hollywood: Then and Now” panel discussions which covered…Well you guessed it (Or maybe not), the generational gap between black actors in Hollywood, but more specifically the struggles black actors in Hollywood faced back in the day and continue to face today.
As much as I would have loved to, I couldn’t possibly attend every screening, every panel discussion over the weekend, so why not give you a QUICK round-up of my adventures during the festival and maybe, JUST MAYBE some pictures I may or may not have taken with any celebrities…Don’t be jealous, ok? Here we go…
OPENING NIGHT SCREENING: MANOS SUCIAS (Dirty Hands) Executive Producer: Spike Lee. Directed By: Josef Kubota Wladyka
CAST: Cristian James Advincula, Jarlin Javier Martinez, Manuel David Riascos, Hadder Blandon
The Isabel Bader Theatre teemed with excitement in anticipation for the Toronto Black Film Festival’s opening night screening of Manos Sucias. The latest offering from Josef Kubota Wladyka and Spike Lee surely did not disappoint. Manos Sucias takes us on a journey into the lives of two young men (Delio & Jacobo) and delves into the underworld of Columbia’s drug trade. Estranged brothers, Delio and Jacobo must navigate their way up the Pacific Coast of Columbia in a beat up rickety small motor boat to deliver millions of dollars-worth of cocaine, while reconnecting and discussing the harsh realities in living in the poverty stricken areas of their respective neighbourhoods in Columbia. The film draws light to the Columbian drug trade and depicts the everyday struggle of the black youth living in poverty.
A Tribute to Wilbert “Bill” Cobbs: Lifetime Achievement Award/ Una Vida Premiere
Alright so for those who recognize this actor’s face, you already know who he is, and there’s no need to say anything more. For those who don’t…You should! Seriously, Bill Cobbs has been in just about every movie ever made. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but he has been in over 160 films (Yah you read that number correctly) & television shows, and over this past weekend Cobbs graciously accepted the TBFF’s first ever Lifetime Achievement Award for his lengthy contributions to film and television, an award well overdue and well-deserved. With his wit and humor Cobbs thanked his audience for the award and promised to come back after the screening of his new film UNA VIDA for a very brief Q&A.
Cast: Joaquim De Almeida, Bill Cobbs, Ruth Negga, Andre Royo, Sharon Lawrence, and Aunjanue Ellis.
The film chronicles the story of Neuroscientist Dr. Alvaro Cruz (Joaquim De Almeida) who loses his mother to Alzheimers Disease. Cruz meets “Una Vida” (Aunjanue Ellis) and her partner “Stompleg” (Bill Cobbs) a street performing duo in the streets of New Orleans. Cruz discovers something unique about Una Vida and spends his time with her and Stompleg in an effort to help her, but is met with great skepticism by Una Vida’s adopted daughter “Jessica” (Ruth Negga).
Without giving the story away, I’ll describe this film in one word. FANTASTIC. Aunjanue Ellis gives a performance deserving of an Oscar (Seriously). One could even go as far to say that this may very well be one of the best movies to come out in 2015. Needless to say Bill Cobbs in this film shows why he has been in the entertainment industry for as long as he has been, and hopefully we will continue to see him in such classic films such as Una Vida.
Black Actors in Hollywood: Then and Now
I wrapped up my weekend at this year’s festival with this highly anticipated panel discussion. The panel was hosted by Global News’ Rosey Edeh and the participants included Fred “The Hammer” Williamson, Bill Cobbs, and actress Lanette Ware. During the discussion we gained insights on some of the experiences the actors had been through in Hollywood, and how they overcame their obstacles. Fred Williamson spoke at length about becoming your own entity/brand, advice any aspiring actor should really listen to. The discussion lasted for approximately 2 hours and was well worth the wait. In all actually it was pretty Bad @$$.
I’d like to send a special thank you to Fabienne Colas and the organizers of the Toronto Black Film Festival for hosting an AMAZING week of films and festivities, and for showing me love throughout the week. The festival continues to make remarkable strides and showcases quality films by black film makers and cast members. I cannot wait to see what you have in store for us next year!!
Honourable Mentions: The screening of Fred “The Hammer” Williamson’s 70’s “Blacxploitation” film BOSS NIGGER, and the screening of CRU, a tale of brotherly love. Cool films!!