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Lights, camera, take action

by Sofia Misenheimer September 30, 2014
Lights, camera, take action

Black Film Festival gives new meaning to the term “moving picture” for its 10th anniversary

The 2014 Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) wrapped up over the weekend, leaving patrons and aspiring filmmakers in anticipation of next year’s program.  The festival screened nearly 100 independent films from around the world, many of which exposed festivalgoers to unfamiliar, and often uncomfortable, social commentaries. But the chilling themes of racial exploitation and gender violence that pervaded these MIBFF films were meant to move viewers, and inspire them to combat social injustice.

“The role of this festival is to educate audiences on black realities all over the world,” said Fabienne Colas, MIBFF founder and president.  “The films we screen are meant to make you think.”

Photo caption: Spike Lee received MIBFF inaugural Pioneer Award in recognition of his body of work. Photo by Sofia Misenheimer.

The Festival opened with Hope, a gripping narrative feature by French writer-director Boris Lojkine. Though Hope starts as a seemingly expectant tale of characters in pursuit of new beginnings, viewers must quickly adjust to the realism of harsh migrant life. The film follows the arduous journey of Cameroonian man, Léonard, and Nigerian woman, Hope, in their pursuit of an idealized European future. They meet while crossing the Sahara Desert, when Léonard instinctively defends Hope from the unwanted attentions of an aggressive fellow migrant.  Following her later rape and abandonment by another traveler, the two form a pragmatic bond. They slowly fall in love, but their relationship is violently tested in each ruthless underworlds they encounter over the course of the film.

Audience members seemed widely shocked by the film’s tragic progression and heartbreaking conclusion. This is understandable considering most Western blockbusters condition viewers to expect a happy ending. “Writing this story was not easy for me,” Lojkine said at a Q&A session after the premiere. The director described the years he spent researching African migration through Northern Africa to lend authenticity to his film. “I learned that hope is what pushes these people,” he said. That certainly comes across throughout the film, thanks to exceptional performances by an entirely non-professional cast.  In fact, Lojkine chose real-life African migrants, who survived many of the same experiences as their fictional counterparts, to play the film’s protagonists.

Of course, hope and social commentary were ongoing MIBFF themes. At a press conference last Wednesday, writer-director Spike Lee expressed hope for the future of the film industry. “When we have more people of colour in the room deciding what gets made and what doesn’t get made, [we’ll] have more diversity [of] subject matter,” he said.

This year marks the 25-year anniversary of Lee’s hallmark film, Do the Right Thing, 20 years since Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, and five years since Barack Obama became the first black American president.  But the world has not changed enough for the better, according to Lee. “25 years ago I never would have thought there would be a black president… but there are more African Americans who are in poverty…  [and] there’s a greater divide between the have and have-nots,” he said.

With that in mind, it seems clear that Canada’s largest black film festival has every reason to expose viewers to eye-opening realities that may inspire them to change the status quo.

“Each film we play is relevant, has a purpose… [and] will touch people’s souls,” Colas said.  After all, knowledge and empathy, whether acquired from personal experience or from a moving film, is the only catalyst for widespread social activism and eventual change.

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