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Performance art and history

by Pauline Nesbitt November 22, 2016 0 comment
Performance art and history

Performing artist, Howard J. Davis, debuts his film, C’est Moi, based on black Canadian history

Performing artist Howard J. Davis marked his debut as a filmmaker with C’est Moi, a story based on a little-known event in black Canadian history. It is a reminder of the many forgotten incidences of racial injustices that pepper Canada’s past.

Set in 18th century New France—now known as Montreal—C’est Moi is the tale of Marie-Josèphe Angélique, a slave in her late 20s who was convicted, tortured and hung for starting a fire that ravaged what is now Old Montreal. The fire was allegedly part of her plan to escape her slave-owner, but the evidence presented at the trial was inconclusive. “The beauty of storytelling is that the audience should be left to decide,” said Davis.

Angélique is “an emblem of resilience against slavery in Canada,” said Davis. He added that a big inspiration for imagery in the film was Joan of Arc.

C’est Moi was filmed in Montreal, with dancer Jenny Brizard starring as Angélique. The music and lyrics were composed and written by Davis.

The creative process for C’est Moi began eight years earlier, in 2008, during his first year at Ryerson Theatre School, said Davis. He said the story was first performed as a dance, then in spoken word before Davis decided to make it into a film. Davis decided on cinema as the most appropriate way to tell Angélique’s story because of the intimacy this medium allows.

Unapologetic about the length of time it took him to complete this project, Davis said, “I am at such a formative stage of my career that I should be allowed to take my time, and to let things sit and see how they resonate.”

Born in Britain, and of mixed race, Davis was raised in Kelowna, B.C. and lives in Toronto. Davis said he was attracted to the performing arts at a very early age, and he can’t think of a time when he was not performing—either at home with his two sisters or while at school.  Despite the fact that neither of their parents were involved in the performing arts, Davis’ sisters are also performing artists. He added that, while growing up, he idolized British actor and comedian Sir Norman Wisdom, and was mesmerized by the films he starred in.

Davis is  a member of the Dora Award, an annual arts award in Toronto, winning ensemble for Passion Play, and also a cast member of the Dora Award for nominated play Bombay Black.  More recently, Davis was promoted on set of Downsizing and was given a speaking part. Downsizing is a soon-to-be-released film directed by Alexander Payne.

Davis said he submitted C’est Moi to several film festivals and has launched a crowdfunding website to help defray the associated costs. The trailer for C’est Moi is available at www.howardjdavis.com/c-est-moi, where anyone interested in viewing the film can sign up to receive information on screening dates and locations.

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