Professionals from the film industry kickstarted Black on Black Films because of the lack of African-Canadian representation on and behind the camera across Quebec. The group, comprising approximately 40 African-Canadians, has been in operation for two years right up until its project’s inception.
Will Prosper, Eric Idriss-Kanago, Mylène Augustin, Alexe Laisa, Feven G and Stefan Verna are at the group’s core, and its members live in the Montreal area. Each member is a producer, director, scriptwriter, or director of photography. Stefan Verna, a director, scriptwriter, and cameraman, was the mastermind behind Black on Black Films.
“All of us have a piece of the puzzle; we therefore took up the opportunity to help each other out,” said Verna. “I was inspired by the non-profit Réalisatrices Équitables, for it fights for parity in representation and institutional funding. We wanted a better representation of African-Canadian film across Quebec,” he remarked, adding that “we wanted to create national and international alliances with Toronto’s Black Women Film Network, Guadeloupe’s GWA Label, and London’s Sankofa Film and Video Collective, to name but a few.” Furthermore, Black on Black Films recently organized a Montreal-based workshop with local filmmakers and Guadeloupe’s GWA Label.
Black on Black Films has received a scholarship from the Conseil des arts de Montréal to create a Web platform, promote members’ works, run workshops and start a bank of filmmakers, actors, and technicians for English- and French-speaking African-Canadians across Quebec to increase collaboration with other professional organizations.
“There’s still much content to be added,” said Verna. “Managers will come together in the next few weeks to further develop our site and prepare for a public launching in March. So far, institutions are aware that we exist. We are preparing scriptwriting workshops to ensure that youth better understand matters that affect us. Some members have studied at the Institut national de l’image et du son (INIS), where we can rent some rooms. The INIS is receptive to our group mission. What’s more, we hope to set up a partnership with the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois to showcase our films for one evening.” The Haitian-born director has directed 20 videoclips, one feature-length film and five short films.
SLĀV and Diversity
In other artistic news, was the controversy surrounding Robert Lepage’s play SLĀV, presenting traditional African-American songs, a factor that led to the creation of this group? Recall briefly that in the summer of 2018, a protest took place in front of the Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, where the work was presented. Protesters condemned the cultural appropriation by the stage director and Betty Bonifassi, the star singer.
“Activism, or the willingness to address false representations or the lack of representativeness of Blacks in the Canadian media landscape, is one of our group’s goals,” Verna said. “As a matter of fact, our consideration for this group goes back a while. In 2016, a participant who attended our Diversité culturelle à l’écran [Cultural diversity on screen] panel at the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois expressed interest in working with artists from visible minority communities. This participant wanted to know where such artists were found. At that point, I had a meaningful discussion with other African-Canadian filmmakers; we believed the moment was right to create the group. We wanted to stand together and claim the right to be seen on screen and in film and audiovisual works.”
With respect to presenting works, Black on Black Films may rely on Radio-Canada and Télé-Québec. “This is a case-by-case initiative,” warned Verna. In February 2018, group producers met with Radio-Canada programming directors to increase broadcasting possibilities and better define content that promotes Quebec’s cultural reality.
Following the diversity panel at the 2016 Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois, a close collaboration was fostered with the Montreal International Documentary Festival (RIDM) in 2017. A dozen members of Black on Black Films took part in networking activities and made progress in funding projects. On top of it all, the RIDM would like to continue its partnership with Black on Black Films. The group has begun a collaboration with the Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois; in 2018, this festival planned a special program featuring Afrocentric films entitled “Tout simplement Noir” [Simply Black].
Black on Black Films seeks not only to improve representation of black culture on screen but also to provide training sessions and workshops and undertake greater outreach programs while appreciating support from funders. In December 2017, Black on Black Films held a meeting with staff from the Société de développement des entreprises culturelles (SODEC) to accredit companies managed by African Canadians and acknowledge black filmmakers with atypical careers. The group would like to support its members in requests for funding projects with institutions and in projects requiring crowdfunding. Lastly, Black on Black Films welcomes investors from African-Canadian communities to fund its projects.
Translated by Dwain Richardson
Black on Black Films Facebook page: www.facebook.com/blackonblackfilms
To see Stefan Verna’s film works, visit www.vimeo.com/stefanverna