Set it Off

This weekend marks the start of TIFF Cinematheque’s Black Star series celebrating 100 years of black excellence on screen. Running from November 3, 2017 to December 22, 2017, and featuring a slew of feature length and short films curated by Ashley Clark, a writer and senior programmer of cinema at BAM in Brooklyn, the series is a must for those looking for diverse storytelling.

One of the great aspects of this series is that it shines an expansive light on the numerous contributions black individuals have made in cinema across the globe. Whether it is giving outstanding performances (Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover, Lena Horne, David Oyelowo) or crafting the story behind the camera (Ava DuVernay, Spike Lee, Charles Burnett, F. Gary Gray), the impact black artists have had on the history or cinema is undeniable. As there is a wealth of titles to sort through, here are some recommendations on what to see at Black Star:


Canadian Filmmakers on the Black Experience
The films of Clement Virgo, especially Rude which is screening as part of this series, had a profound impact on me when I was a budding cinephile. Virgo opened my eyes to fact that there was indeed a place for the black experience in Canadian cinema. The fact that Rude was released the same year as Stephen Williams’ gripping drama Soul Survivor only help to reinforce the changing tides in what defined Canadian cinema. Since those films were released, we have seen stories about complicated relationships (Sudz Sutherland’s romantic comedy Love, Sex and Eating the Bones), deep family bonds (Stella Meghie’s delightful Jean of the Jonses) and the ramifications of gun violence (Charles Officer’s Short Hymn, Silent War) captivate Canadian audiences.

Body and Soul

The Hard to Find Classics
It is not often that you get to see a film from 1913 on the big screen, so you know that Lime Kiln Club Field by T. Hayes Hunter and Edwin Middleton is high on my must-see list. As is the Oscar Micheaux’s silent film Body and Soul which will be screened accompanied by jazz pianist Thomspon T. Egbo-Egbo. This will no doubt be a rare cinematic experience not to be missed. Speaking of rare experiences, films such as Pen Tennyson’s 1940 film The Proud Valley, John M. Stahl’s 1934 version of Imitation of Life, and Andrew L. Stone’s Stormy Weather starring Lena Horne are ones you will want to see on the big screen aw well. These films not only provide a glimpse into the past, but highlight themes that still reverberate today.

Middle of Nowhere

Empowered Black Women Behind the Camera
When it comes to the black experience, regardless of whether it is in relation to family, politics or community, black women have played a vital role. The same can be said for cinema as directors such as Julie Dash (The Diary of an African Nun, Illusions) and Ava DuVernay (Middle of Nowhere) have found success while keeping true to their unique artistic visions. While Dash and DuVernay artist I am familiar with, I am very interested in exploring the works of Sylvia Hamilton and Claire Prieto (Black Mother Black Daughter) and Martine Chartrand (Black Soul). However, they are not the only female directors whose works have piqued my curiosity. The short films by Ja’Tovia Gary’s (An Ecstatic Experience) and Laurie Townshend’s (The Railpath Hero) deserve some attention as well. As do the music videos screening by talented directors such as Cazhhmere (Baby It’s U!) and Alison Duke (Trilogy, a sly deconstruction of hip hop videos within a hip hop video).

Carmen Jones

The Changing Face of the Hollywood
When I think of iconic black film stars, in the traditional Hollywood definition, my mind immediately goes to individuals such as Sidney Poitier (In the Heat of the Night screening in 4K Digital Restoration), Diana Ross (Lady Sings the Blues), Dorothy Dandridge and Harry Belafonte (Carmen Jones). Yes, there were important actors and actress before them, but these are the ones who paved the way for Denzel Washington (Malcolm X), Jamie Foxx (Annie), Will Smith (Six Degrees of Separation), Eddie Murphy (Coming to America) and Queen Latifah (Set it Off) to name a few. Continually changing the perception of what stars look like in Hollywood, all these performers routinely prove that films with black individuals in leading roles can be successful at the box office.

The full list of films screening as part of the Black Star series, and ticket information, can be found at the TIFF website.