A young Black woman with long dark hair wearing a black, brown, and white print top, stands with her hands on her hips.
Fabienne Colas. Credit: Contributed

The founder of the Halifax Black Film Festival says she’s “fired up” about this year’s festival, which opens this week at Cineplex Park Lane.

“This is really what we’re all about, to help local filmmakers get a chance in this industry. And not only a chance to create films, but a chance to be showcased at the festival, a chance to meet other filmmakers from all over the world,” said Fabienne Colas, founder of the Fabienne Colas Foundation which organizes the film festival. “This is our first in-person festival since the pandemic, so we’re fired up.”

This is the festival’s seventh year. This year the even runs from Friday, Feb. 24 to Tuesday, Feb. 28.

Friday’s opening features a film by Frank Berry called Aisha starring Letitia Wright, who played Shuri in Black Panther and Wakanda Forever.

This year’s festival will present 70 films from 10 countries, both virtually and in person, at Cineplex Park Lane. In addition there will be special events at the Halifax Central Library.

The Halifax Black Film Festival is one of several Black film festivals that take place across Canada. Colas, who is also a Haitian-Canadian actress, said the festival is “a very inclusive movement” in an industry she called “so exclusive.”

“Over the last few years we’ve been able to showcase hundreds of films and welcome and support hundreds and hundreds of Black filmmakers and film professionals, and welcome thousands of people eager to support Black films and discover authentic stories and to celebrate African Heritage Month,” Colas said.

‘A platform to artists who are invisible’

Colas became an actress in her home country of Haiti and describes herself “with humility, the Halle Berry of Haitian cinema.”

After immigrating to Montreal from Haiti 20 years ago when she was in her early 20s, Colas said it was nearly impossible to find work in Canada as an actress.

“Unfortunately, 20 years back I was just [seen as] a young Black immigrant girl with [a Caribbean] accent both in French and in English,” she said.

“It was very difficult for me to even get auditions and to get into this industry.”

Colas said that she wanted to bring Haitian films to Canada and Quebec to showcase and shed light on Black and Haitian cinema. She said she thought it could help her get discovered as well.

But Colas said no film festivals were interested in screening any of the films.

“That’s how we decided to recreate the Fabienne Colas Foundation, which existed already in Haiti for a different mission, but here it was really to give a voice and a platform to artists who are invisible, who don’t have a voice, who are nowhere to be seen or heard,” Colas said.

“That’s how the first project, the first festival of the foundation became … the Haitian Festival [in 2005], and then five years later it became the Montreal Black Film Festival, Canada’s largest Black film festival.”

Colas said the Montreal Black Film Festival is also the only bilingual film festival in Canada and has featured many notable guests over the years, including director Spike Lee.

In 2012, the Fabienne Colas Foundation created the Toronto Black Film Festival and has since gone on to create several other Black film festivals, including in Halifax in 2017, and Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary online during the pandemic.

Colas said the foundation has also held Black film festivals in Brazil and El Salvador, a Quebec Black Film Festival in Haiti, and a Haitian Black Film Festival in New York.

Being Black in Halifax program features local filmmakers

Colas said the foundation organizes about 12 festivals a year, plus an incubator program called Being Black in Canada. She said the foundation recently received $3 million to launch an online institution called Fast Waves, which Colas said will help “develop way more programs so we can definitely move the needle in the industry.”

Under the Being Black in Canada program is a program called Being Black in Halifax, which will feature four films in this year’s Halifax Black Film Festival.

“This is a very well known program because we’ve been accompanying and mentoring emerging Black artists in the creation of their first documentary short films and then we screen them all over Canada in the Black film festivals and beyond,” Colas said.

After being screened in the Black film festivals, films from the Black in Canada and Being Black in Halifax programs go on to be broadcast on CBC and CBC Gem.

“And if you go on CBC Gem today, at this moment, and search for Being Black in Halifax you will see a couple of series created by young Black Haligonians through our program,” Colas said.

A young Black woman with long dark hair stands on a red carpet while wearing a fabulous purple suit, black heels, and holding a black purse. Behind her is a banner with logos that say Toronto Film Festival, Global News, and Fabienne Colas Foundation.
Juliet Mawusi. Credit: Contributed

This year’s Being Black in Halifax’s films include four films by Black Haligonian filmmakers: Mixed Messages by Caleb Peters; Rambo & Ms. Deb by R’maelynn Downey Roberts; What Was Albert Up Against? by Shiquawn Downey; and My Type of Hair by Juliet Mawusi.

Mawusi, who is originally from Ghana, spoke to the Examiner last week over the phone while attending the Toronto Black Film Festival.

“My film is about the origin of Black beauty. You know, since slavery, how it has always been a struggle for Black women to keep their hair texture, how it has been a struggle to find the right products for our kind of hair. So that is what my film is about; original Black beauty,” said Mawusi.

This year’s Halifax Black Film Festival features a number of free in-person panel discussions on Saturday at the Halifax Central Library from 10:30am to 3pm. The closing night film will also feature a Q&A.

To learn more and purchases tickets and all-access passes, visit HalifaxBlackFilm.com

A graphic that says Funded by Canada

Matthew Byard writes news, profiles, and stories of the Black Nova Scotia community. His reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative.

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