Halifax Black Film Festival continues to grow after just four short years

28 films over three days make the 2020 festival the biggest yet in an ongoing celebration of filmmakers who otherwise wouldn't be seen or heard in Halifax

This year's Halifax Black Film Festival is bookended with the drama Sprinter and the documentary film Restless.
This year's Halifax Black Film Festival is bookended with the drama Sprinter and the documentary film Restless.

The Halifax Black Film Festival (HBFF) has come a long way in four short years. From its humble beginnings with a single-day event in 2017, the festival has grown to three days of programming in 2020.

“We have a record 28 films from various countries, including local films, this year,” says Fabienne Colas, festival founder and head of the Fabienne Colas Foundation, which operates the festival.

One of nine such festivals operated by the Foundation, they have become a platform for artists like Colas, who are largely invisible in the world of film. “My mission is really to help spread diversity, onscreen and offscreen, throughout the world because there are so many voices that cannot be heard,” she says. “Not because they’re not talented, but simply because they don’t have an opportunity.”

An actor in her home country of Haiti, Colas made a move to Montreal in 2003. “I had just won an award there, and I was ready to conquer America, and ready to work,” she says.

With few opportunities for an actor of colour, though, Colas decided to bring a few films from Haiti to her adopted home in Canada. “Unfortunately, no festival was interested in those kinds of stories, and no festivals selected these films. So I was really without a platform, without a voice, and without a job.”

"It has to be relevant. It has to be something that will make people think, inspire, or educate." - Fabienne Colas on the philosophy of choosing films for the Halifax Black Film Festival
“It has to be relevant and something that will make people think, inspire them, or educate them.” – Fabienne Colas on the philosophy her programming team uses in choosing films for the Halifax Black Film Festival

A self-described woman of action, Colas quickly realized the only way to create opportunities for artists such as herself was in creating her own. “So we started with the Montreal Haitian festival at the time, which evolved into the Montreal Black Film Festival five years later,” she says. Fast forward to today, and we’re doing nine festivals.”

More than just a series of film festivals, through Colas’s Foundation, the organization is branching out significantly. Among its other offerings is its youth and diversity program, which will play a big part in this year’s Halifax Black Film Festival. “This year, we will have the Being Black in Canada program, where we will showcase fifteen emerging Canadian filmmakers from Halifax, Toronto and Montreal,” she says.

A program for emerging filmmakers aged 18-30, fifteen aspiring artists were provided with mentorship and training, culminating with their documentary shorts presented at this year’s HBFF on February 29. “We believe we have to create the next generation of black filmmakers so we can have the next Spike Lee, Ava DuVernay, Clement Virgo, Cory Bowles and Floyd Kane,” says Colas.

Among the other films at this year’s HBFF is the Atlantic Canada premiere of director Storm Saulter’s drama Sprinter. The festival’s opening night film, it is the story of a Jamaican teen who hopes his meteoric rise in track-and-field can reunite him with his mother. “It is a really uplifting film, says Colas.” The whole family can be there and be inspired.”

The closing night film is another Atlantic Canadian premiere with Brazilian director Bernard Attal’s Restless. The 2019 documentary explores the countless unsolved cases of police violence, in which victims are mainly underprivileged young men of colour from the suburbs of his country’s big cities. “It is so poignant. It is so strong. It is a must-see film,” says Colas. “We couldn’t find a better way to end the festival.”

Making a return engagement to Halifax alongside several other films in this year’s program is the Ellen Page/Ian Daniel documentary Something in the Water. “This is a local film that has been making waves from TIFF to FIN and now at the Halifax Black Film Festival,” says Colas. “I think this film is selling out so quickly, so people will want to hurry to get some tickets.”

Other offerings include a series of industry panel discussions on diversity & inclusion issues in both the world of film and in the real world. Plus, the return of its youth program, in which kids and youth celebrate African Heritage Month by being exposed to Black stories through film. “There is a place for everybody. There’s something for everyone,” says Colas.

In an attempt to keep the festival as accessible as possible, Colas says the best way to take it in is through its 2020 Passport Card. “It’s the cheapest all-access pass we’ve ever put together,” says Colas. “And when they buy a pass, they not only can see films but they also have their DNA in the movement.”

If a pass isn’t in the budget, individual tickets can also be purchased.”And If you cannot attend, buy tickets for people in the community,” says Colas. “Because a lot of community organizations would appreciate donations of tickets, I urge people to buy tickets and give away, to give the gift of a film of diversity.”

The 2020 Halifax Black Film Festival takes place at various locations across the city, February 28 – March 1. Visit halifaxblackfilm.com for tickets and information.