TIFF 2019: How the Festival Spread Black Voices Across This Year’s Lineup

11 September 2019

Content - Film

Ahead of the festival's launch, here are five feature highlights that center on the lives of people of African descent worldwide.

Three years after the festival’s final installment of its City to City program, which focused on Lagos, Nigeria, the Toronto International Film Festival remains committed to bringing cinema from underrepresented of regions around the world to its audience of international tastemakers. This year, that effort is especially noticeable for the volume of films made by filmmakers from the African diaspora.

“Making a film is hard, but it’s especially difficult if you’re working without infrastructure or the required resources, in places where film is not necessarily part of the culture,” said Cameron Bailey, the festival’s co-head and artistic director. “And those are the films that we spend the most effort trying to bring to the festival. It’s so easy to get sucked into a bubble of what’s familiar, and I feel that our job is to continue opening audience perspectives.”

The City to City program, which was a TIFF fixture for eight years, showcased filmmakers living and working in a selected city, regardless of where their films are set. That allowed for the spotlighting of cinema by filmmakers from marginalized regions of the world, including Lagos. But for Bailey and his programming team, while it was a great success, the program had an isolationist quality to it. “We thought, let’s instead bring more of these films from different parts of the world and spread them out through all the different sections of the festival, rather than have a specific city focus each year,” he said.

In addition to higher-profile films like Mati Diop’s Senegalese fable, “Atlantics,” and Malian Ladj Ly’s insurgent “Les Misérables” — both Cannes 2019 winners — Bailey singled out “Rocks,” directed by Sarah Gavron, which open TIFF’s Platform section, as an example of the strong and distinctive directorial voices he sought out. The film follows a British-Nigerian teenage girl and her little brother, who are abandoned by their mother, and are forced to improvise in her absence, in a bid to avoid being separated and sent to foster homes. Bailey called it “one of the strongest films we saw this year.”

He also spotlighted Wakaliwood cinema for the very first time, with a genre film titled “Crazy World.” Wakaliwood is a nickname for the developing film industry in Wakaliga, in Uganda’s capital Kampala, where Isaac Nabwana, director of “Crazy World,” thrives. He’s an enterprising filmmaker who works under the nom de plume Nabwana IGG, and who, with his small production company, Roman Film Productions, has been making films for over a decade, with some 46 titles to date. The films, which are heavily inspired by Hollywood and Hong Kong martial arts action movies, are shot mainly in Wakaliga, a poor community where basic essentials like electricity are a luxury. Read the full article on Indiewire here.