Not all film festivals are created equal — or at least, not when size is concerned. Montreal’s fastest growing film festival is undoubtedly its Black Film Festival. Originally focused entirely on Haiti (and featuring just three screenings in three days), the festival led by Fabienne Colas now boasts the participation of major talents like Spike Lee (who’s here to present his new film, as he was in 2014) and holds a significant spot in the yearly line-up of homegrown film festivals.
Opening the festival this year is the Maya Angelou documentary And Still I Rise (Sept. 28), directed by Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Hack. The first feature documentary portrait of the artist and activist, it was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival. The opening night soirée will also be topped off with a ceremony celebrating the oeuvre of Clément Virgo (Rude, The Book of Negroes), who’s this year’s recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Tickets are still available for tonight’s premiere, for $25.
Split into feature fiction, feature documentary, short fiction and short documentary programs, this year’s line-up features films from across the black diaspora. The closing film also happens to be the only one I’ve actually seen: the brutal Belgian feature Black, which I saw at TIFF last year. It screens on Oct. 2.
Among the other narrative feature highlights, we find Ben & Ara (Oct. 1), a multiple-award-winning co-production between the U.S. and Cameroon; Dieumerci! (Oct. 1), a buddy comedy from actor/director Lucien Jean-Baptiste; the crime drama Le gang des antillais (Oct. 2), co-presented by Fantasia; the Barack-and-Michelle meet-cute romance Southside With You (Sept. 29), starring Parker Sawyers and Tika Sumpter, and the romantic comedy Everything but a Man (Oct. 1) starring Monica Calhoun (The Best Man, Baghdad Café) and Jimmy Jean-Louis (Heroes).
The documentary slate is particularly strong this year. Apart from the aforementioned Maya Angelou doc, Spike Lee will be in town to present Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown to Off the Wall (Oct. 1), Lee’s second MJ documentary after Bad 25. This one takes a more historical look at the life of the King of Pop and, while the quality of Lee’s narrative features has been variable lately, he remains one of the more underrated documentarians working today.
The other major doc on the slate is Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement, a documentary by Laurens Grant produced by actor/activist Jesse Williams. The screening of the film (Oct 2. at 1 p.m.) will be followed by a panel discussion with Laurens. Though barely part of any canonical conversation, Ousmane Sembene may be the most influential and highly regarded African filmmaker in history. His life and career are the subject of Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman’s Sembene!, screening on Oct 1.
These, of course, are only a fraction of the films programmed on the Black Film Festival’s slate. Click on the link to their website below for the full program, locations and ticket details. ■
The Montreal International Black Film Festival runs from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2. See the program here.