The very first Afro Prairie Film Festival, a weekend devoted to the screening of films featuring and created by Black individuals, takes place from Feb. 23 to 25 in Winnipeg.
“It’s a very unique time to be having this,” Ben Williams, production centre director at the Winnipeg Film Group (WFG) says. “Over the past four years … we’ve been doing a lot of work with Indigenous filmmakers, but within that time, there haven’t been many of Black or Afro-centered voices.”
“All of the films mostly deal with Blackness and how one observes or perceives themselves within the reality of their environment,” Williams says.
Williams says almost all the films deal with identity, with intersections of feminism, transition and queerness. Transition is often portrayed through physical displacement, which is the reality for many Black refugees.
“A lot of Black filmmakers go out of their way to address these issues, because it’s always something that we’re thinking about … in the forefront of our livelihoods,” Williams says.
Bisong Taiwo is the creator of the short film Saving Grace which will be screened on Feb. 24. The film is about a detective who must rescue her friend from a basement, where the antagonist is keeping her prisoner. Taiwo explains that he wanted to create a film in the film noir genre, featuring a Black woman in the detective role (a role often reserved for a white man).
“I wanted to turn that around … to make somebody that didn’t have superpowers or super-strength or anything but was just a regular human being,” he says.
Taiwo says inspiration for his film was scant. He hopes to inspire others to tell more stories with Black female protagonists.
Williams is the first Black senior staff member the WFG has ever had. He says he noticed there was a lack of Black representation at the theatre but didn’t notice anyone pushing for more representation.
Black Space Winnipeg led the way and approached the WFG about the lack of Black voices in their screenings.
Williams says he initially believed that Black activism in Winnipeg was less present than what he has noticed in Toronto and other parts of the east coast, where there seems to be a more active push. However, his involvement with Black Space Winnipeg and the Afro Prairie Film Festival has made him realize there is activism in Winnipeg’s Black community as well.
Taiwo is a member of the WFG and created his film through the organization. His short film was shown at the member’s screening event before it was selected to be part of the festival.
Williams says that due to a large immigrant population, much of Winnipeg’s Black community is also French-speaking. This francophone aspect is represented at the festival.
Williams says part of the WFG’s mission is to amplify a multitude of voices, and he is honoured to be taking part in the very first Black film festival in the prairies.
The Afro Prairie Film Festival runs Feb. 23 to 25 at Cinematheque. Check out the master class with Charles Burnett on Feb. 25.