Film Festival for a community in crisis

“My visceral response to the film was rage,” said Yusra Ali.

Ali is a co-founder of Toronto’s Black Lives Matter and panellist at Saturday night’s screening of ‘Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community’ and ‘The Capsule’ at the 13th annual Regent Park Film Festival.

This screening comes at a time when the BLM movement is growing internationally, while the regulations around carding is still a hotly contested issue, and the relocation of families who used to live in Regent Park continues.

The intersection of all these issues displayed on screen and discussed afterward, made Saturday’s event a powerful representation of the culture clashes present in the city today.

More than 3, 500 people attended the festival, including both general admittance and the school program, run Tuesday to Friday.

“All these things … the anti-Black racism that structures every one of these Black issues are still here,” said Ali.

She sat perched staring through clenched fingers towards the ground, bobbing her knee. The theatre with a crowd of nearly 300 looked toward her and the three others who sat below the dark projection screen. By her side sat Tomas Kanene, a community activist who grew up in Regent Park and Desmond Cole, a Toronto journalist.

Panellists on stage at Regent Park FIlm Festivals  (Photos courtesy of Melissa Myers)

Panellists on stage at Regent Park FIlm Festivals
(Photos courtesy of Melissa Myers)

The panel was hosted by Anupa Mistry, whose article in Hazlitt magazine about Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community inspired the screenings.

The film showed tales of Toronto police, foot patrolling the Jane and Finch neighbourhood in an archival documentary supplied by the NFB and set in the 1980s. It allowed for community access that journalists can only dream of in today’s day and age.

Donna Cowan and Jane Gutteridge in the audience development department at the National Film Board said “we’re always pleased when our catalogue films continue to have a life, reach new audiences and are recognized for their historical perspectives and continued relevance.”

A short documentary that screened previously, was crafted out of found footage from a high school project. It dealt with crack addiction in the area and produced by a former Regent Park resident Kevin Wynter, who is now a film professor at Colgate University in New York state.

Both films addressed the theme of this year’s festival of ‘Redefining Concepts of Home’ in a way that is unique to the Regent Park community.

Onyeka Igwe, this year’s festival programmer, said the recent changes in Regent Park have sparked them to feature this theme, because home is always in flux. “It’s not completely secure and we have to redefine what home means to us … in Regent Park, that’s a reality for a lot of people with the changing demographic,” she said.

The area is experiencing massive reconstruction and is currently in variant stages of its five-phase renewal. As a result, many families are being relocated as the gentrification of the area is already heavily underway.

The festival screenings brought to the forefront, the realities of heavy police presence in the former Ontario Housing Corp., now Toronto Community Housing property of Jane and Finch. On the practice of carding, Kanene said that for his generation being stopped by police is normal. He said that it’s expected for Black youth to make the time to speak with officers and that an encounter can quickly escalate if you resist or are in a hurry to get somewhere.

All three panellists had a shared experience on being carded by Toronto police. Cole’s Toronto Life cover story explained how he had learned to expect to be stopped by police.

The festival’s goal was to create a space that allowed for conversation on social justice issues.

The festival was from Nov. 18-21. It was free of charge and provided free childcare services to allow the public to participate.

This is the third year the festival has been hosted in the Daniels Spectrum building, owned by the same corporation that is currently restructuring the neighbourhood.

This article was published in the print edition of The Ryersonian on Nov. 25, 2015.

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