Black filmmakers from around the world converge on Montréal each autumn to attend the popular trailblazing Montreal International Black Film Festival, the biggest black film festival in Canada, which presents its 12th edition from Sept. 28 to Oct. 2.
Over the years the festival has drawn such stars as Harry Belafonte and Danny Glover, and this year Oscar-winning director and producer Spike Lee returns to the festival to present his much-anticipated Canadian premiere of his documentary Michael Jackson’s Journey from Motown to Off the Wall. Lee’s documentary is a tribute to the King of Pop, and the premiere screening will be followed by a public Q&A session with the Hollywood filmmaker.
“Spike is a really big supporter of our festival,” says MIBFF founder and president Fabienne Colas. “The fact that Spike is coming back says the festival is doing the right thing. Over the years we have cultivated relations with filmmakers from Hollywood, Europe, the Caribbean and Africa, such as Souleymane Cissé who is the Martin Scorsese of Africa, and they return because they believe we are one of the best black film festivals in the world.”
The documentary Maya Angelou and Still I Rise will kick off this year’s edition on Sept. 28 at an opening-night screening hosted by the film’s directors Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack who are flying in from Los Angeles. The critically-hailed doc was first screened at Sundance and explores how historical events shaped the iconic Pulitzer-nominated writer’s world view. Before the screening, there will be a tribute to Canadian director Clement Virgo who will receive the 2016 MIBFF Career Excellence Award.
Virgo is best-known for directing the acclaimed CBC mini-series The Book of Negroes which won 11 Canadian Screen Awards. Virgo also directed the first season of the OWN network drama Greenleaf (2016), for which he is the executive producer alongside Oprah Winfrey.
“We are playing tribute to Clement Virgo because he is Canadian and we need to cheer him on,” Colas says. “I think we really need to support our homegrown talent, we should not wait for him to be at the Golden Globes or the Oscars to celebrate him.”
In all, the MIBFF will screen some 40 other films from around the world, including the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement by Jesse Williams, which will be followed by a round table to discuss the movement. There is also an MIBFF Black Market space dedicated to the cinema industry and special events, and a Black Fem’Art exhibition that highlights black femininity through the work of ten young female artists from Montréal.
“Our film festival is important because we lack diversity on the screen,” says Colas. “You just have to look at the awards shows we have in Quebec and elsewhere and you will understand. Our programming complements other film festivals because we have guests and programs that otherwise would not have made it here. This is why we are special and contribute, diversify and enrich the cultural scene in Montréal.”
For the full MIBBF program and tickets, visit montrealblackfilm.com.