Cult MTL | A land of discoveries at the Montreal Black Film Festival

 

Brown Girl Begins

Last week I noticed that the New Arrivals section of Netflix had just been filled with about a dozen mainstream Nigerian films. These were not “festival” films in the proper sense, they were melodramas, comedies, action movies — the Nollywood equivalent of a Hollywood blockbuster. It occurred to me that the majority of foreign films we watch in North America are not necessarily even the films that are watched by the general public — they go through a certain process of “cultural legitimacy” that leaves out wide swaths of mainstream filmmaking. (It goes both ways, mind you — we’ll export a Xavier Dolan movie but not De père en flic 2.) I’d be interested to watch the aforementioned Nigerian films, except I actually haven’t the slightest idea where to start.

These types of films are often best served by smaller, more focused film festivals like the Montreal Black Film Festival, now well into its second decade. Originally conceived as a Haitian film festival, the MBFF has broadened its horizons considerably: The rules for a “black film” can include something like Dabka (which has a white director and white lead, but is set in Somalia) as much as they can include a film like the opening movie, Kalushi: The Story of Solomon Mahlangu (screening tonight at 7 p.m. at the Imperial), which was shot by a South African cast and crew in South Africa.

There are two Canadian fiction features on the program this year. The first is Brown Girl Begins, the feature debut by Toronto-based filmmaker Sharon Lewis (probably best known for hosting counterSpin and ZeD on CBC in the early 2000s), which bills itself as an Afrofuturist fantasy inspired by the novel Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson. The second homegrown fiction feature is D’encre et de sang, a low-budget film that garnered mostly positive reviews in its blink-and-you’ll-miss-it theatrical run in late 2016.

There are also a handful of local documentaries, the most…

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