By Aurora Sol, editor at Afros In The City
Andrea Este on managing black film festivals across Canada
If you have been in Calgary for some time, you might be aware of a burgeoning underground film scene which has seen an uptick in growth in the last few years, especially since COVID-19 changed the landscape of entertainment in the city. With the Calgary Underground Film Festival (CUFF) entering its 20th year this November, and with more sold-out showings each year, it is clear that Calgary has a hunger for film that has no signs of slowing down. In 2021, during a very uncertain time when the pandemic threatened many venues and small entertainment businesses, the inaugural Calgary Black Film Festival saw a very successful digital/virtual pilot event. Since then, having run for three consecutive years each May, The Calgary Black Film Festival has become a beloved event in the city, celebrated by many, and growing steadily. Andrea Este is the co-founder of The Fabienne Colas Black Film Festivals across Canada, as part of the Fabienne Colas Foundation, which now hosts Black film festivals from coast to coast in Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto and Halifax. Altogether, The Fabienne Colas Foundation hosts 12 different film and music festivals in Canada, the United States, Haiti, and Brazil. Este manages five of six of these Canadian Black Film Festivals, as well as the Black Market, which is an event held during the Fabienne Colas Foundation's Black Film Festivals across Canada, with the aim of stimulating growth and development of the independent film industry by bringing industry professionals together in a dynamic setting. "The first Black Film Festival in Canada was the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF), which was created by Fabienne Colas 18 years ago in 2005,” says Este. “This festival saw a lot of success and grew really fast. Then there was the Toronto Black Film Festival 8 years later in 2013, and the others have been established in the last decade or so."
Originally hailing from Port-Au-Prince, Fabienne Colas was one of Haiti's most beloved models and film stars in the late 90s and early 2000s before she relocated to Montreal to pursue directing and other aspects of cinema. It was while in Quebec that Colas founded the Fabienne Colas Foundation, which is a non-profit organization created in 2006 with the mission of supporting the creation, production, promotion, and dissemination of cinema. It has since earned her the title 'The Queen of Festivals.' Since founding the Montreal International Black Film Festival (MIBFF) in 2005, it has become the largest organization in Canada for Black film and media culture. While the Toronto Black Film Festival and the Halifax Black Film Festival are both held in February each year as part of Black History Month, the four other Black Film Festivals organized by The Fabienne Colas Foundation take part at different times throughout the year. "Calgary's happens in May, Vancouver's happens in December, Ottawa's is in March, and the Montreal festival is at the end of September," explains Este. "There are many factors to consider when hosting a festival,” says Este. “These factors include the dynamics of the city, population –– both general and Black –– and other events happening. Montreal, for example, has many, many long-established and new festivals happening both in the winter and in the summertime. The early fall is a perfect time to do it there. Vancouver, on the other hand, has its own dynamic film scene, with the Vancouver International Film Festival happening in October, so winter is best." This style of festival organization ensures that not only is there at least one Black Film Festival happening somewhere in Canada during every season, it also means that Este is able to manage almost all of them on her own. "I manage all of the Fabienne Colas Foundation's Black Film Festivals except for the Halifax one,” she says. “And the reason is that it happens around the same time as Toronto's in February, which is already a short month, so there is just too much of a time constriction." The Fabienne Colas Foundation's Black Film Festivals have seen tremendous growth over the past few years due to support from local film industries. "In Western Canada, we really saw a lot of growth during the pandemic, at which time we started the Calgary Black Film Festival in 2021 as well as Vancouver's and Halifax's in 2022,” she says. “The Calgary Black Film Festival (CBFF) began as a fully online event due to COVID-19, and has since grown to include both in-person and online events, with The Plaza Theatre and The Globe Cinema being huge supporters. We have been so happy with the turnout, interest, passion, support and growth that we have seen in Calgary." The criteria to submit a film to one of the Black Film Festivals in Canada is that it centers the Black community in some way, whether it be through telling Black stories, the work of a Black director, and/or giving a platform to Black actors and film professionals. "These festivals are a celebration of Black art, Black film, Black stories, Black Excellence, and the Black community,” says Este. “But ultimately, we want everyone to feel welcome to enjoy and take in these films. In many cases, the only chance to see these films will be at our festivals."
In addition to hosting film festivals across Canada, The Fabienne Colas Foundation has created a program called Being Black In Canada, which is the largest training/mentorship program of its kind for young Black filmmakers in the country. Established in 2012, the Being Black In Canada program is dedicated to young Black filmmakers and aims to provide tools for career development and professionalization through support and mentorship for young Black creators. Since gaining the support of Netflix, National Bank, Telefilm Canada, and the Canada Media Fund, the program has been able to expand across Canada to be offered in all the cities that host Black Film Festivals. The name Being Black In Canada is meant “to compensate for the glaring lack of diversity in front of and behind the camera,” says Este. “It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for young, Black filmmakers to connect with industry professionals while getting hands-on experience as they gain the industry skills to succeed through creating their own short film.” “Mentorship and support is provided through the entire program, which is invaluable to any young creator, but for young, Black creators that may not have had any role models that looked like them in the film industry, or have had a difficult time navigating the lack of diversity in the film industry, this can truly be life-changing.”
The next Calgary Black Film Festival will happen in May of 2024.