Voices from the Montreal International Black Film Festival



Montreal is an island in the St. Lawrence River so wherever you turn, you can see water, provided you poise yourself on rooftops, stand on top of Mount Royal or cycle your way close enough to the shore. But that doesn’t mean Montreal is insular as in isolated and inward looking. Just the opposite. Montreal is a very cosmopolitan city with a rich cultural life, an international cuisine and accented voices from all over the planet. It is also a city of festivals, especially film and music festivals.

The International Black Film Festival is one such festival, but with a difference. It is perhaps the only festival that commands the presence not only of well known actors and directors from Hollywood such as Spike Lee or Harry Belafonte but also that of activists for social justice, the men and women from the ghettos, from the heartland of jazz and pop culture and the men and women stomping the streets crying out loud: Black Lives Matter! Indeed they do. We all have to make ourselves heard. The Black Film Festival provides a space with a long-reaching echo.

This year’s festival is the 12th Edition of Fabienne Colas’ brainchild which is now held in Toronto as well. When Madame Colas, consummate artist and media personality, inaugurated the festival on September 28, she thanked all the donors and patrons and bemoaned the fact that the Province of Quebec had not contributed a cent towards its success. Could it be that it is because the festival, even in French, is billed as one showcasing Film Black? And why Black and not Noir? The answer is obvious to any cinephile worth her popcorn: Film Noir is a specific genre whereas Film Black deals with the history of people of African descent in the American continent and has now expanded to include African films. It is not surprising that one of the special events during the festival will be a round table on the Black Lives Matter movement which started in the United States and has now spilled over into Montreal and beyond.

The festival kicked off with MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE, a documentary on the life of Maya Angelou. For those who’ve lived under a rock all these years, let me remind you that she was one of the most beloved of poets, singers, dancers and activists that the United States has ever produced. Her peers were James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni and her pupils were Oprah Winfrey and aspiring artists from younger generations. Her poetry has been honed by the harsh realities of her life and softened by her very warm and tender heart. She passed away in 2014 but her poetry lives on. There is no need for her to rise, because her ponderance never sank her. It is no coincidence that Bill, of Clinton fame, chose her to create a poem for his inauguration characterizing his administration’s hope for a better society. Clinton was/is a smart politician and wished to be linked to the deepest culture of the deep South, his and Angelou’s birthplace.

Montréal Serai is proud to always try make itself present in this most original of Montreal Festivals. We urge you to give it a try. You will not only be supporting a festival that deserves our support, but you will be nurturing your soul in the process.

Maya Khankhoje always feels invigorated by the Montreal International Black Film Festival.