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Afro-Prairie Film Festival brings Black cinema to Winnipeg

The Afro-Prairie Film Festival starts Wednesday at Cinematheque.
The Afro-Prairie Film Festival starts Wednesday at Cinematheque. Afro-Prairie Film Festival

A Winnipeg theatre is recognizing Black History Month with its third annual festival celebrating Black cinema across North America and promoting the work of emerging Black filmmakers.

The Afro-Prairie Film Festival runs through Sunday at Cinematheque. The festival’s director told 680 CJOB that the event was created because Black films aren’t often given much exposure in the city.

“In 2017, which seems like so long ago, we partnered with the Winnipeg Film Group to screen Winnipeg’s debut of I Am Not Your Negro – something I was really passionate about screening in Winnipeg,” said Alexa Joy.

“Oftentimes, when Black films are released, they’re not given a long-standing run time in Winnipeg, so Winnipeg Film Group made sense to partner with. That whole year, we did bi-monthly screenings and (we) were in conversation of how to make this more sustainable and grow it in the future.

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“Naturally, a film festival came up in conversation.”

READ MORE: Journalist Desmond Cole in Winnipeg to talk racism, new book ‘The Skin We’re In’

WFG artistic director David Knipe said the festival has served to fill a void in local cinema, as well as to empower up-and-coming filmmakers by not only featuring their work, but also exposing them to great films – past and present – by Black creators.

“We were kind of filling a void for films and certain representation of different types of filmmakers and perspectives and stories that aren’t seen on the film landscape in Winnipeg traditionally,” he said.

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“We also wanted to give a platform for new and emerging Black filmmakers in Winnipeg, because we knew there was a community here but we just weren’t seeing them get the resources and sort of the push to take it to the next level.

“I think there’s no replacement for the live cinema experience… For an independent filmmaker, someone outside of the Hollywood machine, to make a feature film – a passion project – and to have it projected on-screen in front of a live audience… I think it’s very empowering for filmmakers to have that kind of platform.”

This year’s festival features classics like DolemiteClaudine and Poetic Justice, as well as documentaries like Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool, and a collection of short films by Black Canadian directors.

Workshops and live events are also on the calendar, including a networking luncheon for women in film, an acting masterclass with award-winning soap opera star Tonya Williams, and much more.

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Joy said the number of Black people working in film continues to increase, but there are still barriers that need to be broken down. It’s an issue that was raised earlier this month when the Academy Awards reached a three-year low in the number of Black nominees across all categories.

“I think historically the film industry has been discriminatory and exclusionary towards communities of colour, so that’s why we’re seeing such a huge movement in terms of taking over narratives,” she said.

“People aren’t waiting for the industry to reach out to them anymore. They’re starting things on YouTube, they’re making their own debuts, they’re writing their own stories.

“I think this is something that’s going to take decades to address and to fix.”

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Click to play video 'Marking Black History Month with celebrations in Winnipeg' Marking Black History Month with celebrations in Winnipeg
Marking Black History Month with celebrations in Winnipeg – Feb 3, 2020