MPENZI BLACK WOMEN’S INTERNATIONAL FILM AND VIDEO FESTIVAL Rating: NNN
Jaded self-designated culturati often complain there’s nothing new under the sun. They obviously haven’t seen the Mpenzi Festival, which screens five shorts by queer filmmakers of colour on Friday.
New York filmmaker Dee Rees’s Pariah, an extended excerpt from an upcoming feature, is a standout. In it, Lee, a 17-year-old queer teenager in a middle-class NYC neighbourhood, struggles to manage her straight-girl-at-home/homeboi-at-heart identity. Clothing changes in bathrooms and buses keep Lee’s true self hidden from her conservative parents while damaging her psyche.
Rees successfully mixes humour and seriousness, producing lots of grin-worthy moments for queer women. When Lee first dons a strap-on, it’s with a convincing mix of pride and discomfort. “It pinches! And couldn’t you find anything in brown?”
Pariah also exhibits solid production, pacing and acting. The same, sadly, can’t be said for Before Nine, a more experimentally styled short by Toronto filmmaker Hana Abdul. Abdul raises important themes – gentrification, employment struggles and racism – but doesn’t have the time or resources to treat them properly.
Before Nine does have enjoyably pointed moments, like the sketch of an all-white org that claims to be “committed to diversity” because one staff member only writes books about queers of colour. Though Abdul acknowledges the role of economic factors in our lives, her views could be better articulated.
Legacy, a doc by UK filmmaker Campbell Blackman, better resolves its storylines, juxtaposing unidentified island landscapes with a thoughtful mother-daughter conversation about the impact slavery has had on their relationships and attitudes. This generational exchange manages to be both poignant and critical.
The other two films on the bill – Michèle Clarke’s award-winning Black Men And Me and Lovinsa Kavuma’s Rape For Who I Am – also look promising.
Mpenzi films screen Friday (March 28) at the University of Toronto’s Medical Sciences Building.