Spun out of the Montreal International Black Film Festival, the inaugural Toronto Black Film Festival, which begins Wednesday (February 13) at the TIFF Bell Lightbox with Nairobi Half Life, aims "to present audiences with new ways of looking at the world."
I didn't see anything that delivered on that mission statement, though Kim Nguyen's Rebelle (February 14, 5 pm, Carlton), Canada's contender for the best foreign-language Oscar, remains as textured and powerful as it was at TIFF last fall.
A pair of European entries, the Dutch Sonny Boy (February 14, 7 pm, Royal) and the Danish Lost In Africa (February 15, 7 pm, Carlton), glancingly consider racial issues in the pursuit of commercial storytelling. Sonny Boy recounts an interracial romance in the Nazi-occupied Netherlands, while the family-friendly Lost In Africa follows a Danish woman (Connie Nielsen) and her adopted son (Simon Larsen) to Nairobi, where they're separated through a series of contrivances and he must make new friends in order to get back to her. They're harmless but undistinguished works.
Charles Bradley: Soul Of America (February 15, 5 pm, Carlton) stands out among the documentary offerings, telling the story of soul singer Bradley, a James Brown impersonator finally recording his own material at the age of 62 for Daptone Records - at the urging of label mate Sharon Jones. If you missed it at Hot Docs (as I did), you're definitely going to want to catch up with it now.
The festival closes with Obi Emelonye's Last Flight To Abuja (February 17, 7 pm, Royal), part of a spotlight on the Nigerian film boom. A melodrama flashing back to the various personal crises of the passengers on a commercial flight from Lagos to the Nigerian capital, it suggests that the cinematic movement known as Nollywood is still in an embryonic state. The actors struggle with their dialogue, the sets and effects are cheap and the drama cheaper still.
It makes the European entries look like Oscar contenders.