The Toronto Black Film Festival is back, at just the right time

The fifth edition casts a wide net and finds gems from all over the world – and Canada, too


TORONTO BLACK FILM FESTIVAL from Wednesday (February 14) to Monday (February 19) at multiple venues. torontoblackfilm.com. Rating: NNNN


It’s only been around for five years, but the Toronto Black Film Festival has become an essential part of the city’s festival cycle, spun out of the Montreal International Black Film Festival with its own selection of features, shorts and documentaries from Canada and the rest of the world.

Sure, its placement in the middle of Black History Month means patrons risk lining up in the cold, but the programming is usually worth it. And the 2018 edition arrives as Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther descends upon the world’s megaplexes. Black filmmakers are getting their moment, and it’s about damn time.

This year’s festival opens Wednesday (February 14) with Nancy Buirski’s powerful documentary The Rape Of Recy Taylor. The 7:30 pm gala screening at the Isabel Bader Theatre is sold out, but tickets are still available for the encore screening Thursday (February 15) at Jackman Hall at 9 pm. And based on Kevin Ritchie’s review, you’ll want to catch that.

You might also check out Boost (Thursday February 15, 6:30 pm at Jackman Hall). It’s an interesting spin on the teen-crime thriller, following two Montreal high-schoolers who steal a car for a joyride and wind up running from both the police and the mob.

Writer/director Darren Curtis, a decade after his seriocomic first feature Who Is KK Downey?, freshens up a familiar premise with interesting locations and distinctive characters, and his leads (relative newcomer Nabil Rajo and Degrassi’s Jahmil French) are entirely believable as kids trying to fake their way through a situation they have no idea how to handle.

TBFF also offers audiences another chance to catch up to Laura Checkoway’s Edith+Eddie, which screened at Hot Docs and returns here with a well-deserved Oscar nomination for best documentary short subject.

When Checkoway began shooting, Edith Hill was 96 and Eddie Harrison 95. They were America’s oldest interracial newlyweds, living comfortably in Edith’s Virginia home… until one of Edith’s daughters decides her mother should be living with her in Florida.

In just half an hour, Edith+Eddie captures so much about love, aging and infirmity – and speaks volumes about America’s issues with elder care and guardianship. What happens to the couple probably won’t surprise you, but it’ll hurt to watch. That’s the point. (Screens Friday February 16, 5 pm at the Carlton with two other shorts, The Hangman and Rising Sons.)

Edith+Eddie isn’t the sole Oscar-nominated short at TBFF. Katja Benrath’s Watu Wote (All Of Us), up for best live-action short subject, dramatizes a 2015 bus attack in Kenya where Muslim hostages protected their Christian companions from religious persecution.

It’s a little on the frenetic side, but the actors commit to the intensity – and Benrath makes the most of the tension. (Screens Friday February 16, 7 pm at the Carlton with two other shorts, Animal and The Cut.)

In addition to the film slate, the festival also includes weekend Black Market master classes with attending directors (Saturday February 17, 11 am, Carlton Cinemas) and producers (Sunday February 18, 11 am, Carlton Cinemas) and an on-stage conversation with this year’s TBFF career achievement award winner, veteran casting director Robi Reed (Saturday, 2 pm, Jackman Hall).

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