TORONTO – With an equal passion for Canadian cinema and humanitarianism, rising filmmaker Kelly Fyffe-Marshall’s mantra is to ‘make waves where you are’.
That’s the title of her TEDx Youth Toronto 2018 talk, it’s what inspired her new Make Ripples Foundation, and why she’s striving to make meaningful change in the Canadian screen industry. , especially for black, native and colored designers.
As the Brampton, Ont., Director and screenwriter soars with her acclaimed short “Black Bodies” and upcoming feature films, she says she’s resisting the urge to move to the United States like so many. Canadian artists do it to be successful. She prefers to try to help foster diversity and inclusiveness here.
“Early in my career, I remember talking to a mentor about it and she said, ‘You must be a martyr. Either you stay and you build and you don’t have a career, or you have a career (in the US), ”Fyffe-Marshall, 32, said in a recent interview.
“And me, from that point on, I was like, ‘No, I want both. I want to be able to have a very successful career here. But I also want to develop the industry. If no one stays, we won’t be able to. not build it.
Now available on digital platforms as a bonus before Charles Officer’s Canadian black crime “Akilla’s Escape,” “Black Bodies” is a five-minute artistic take on being Black in the 21st century.
Komi Olaf is surrounded by bodies on the ground in a warehouse as he delivers a spoken word about police brutality in the Toronto production. The cast also includes Donisha Rita Claire Prendergast, who is the granddaughter of Bob Marley and is also in “Akilla’s Escape”.
“Black Bodies” is the sequel to Fyffe-Marshall’s short “Marathon” and was inspired by a traumatic racial profiling experience in 2018 in California.
Fyffe-Marshall said she, Olaf, Prendergast and another peer were packing their vehicles after a four-day stay at their rental property in Rialto, Calif., When a white woman – who thought they were ” did not belong to the neighborhood, “said the filmmaker – called the police to say they were burglars.
Seven police cars and a helicopter surrounded them, Fyffe-Marshall said. Police said the group was released after about 30 minutes.
Fyffe-Marshall, whose cellphone video footage of the incident went viral online, said they felt “what it was like to be black in America then, at that time – what it was being black in this world for the last 400 years, to be honest.
“I was dealing with a lot of what we would call PTSD after the incident,” she said.
Fyffe-Marshall said she created “Black Bodies” to channel her emotions into something “powerful that can help a community express itself, but also help allies understand what the community is going through.”
It won a Canadian Screen Award for Best Live Action Short and was named to the Toronto International Film Festival’s Top Ten Canadian Films list after its festival premiere last year. Fyffe-Marshall also won the Shawn Mendes Foundation’s First Changemaker Award at TIFF and the Toronto Film Critics Association’s Jay Scott Award for an Emerging Artist.
But the first distinctions did not give the boost she expected.
When “Black Bodies” debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Fyffe-Marshall tweeted that there were “crickets in Canada” in terms of media coverage.
Oscar-nominated filmmaker Ava DuVernay responded on Twitter saying she can’t wait to see “Black Bodies” and that Fyffe-Marshall’s “beautiful team of Black Women collaborators should make Canada proud.”
Fyffe-Marshall’s tweet then went viral, garnering more press articles and attention.
“Only five people from Canada entered Sundance and we were the only black team in Canada, and so we – and I in particular – wanted a lot more respect, because I feel like if we were a sports team. , if we were in another field, we would have gotten a lot more respect for that, ”said Fyffe-Marshall.
“I tweeted out of frustration that I feel like this is why Canada is losing so many of its movie stars to the United States Because really, my next step should be to go to America, because that I know this is where I can find the career I deserve.
But Fyffe-Marshall remains in place.
The England-born afro-diasporic filmmaker said her female-run production company Sunflower Studios, which she co-founded with Tamar Bird, Iva Golubovic and Sasha Leigh Henry, encourages diversity on their sets and has established a mentorship. producer. program to help BIPOC talent get the referrals they need to enter screen unions.
“It’s important to me that as I keep coming back (to sets), I keep bringing more black and brown faces with me,” said Fyffe-Marshall, whose short film ” Haven “won an Audience Award at the 2018 SXSW Festival.
“We have been taught for so long in Canada, especially among the creative community of BIPOC, this mentality of scarcity, because we rarely succeed. But now we are at a point where we can all do it, and so it is important that we teach everyone what we can do so that we can all do it together.
Fyffe-Marshall said she is now working on two feature films: “When Morning Comes,” an immigration story she plans to shoot in Jamaica, and “Summer of the Gun,” based on a murderous summer in Toronto. .
She is also developing and writing a television series with Bird and plans to direct a film with Kelly Rowland. Meanwhile, Henry wrote a sitcom, she said.
“We have to build our own voices,” Fyffe-Marshall said. “These are the kinds of things I want to see on TV.”
This report by The Canadian Press was first published on July 7, 2021.