Montreal International Black Film Festival

Spike Lee’s Michael Jackson film, a Black Lives Matter documentary, comedies, dramas and shorts on menu at Montreal International Black Film Festival

Singer Michael Jackson in his younger days.

Singer Michael Jackson in his younger days.

The Montreal International Black Film Festival (Sept 28 to Oct 2, 2016) is already underway. (Sorry. Mea culpa that I did not write about it sooner.)

Among the highlights is Spike Lee’s documentary, Michael Jackson’s Journey From Motown To Off The Wall, which will be presented by the director himself on Saturday night at Concordia University.

Spike Lee was a guest of the Montreal International Black Film Festival in 2014 and he's back again this year. That's festival founder Fabienne Colas next to Spike Lee. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Spike Lee was a guest of the Montreal International Black Film Festival in 2014 and he’s back again this year. That’s festival founder Fabienne Colas next to Spike Lee. (Liz Ferguson photo)

Or, you could opt for Sembene! a documentary about the Sengalese filmmaker Ousmane Sembene. A favourable review by Matt Zoller Seitz of rogerebert.com says the film makes “the director, who died in 2007, sound not just like a great artist and relentless person, but a figure out of a legend or folktale: an invincible juggernaut of a storyteller; the man who gave voice to African stories that, until the early post-colonial period, had been largely voiceless on film.” “One of the recurring points made by various witnesses is that until Sembene burst onto the scene, images of Africa were mainly about pretty scenery with exotic wildlife that visiting American and English movie stars could have adventures in front of. In other words, the continuation of colonialism through cinema. Sembene did much to counter that tendency, although he never enjoyed the kind of widespread acclaim that other international directors, including Chinese and Japanese masters, have sometimes enjoyed in Western nations.”

A Sunday afternoon screening of the documentary Stay Woke: The Black Lives Matter Movement will be presented by the director Laurens Grant and followed by a panel discussion.

The documentary Poverty Inc. looks at how efforts to help people in other countries often make things worse than they already were A Variety review says the film is ”an easy-to-understand docu-essay with a tough-to-accept message, especially as it implies that some aid organizations may actually be cashing in on their concern.” “The problem, “Poverty Inc.” cautions, is that few pause to think what happens after they’ve written the check, never fathoming that the mere act of giving can actually have have a detrimental effect.” “Poverty Inc. treads a delicate line between condemning NGOs and encouraging otherwise generous-minded souls to think twice about the sort of support they provide to societies in need — the key advantage here being Miller’s solution-oriented focus on the “right” kind of aid.”

In the film Ben & Ara, Joseph Baird plays Ben and Constance Ejuma is Ara.

In the film Ben & Ara, Joseph Baird plays Ben and Constance Ejuma is Ara.

Canadian connection: U.S. actress Constance Ejuma, female lead in the film Ben & Ara, studied theatre at the University of Toronto.

The films mentioned above are just a sampling. The festival is showing shorts and features, comedies, dramas and documentaries. The films were shot in Belgium, France, Martinique, Senegal, the U.S. and elsewhere. In addition to Concordia University, screening venues include Cinema du Parc and the former NFB/ONF cinema on St. Denis.

Tickets can be bought online. Click to consult the Montreal Black Film schedule.

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Montreal International Black Film Festival: Low-level Colombian smugglers are just trying to stay alive in Manos Sucias

manos sucias boat
Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) is a taut tale set in Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast of Colombia. Within the first few minutes we see several tough-looking guys and many serious weapons. (There’s even a little kid nonchalantly cleaning a revolver.) Buenaventura is obviously a dangerous place, and a quick Google search will confirm that, with headlines like: Colombian City’s New Face and Violent Underbelly Collide; Colombian port city terrorised by criminal gangs – BBC News; Welcome to Buenaventura, Colombia’s most violent city.

There are 400,000 people Buenaventura, though we only see a handful of them, in the roughest, poorest parts of town.

Our main characters are Jacobo (Jarlin Martinez) and his younger brother Delio (Cristian Advincula). They’ve been estranged for years but end up working on the same drug run for Don Valentin. It’s the first time that Delio has done this kind of thing; Jacobo is an old hand who plans to move to Bogota once the job is done. That made me suspect that things might not go well for these guys. Just think of all the films have been made about that one last heist, or the cop who is one week, or even one day away from his retirement.

Jacobo and Delio will help a man named Miguel (Hadder Blandon) to pilot a small, battered fishing boat north towards Panama. This will take several days. Attached to the boat is a “torpedo” filled with 100 kg of cocaine in small packets. All of the packets will be weighed at the checkpoint, the guys are told. Point taken, no need to elaborate further.

The torpedo is fitted with a tracking device just in case it comes loose from the boat. (Cough.) Miguel has a cellphone, a GPS locator, and a gun. Delio has a machete that he uses to open coconuts, among other things. Seeing these items, one wonders if, or more likely when, they will be used, and in what circumstances.

Jarlin Martinez plays Jacobo in Manos Sucias, a film from Colombia that's being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

Jarlin Martinez plays Jacobo in Manos Sucias, a film from Colombia that’s being shown at the 2015 Montreal International Black Film Festival.

During their trip they will have to worry about running into guerrillas, the military, the paramilitaries, and anyone else who might have designs on their cargo. These people will feel entitled to take anything they might have, including their lives. There’s nothing dashing or glamourous here. Just danger and dread.

Soccer and racism are recurring themes in Manos Sucias. Before the trip, Jacobo watches an informal game with an old friend. When told about the plan to move to Bogota, the friend says there are no blacks there, or hardly any. They’re only able to get the most horrible jobs, and it’s freezing there, too. Later, Jacobo, Delio and Miguel sit around a campfire, talking about the great soccer stars of the past. Seems like your typical male bonding stuff, until the white Miguel spoils the mood and makes some racist remarks to the Afro-Colombian brothers.

When some unexpected events take Miguel out of the picture, Jacobo and Delio continue with the mission. What else can they do? But what will happen afterwards? (They HAD been told that this would be the “easiest job you ever had.” “Like a paid vacation.” Ha!)

The music Manos Sucias is worth mentioning. Haunting tunes from Grupo Gualajo make use of soaring women’s voices and a marimba.

Fans of Colombian salsa might nod their heads (I did, anyway) when Jacobo has one of those “kids, these days!” chats with his brother, disparaging the rap music that Delio admires and suggesting that he listen to “something good,” like Grupo Niche, Nemus del Pacifico, or Orquesta Guayacan.

Manos Sucias (Dirty Hands) U.S.A./Colombia, 2014, 82 minutes, in Spanish with English subtitles
Directed by Josef Kubota Wladyka, with Cristian Advincula, Jarlin Martinez, Manuel David Riascos, Hadder Blandon. Spike Lee was an executive producer

Sunday, Oct. 4, 2015, at 5 p.m.
At the Former NFB Cinema, 1564 St. Denis
Admission is $10

Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, www.montrealblackfilm.com/ for further pricing details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.

License to Operate: Former Los Angeles gang members come together to save lives

License to Operate map

The documentary License to Operate introduces us to former Los Angeles gang members who were deadly enemies in their younger days but are now co-operating, through an organization called A Better LA,  to break a cycle of murder and retaliation that had lasted for decades.

One man gets out his high school yearbook and tells us that most of his former classmates are dead now. He has photos from their funerals. it’s obvious that he’s lucky to still be alive himself. Another man tells of seeing five candlelight memorials for murder victims in just one evening. That was the night that he knew he had to do something to save the next generation of children.

After receiving instruction from the Professional Community Intervention Training Institute, the men do liaison work between neighbourhoods and the police and fire departments, encouraging young people to stay out of gangs and calming tensions after murders. If something happens, even in the middle of the night, they’re out there on the street, trying to keep the situation from escalating, eliminating rumours, etc.
They certainly have their work cut out for them. A Better LA says that there are more than 450 gangs in Los Angeles, and that: “ ‘Invisible lines’ drawn by gangs to designate their turf cause children to live in a constant state of fear, wondering if walking to school or crossing the street puts them in harm’s way.”

A lawyer explains that many of the children in these neighbourhoods have the same levels of post traumatic stress disorder as children living in war zones. Before the age of 16, they have lost as many as 10 friends to murder. We see doors and walls that have been riddled with bullets. It’s truly appalling.

License To Operate, directed by James Lipetzky, 101 minutes, in English
Saturday, Oct, 3, 2015 – 7 pm
Cinéplex Odéon du Quartier Latin
350, Rue Émery, Montréal (Métro Berri UQAM)
Admission is $10.
Check the Montreal International Black Film Festival web site, www.montrealblackfilm.com/ for details, the film schedule, film synopses and trailers.
The Montreal International Black Film Festival has a Facebook page, too.