Film festival spotlights the black community

The Emerging Lens Film Festival, running this week, features films that tell stories of African-Canadians.

By Haydn Watters

The film begins with a shot of a chair in a library. On the chair is a purse. A boy looks at it once, twice and finally takes off with it out of the library and down Gottingen Street. You may think he’s stealing the purse. But in reality the boy is returning it to its owner.

The film was created by kids at Saint George’s YouthNet, an after-school program in Halifax’s North End. They made it with the help of filmmaker Ariella Pahlke in an attempt to change the public’s view of their neighbourhood.

“(The kids) wanted to talk about the preconceptions that people had about youth in the North End,” Pahlke says. “They feel that people make a lot of negative assumptions and they wanted to tell a story about that.”

The result is The Purse, which premiered Thursday evening at the packed opening night of The Emerging Lens Film Festival. The festival, now in its third year, focuses on telling the stories of African-Canadians. It started when Shelley Fashan noticed a void for screening films that documented “the black experience.”

“The films (in the festival) would not normally be screened anywhere else or they wouldn’t have the opportunity to be screened,” says Fashan, the co-producer of the festival. “What we do is we bring films from many different geographical areas (and) bring all of these communities together.” The films range from stories about Jamaican fishermen to the gentrification of the North End.

Fashan believes that film provides a unique way to tell the story of African-Canadians. “It’s a medium that you can teach yourself (and) it’s a medium that is accessible,” she says. “It’s a medium that can tell a story that you can’t tell in any other way.”

The festival has expanded from one day to three days and now includes workshops and cultural performances in addition to the film screenings. With the growth, Fashan hopes to appeal to a wider audience. “We’ve come to realize there’s no way of separating our experiences, we have to be able to share them,” says Fashan of the black community. “We have to really be a part of Halifax … we can’t be separate; we’re all part of the same continuum.”

The Purse was screened alongside two other films created by the kids at YouthNet. “The kids came up with their own themes,” Pahlke says. “The whole concept and story was theirs, I kind of just helped them out.” The films gave the kids the chance to experiment with different elements of filmmaking including writing, editing and making their own soundtrack.

Pahlke says the films allowed kids to have fun while spreading an important message about their community.“It’s really important for (the kids) to have a playful approach to working with video,” she says. “It’s great to have a screening and expose a new group of people to the work that YouthNet is doing.”

The festival continues Friday and Saturday night at the Black Cultural Centre in Dartmouth.