By RON FANFAIR
Most emerging independent filmmakers face enormous challenges and growing pains.
The hurdles are steeper for those trying to break into the industry in a new country as Lucky Ejim discovered after migrating from Nigeria nine years ago in pursuit of a better life and opportunities to enhance his film career.
Like many newcomers with university degrees, Ejim did odd jobs before enrolling in the Toronto Film School.
“Everyone was asking for Canadian experience and I was starting to get frustrated,” recalled Ejim, who graduated from the University of Benin. “I remember asking myself whether or not I was fulfilling what it is that you think you are made of. Are you really tapping into your potential of what you think you know or what society told you you are good at?
“I was at that crucial stage in my life when I had to make a decision whether I was going to swim or sink. I went back to school because that’s basically what Canada tells you and after I graduated in 2003, I knew it was time for my film career to take off even though my lecturer told me it could take between 10 to 15 years to make it in the industry. I don’t have that time because I have many goals to achieve.”
Seeking an outlet for the many storylines and ideas swirling in his head, Ejim and his business partner, Jude Idaba, collaborated to create their first feature film, The Tenant, which will screen at the ninth edition of the ReelWorld Film Festival in Toronto next month.
Short on funds but determined to invest in their story, Ejim and Idaba sold their homes and maxed out their credit cards to produce the self-funded film that was shot in Toronto and Nigeria.
“We wanted to make it in the industry by any means possible,” said Ejim. “There came a point when we said if we truly believed in ourselves, we had to put everything we had on the line and take that risk for the love of our project. I have a renovating company and I literally have broken my back to get money to carry us forward.”
The Tenant tells the story of an Africa refugee who has 30 days remaining before he’s deported from Canada. After learning of his plight, the refugee’s landlord, who is terminally ill, promises to use his connections as a former Canadian immigration officer to help him on the condition that he can re-unite him with his estranged daughter.
Ejim said the film’s concept was developed on a cold December night in 2005 when he and Idaba were reflecting on their own immigrant experiences and the dreams and promises that so many newcomers are unable to fulfill.
“This film is the result of years of passion and dedication and is a testament to the immigrant experience that is integral to the modern Canadian society,” he said. “It’s been an incredible journey because it’s a film that has been made out of a strong passion to want to tell a story that ordinarily would not be told. It’s not your mainstream blockbuster. Instead, it’s a very intimate story of love, betrayal, forgiveness and fighting to hold on to your dreams.”
The Tenant, which won the Best Feature Film award at the inaugural Moving Image Film Festival in Canada last November and was nominated for the Best Film award at the Bite the Mango Film Festival in England seven months ago, is among 38 screenings that will be featured at this year’s ReelWorld Film Festival from April 15-19. The programming includes 19 feature films and documentaries and 28 short films.
Canadian actress, Tonya Lee Williams, founded the festival for film and video artists from ethno-cultural communities to showcase and promote their work to a Canadian and international audience. The festival also provides a forum for new media practitioners to interact and pitch concepts to producers and investors seeking innovative ideas.
“With the challenges the world has faced over the past year, and continues to face, ReelWorld is in awe of the resourcefulness of our filmmakers and grateful for the dedication and personal sacrifices it took for them to create and present their stories,” Williams, who plays Dr. Olivia Winters in the top rated daytime drama, “The Young and the Restless”, said at last week’s festival launch. “All these stories are from their heart, many from their personal experiences. We feel honoured at ReelWorld to be entrusted with these stories that are little pieces of our history.”
Williams also announced that Helen Paul of Telefilm is this year’s Tony Stoltz ReelWorld Visionary award recipient. The Trailblazer award winners are directors Karla Bobadilla and Warren Sonada, producer Zacharias Kunuk, actress Lisa Ray and actors Diego Fuentes and Mark Taylor, who graduated from Albert Campbell Collegiate in Scarborough.
The awards will be presented at a luncheon on April 19 at the Manyata Courtyard Café.
The opening and closing night screenings take place at Scotiabank Theatre, 259 Richmond St. W., and the other screenings will be held at Cineplex Odeon Carlton Theatre, 20 Carlton St.
Tickets can be purchased online at reelworld.ca or by calling 1-800-595-4849.