By RON FANFAIR
Actress Tonya Lee Williams founded the Reel World Film Festival to showcase Canada’s diversity and provide a platform for visible minorities to display their artistic talent and in the process motivate audiences through film.
As the festival approaches its 10th anniversary next year, Williams thinks she has been able to achieve some of her goals.
“As an artist, I was raised to see my job as one that would allow me to inspire people,” Williams, who is most recognized for her role as Dr. Olivia Winters on the top rated daytime drama “The Young and The Restless”, says. “In these tough times we are living in, I firmly believe that the role of the artist is to help people to look at something, see something or hear something and in so doing give them an opportunity to know that there is a better tomorrow and you just have to lift yourself up and dust yourself off.
“I am not sure, sometimes, that film has been doing this in the last few years. With the challenges society has been facing, movies like Slumdog Millionaire help to uplift people. That’s what they need in these exacting times and the ReelWorld Film Festival is looking for programming like that.”
A total of 19 features, 28 shorts and 18 Canadian music videos were screened during the recent five-day festival that ended with the closing night gala and awards presentation. This year’s Trailblazer award winners were Karla Bobadilla, Diego Fuentes, Zacharias Kunuk, Lisa Ray, Warren Sonoda and Mark Taylor while the Tony Stoltz ReelWorld Visionary award was presented to Telefilm Canada lead integrated operations co-ordinator, Helen Paul.
“Helen is someone who I have known from the time I started out in this business,” said Williams who has been honoured twice with National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP) Image awards. “Many people who are successful in the film industry owe much of their success to her. She has a way of sitting down with people and talking to them about what they need to do to get their stuff together to move forward in the business.”
This year’s opening night film featured Gospel Hill, which told the story of a Black neighbourhood whose residents face the possibility of losing their homes to make way for a multi-million dollar golf course development.
Award-winning actor, Giancarlo Esposito, made his directorial debut with the movie and was in attendance at the opening night gala along with Ontario’s Lieutenant Governor, David Onley and his wife, Ruth.
“This festival has become an invaluable forum for artists and film aficionados to come together to present and appreciate the creative spirit of emerging Canadian filmmakers from a broad range of international cultures,” said Onley. “From documentaries to feature film, from music videos to animation, this event is an occasion to access a world view and celebrate our diversity.”
Though some long-time sponsors have stuck with the festival, Williams acknowledged that the economic meltdown has had an impact on the event. She’s confident, however, that the unique festival that provides a space for movies that may never be shown in Canada, will withstand the global financial challenges.
“The downturn in the economy has forced us to focus more on quality rather than quantity and also to value what we have,” she said. “Funding a film festival like this is always going to be challenging, even in a flourishing economic climate because we are dependent on private and public financial resources. That’s why we have shaped our festival in a conservative manner. The heart and the spirit of what ReelWorld is would never die because of a lack of funding.”