First-time film director Sheldon Candis left Toronto in a much better frame of mind this week than he did on his first visit nine years ago.
He and his grandmother arrived for the 2003 ReelWorld Film Festival just weeks after the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in the city.
“I remember coming off the plane and seeing these schoolchildren holding hands and wearing masks,” the American filmmaker recalled. “My grandmother was very concerned because she thought she was going to die.”
It did not help that just 10 patrons showed up for Candis’ short film, Sonny Listening, which was screened at the festival that year.
“I had worked so hard on that production while at film school and then to have a handful of people turn out on a Saturday morning to see it was a bit devastating,” said the University of Southern California Cinematic Arts graduate. “I hope more people come out tonight.”
The young director did not have to worry about attendance this time around. His first feature, Luv, kicked off the 12th annual ReelWorld Festival last week to a sold-out audience.
The film depicts an 11-year-old Baltimore orphan whose dream of a better life is shattered when his uncle – a convicted felon who spent eight years in prison – is denied a bank loan to open a business and turn his life around.
“This is a fictional story inspired by a true relationship I had with one of my uncles while growing up in Baltimore,” Candis told Share. “It’s a boy’s rite of passage or a coming-of-age dramatic thriller showing what happens when a boy is exposed to violence for the first time.”
Candis, whose mother is a preacher and was based in North Carolina during his youth, said he was protected from the violence and gangs in his neighbourhood by loving family members, including his grandparents.
“I was fortunate because I had strong figures in my life and I believed in God,” he said. “I was the kid that sat at the front of the house and observed the world. I was never involved in anything illegal, even though I had uncles and cousins who were part of that world.
“Out of respect for my mom, I think they shielded me. When I was not outside, I sat on the floor of my grandfather’s house watching films like Star Wars, Stand by Me and The Golden Child over and over again on his old Sears & Roebuck TV.
“My dad took me and my mother on Sunday evenings to watch movies and he also did a peculiar thing by taking me out of school occasionally to show me movies, some of them X-rated. I saw The Fly and Purple Rain when I was nine years old. He exposed me to a lot of things at a young age.”
Candis, 32, said his next directorial project is a revenge thriller. “I am super excited about it,” he added.
Joining Candis on the red carpet on opening night was veteran actor and singer, Keith David, who performed the voice over for the intro to the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) Wrestlemania XXV111 on April 1.
He played the role of a financial analyst who falls in love with a California businesswoman in the NBC-sponsored special feature presentation, Hopelessly in June, which is an independent romantic comedy that was chosen as an official selection in last year’s Hollywood Film Festival.
“I had a film in this festival two years ago, but I was unable to come then,” said David who is playing the role of legendary actor, athlete, scholar and civil rights activist, Paul Robeson, in a soon-to-be-released movie. “I have always wanted to visit different parts of Canada.”
Although recognized for his roles in film and television, there is great demand for David’s vocal work because of his deep and resonant voice. He was the voice of Frederick Douglass in the third episode of the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) documentary, God in America: How Religious Liberty Shaped America.
Highly respected in the movie industry, David said he often fields calls from aspiring filmmakers seeking advice.
“The first thing I tell them is go to school and learn the craft,” said David, who graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 1979 from the Julliard School. “It seems that most young people want to take shortcuts and there are none. I can’t blame them for wanting something. I wanted to be there faster, but it takes time. If you put in the time, it pays off. If you don’t, you will sink awfully fast.
“There will be ups and downs and winding roads, but you have to stay the course and you will ultimately get there. This is a business and a profession where nobody promises you anything. You are out there to give what you can and you will be rewarded if you are good.”
Actress and Miss Black Ontario 1977, Tonya Lee Williams, founded the ReelWorld 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.
“For many, the global financial crisis has severely impacted their lives,” said Williams. “For many filmmakers, this is not the case because the independent filmmaker has always lived in financial crisis. They have already tightened their belts and are living within their means. They have frugal lives and make conservative, fiscally prudent choices every day.
“Their sheer will and tenacity make the impossible possible. They funnel fragmented chaos through the lens of a camera and allow it to breathe on the screen, bringing us real insight and a truly magical experience. They do all this for us.”
Ryan Singh is one of the aspiring Canadian actors who has benefitted from Williams’ vision.
“Had it not been for a festival like this right here in Canada, I would not have been able to showcase my talent to a wider audience,” said Singh who is cast in Mr. Crab.
Filmed in Montreal, the nine-minute short film tells the story of a 10-year-old boy who is excited about the stories his father relates about the crystal clear waters of Trinidad & Tobago.
To mark Jamaica’s 50th independence anniversary this year, Superbob, which was voted Fan Favourite at the 2002 festival, was screened again to highlight the contributions of Jamaican-Canadians in the arts. Director Joel Gordon’s parents were born in Jamaica and most of the cast members are of Jamaican heritage.
“It was certainly nice for this movie to have another life a decade later,” said the 1995 Harry Jerome Award winner for Excellence in the Arts who is now the father of three young children. “I have some family members who were not in the Greater Toronto Area at the time who got the opportunity to see the movie. My kids have seen my work on TV, but not on a big screen so it was a thrill for my eldest child. It was also a great opportunity for the cast and other people who worked on the project to get together again.”
The 86-minute action comedy chronicles the journeys of self-made action hero, Superbob (David Smith), who battles crime using his martial arts background and police training. This time, Superbob faces his sternest challenge when he’s confronted with the evil actions of Big Yard (Patrick Barrington) who has kidnapped his son. Big Yard is a known criminal who operates a child-smuggling operation.
Superbob’s mission to find his son is littered with roadblocks and comedic adventures. Combining all the elements for a genuine comedic romp, the film is an action spoof that entertains from start to finish.
In the last decade, Gordon has produced five one-hour TV documentaries, three of which were nominated for Gemini Awards. He’s currently working on a TV series, Love is Moving.
A total of 26 feature and 22 short films were screened during the five-day festival that ended last Sunday with the ReelWorld Awards and the closing night film, Ek Main Aur Ekk Tu.
This year’s award winners included Share founder and publisher, Arnold A. Auguste, who was presented with the Visionary Award and story editor/director Shernold Edwards who was the recipient of a Trailblazer Award.
By RON FANFAIR