Roy Anderson aspired to be a foreign correspondent, travelling the world covering all kinds of stories. However, he soon became the story by performing breathtaking stunts for Hollywood stars, including Jamie Foxx, Will Smith and Denzel Washington and leaping a world record 28 feet between two Toronto high-rise buildings in 1990.
A few years ago, Anderson flipped the script to direct his first feature length documentary, Akwantu: The Journey, which was released in 2011.
Shot in Canada, Jamaica, the United States and Ghana over a two-year period, the self-funded award-winning film features interviews with Maroons and some of the most important voices on slavery and Maroonage as part of Anderson’s personal quest to document his Maroon lineage.
Descendants of Africans who escaped slavery, the Maroons established independent settlements in the Americas and the Caribbean.
“This film is the result of the search for my roots,” Anderson told Share while in Toronto to be recognized with a Trailblazer Award at the just concluded ReelWorld Film Festival. “What started out as an innate sense of curiosity grew into a new found sense of pride as I began to learn more about my ancestors. This project was personal for me.”
He’s a descendant of Jamaica’s Leeward Maroons who were led by Queen Nanny in the 18th century.
Anderson is currently working on his second film, Queen Nanny: Legendary Maroon Chieftainess, that will expand on the story of the New World’s first successful freedom fighters. Principal photography begins this summer in Jamaica.
Born into the Ashanti tribe in Ghana, Nanny was brought to Jamaica as a slave. Influenced by other slaves and Maroons, she and her brothers – Accompong, Cudjoe, Quao and Johnny – fled their plantations and, while in hiding, organized Maroon communities in Jamaica.
She is the only female among Jamaica’s seven national heroes.
Anderson was one of six recipients of Reel World Film Festival Trailblazer Awards created 12 years ago to recognize the accomplishments of racially diverse Canadian entertainment professionals whose work inspires others.
“To be honoured by my peers is quite exciting,” he said. “One of the things that make me feel good is that, as a stunt co-ordinator, I have hired hundreds of people in this city and helped to advance their careers. I am proud of that as I move on to the next chapter in life as a filmmaker.”
Anderson’s wife of 20 years, Alison, accompanied him to the awards brunch at Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas.
“I am proud of Roy and I know this recognition means a lot to him as he sets out to blaze a trail documenting history,” she said.
The Jamaican-born singer met her husband during a cultural show in Toronto in the early 1993.
“He saw me on stage and said I would like to meet you after I was finished performing,” she recalled. “The rest is history.”
The Munro College computer science graduate co-produced her husband’s first feature film that was screened last year to United Nations pass holders in New York at an event co-hosted by Jamaica’s Permanent Mission to the United Nations and the Department of Public Information to commemorate the International Day for the Remembrance of the Slave Trade and Its Abolition.
The film was also screened at the UN Information Centres in Ghana and Tanzania.
Migrating from Jamaica at age 11 with his family in the early 1970s, Anderson graduated from Central Technical School and attended Simon Fraser University where he played football and ran track.
He completed his first degree in political science at York University where he freelanced as a campus radio host and writer before being hired as an editorial assistant at The Sports Network (TSN).
That association lasted just five months.
“I was definitely heading towards journalism when I started do some stunt work in 1981,” Anderson said. “As someone who was fairly athletic, I would get calls from time to time to do the action for the stars. The calls really began to multiply around 1987 and that forced me to take a decision. I was taking a lot of time off from TSN and they weren’t too happy, so I chose to work full-time as a stuntman.”
Anderson, who appeared in several blockbuster movies, including Spiderman 2, Shaft, The Bourne Ultimatum and top rated TV shows such as Law & Order and The Sopranos, moved to New York 16 years ago to further his career.
“The relocation was for selfish reasons because I wanted to work on big projects,” he said. “I have had the chance to live that dream.”
Trailblazer Awards were also presented to Ins Choi, Waawaate Fobister, Ellen Wong, ET Canada entertainment reporter Sangita Patel and multi-faceted artist Kim Roberts.
The first Black woman to play the speaking lead in a national commercial when she appeared in an advertisement for Benylin Cough, Roberts co-founded the Obsidian Theatre Company and boasts more than 200 credits.
“This is such an honour,” she said of the award. “It’s always wonderful to be appreciated and recognized for the work you do.”
Roberts, who was born in Toronto, is the daughter of Dominican and Jamaican immigrants.
Actress Tonya Lee Williams founded the festival 14 years ago 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.
This year’s festival was expanded to include Markham which is one of North America’s fastest growing cities.