A Canadian history of Black filmmaking – Three key artists

In celebration of Black History Month, the National Film Board is shining a spotlight on three crucial artists that brought Black stories and perspectives to the big screen in the 1970s and 1980s. Claire Prieto, Roger McTair, and Jennifer Hodge de Silva all made their mark on Canadian cinema as leading directorial figures, putting a camera to perspectives which were seldom seen at the time, and are as important as ever today.

Claire Prieto and Roger McTair

Roger McTair. | Photo courtesy of National Film Board.

Claire Prieto immigrated to Toronto from Trinidad along with her spouse and creative partner Roger McTair, in 1970. Together they created Some Black Women, with McTair as director and Prieto as producer, a 1975 film which the NFB cites as the very first film directed by a Black Canadian about the Black community in Canada.

The film was the first of a handful of short documentaries directed and produced by Prieto and McTair, either individually or, often, as a pair, which followed the lives of Black Canadians in Ontario, highlighting their sociocultural experiences and history.

Claire Prieto. | Photo courtesy of National Film Board.

These include Home to Buxton (1980, Dir. Prieto, McTair) highlighting the lives of Black Candians in Buxton, Ontario; Different Timbres (1980, Dir. McTair, Prod. Prieto), a documentary about Black Ontarian steel drum producers and performers; Black Mother, Black Daughter (1989, Dir. Prieto), an exploration of the lives of Black women in Nova Scotia, and the first NFB production ever created by an all-female crew; and Older, Stronger, Wiser (1989, Dir. Prieto) featuring stories told by older Black women about their life experiences in the first half of the century.

In more recent years, Prieto served as producer on the first Black Canadian sitcom, 2003’s Lord Have Mercy!, a critically-acclaimed show featuring a diverse Canadian and Caribbean cast. She would go on to earn a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival 2010 for her own pioneering work and activism.

Meanwhile McTair would go on to direct various films including Journey to Justice (2000) a feature-length documentary telling the stories of various Black Canadians that fought for their civil rights, featuring the stories of citizens that became anti-segregationist activists like Viola Desmond and Fred Christie.

Jennifer Hodge de Silva

Jennifer Hodge de Silva. | Photo courtesy of National Film Board.

Montreal-born Jennifer Hodge de Silva’s film career started around the same time as Prieto and McTair’s, in the 1970s. And like Prieto and McTair, her influential early career comprises documentaries focussed on diverse Canadian experiences. After working as an assistant producer on Fields of Endless Day (1979, Dir. Terrence Macartney-Filgate), a docudrama tracing the deep roots of Black Canadians, she directed Toronto’s Ethnic Police Squad (1979), Myself, Yourself (1980) and Joe David: Spirit of the Mask (1982), highlighting the lives and struggles of various racialized individuals and artists in Canada.

Her most popular and influential film, however, is Home Feeling: A Struggle for Community (1983), which she co-directed with McTair. The feature-length documentary details the fraught relationship between Toronto police and the Caribbean-Canadian residents of a small, six square block neighbourhood in the city.

While Hodge de Silva passed away in 1989, just 10 years after her film career began, Home Feeling continues to have an impact, being shown and taught in film studies classes years later. Prieto and McTair would pay tribute to Hodge de Silva in a manner befitting of her legacy with the release of Jennifer Hodge: The Glory and the Pain (1992), a documentary about her life and work.

In celebration of Black History Month, the University of British Columbia’s Public Humanities Hub will be airing a screening of McTair’s Journey to Justice on Feb. 29 at Robson Square. For more information about the screening, visit: https://publichumanities.ubc.ca/events/event/black-history-month-film-screening

Source: NFB Blog