Toronto Black Film Festival: Knucklehead, Starring Gbenga Akinnagbe and TBFF 2016 Career Achievement Honouree: Alfre Woodard.
There is something to be said about excellence. A word overused but that shouldn't preclude us from utilizing it when the right moment applies as it did this past weekend. The ladies of We Rock It Natural (WRIN) attended the Toronto Black Film Festival on Saturday, February 13. 2016. On the coldest day of the year, during a weekend that broke several records for NBA All-Star activities, the ladies of WRIN took a detour from the NBA festivities, braved the frigid temperatures and made an appearance at the Art Gallery of Ontario put on as part of this year's Toronto Black Film Festival that left an undeniable imprint on our spirits, hearts and minds.
'Knucklehead' featuring the incomparable Alfre Woodard, was directed and co-written by Ben Bowman, co-starred Gbenga Akinnagbe who also acted as producer. Knucklehead tackled the hard-hitting topics of mental illness, poverty and hope. As we took our seats at Isabel Bader Theater, filled to capacity among the others who were also curious about what we soon realized to be one of the most artistic, jarring and thought-provoking films we've seen to date. Immediately following the film, there was a Q & A session with all three (Bowman, Akinnagbe & Woodard) in attendance, moderated by Global News' Rosey Edeh where we were also privy to hear about the hard-work, inspiration and perseverance that it took to bring Knucklehead from paper to screen.
In-between film and Q & A sessions, we slipped out of the theater to check our tear stained face and as we walked to the ladies room we were pleasantly surprised to see we were not the only ones reapplying our mascara due to tears. The main idea behind this independent movie with a giant message, even if you haven't personally struggled with mental illness or know some one who has, you were still moved because at the very least and in a non-judgmental manner, Knucklehead demonstrated to the audience that there is so much more to the 'crazy person' you pass on the street or sit far from on the subway. We will forever be marked by both the characters on screen and the real people who laboured tirelessly for ten years to see this project to fruition. All three; director, producer and actress spoke about their symbiotic relationships and the reasons for keeping this passion project alive. Even when it seemed hopeless, their efforts being rewarded as producer Gbenga Akinnagbe announced to everyone's delight that a North-American distributor had just picked up the film.
Prior to the screening, the founder of both the Montreal and Toronto Black Film Festivals, Fabienne Colas presented Alfre Woodard with a Career Achievement Award and as she gave thanks for the honour, she took the time to share words of wisdom with the audience that were just as touching and inspirational as the film. "Empathy is the highest form of intelligence" and "humility allows us to write or act outside of our experience and speak to the humanity in everyone, humility and observance." Of all of the things that filled the theater housed in a gallery known for containing one of the world's most prestigious art collections, pretense was absent and art was the true star of the show.
We consider ourselves very fortunate to have been present to witness this film and we did not have to pay NBA All-Star prices to attend the Toronto Black Film Festival. During the course of the long weekend, many events were either free or very reasonably priced and worth supporting as TBFF is directly addressing the issue of a lack of minorities on screen. WRIN is already looking forward to next year's TBFF and encourage you to either attend or become a part of the festivities as the organizers are already busy planning for 2017. You can find more information on their Website, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter accounts and hopefully we will see you there!
Photo Sources: Facebook of Fabienne Colas, TBFF and WRIN.