Featured

Understanding and Finding Our Way – Decolonizing Canadian Education

All Canadians are responsible for reconciliation. Teachers have a unique opportunity to contribute by advocating for change to help eliminate inequality and racism. Understanding and Finding Our Way – Decolonizing Canadian Education is a powerful film that exposes public education inequities in Canada and challenges viewers to decolonize education.

This film is a critique of the education system and all the other systems and institutions that contribute to the oppression of Indigenous people. It is one of the most important educational films I’ve worked on for many years. The history of abuse against Indigenous children and their families requires a BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY approach to bring to light the many and continuing injustice faced by Indigenous people.

As a filmmaker, media maker and storyteller, I believe we must produce critical work connecting the dots. I believe that this will allow us to see clearly how systems of oppressions work in solidarity (both directly and indirectly) to cause harm, perpetuate untruths for the sole purpose of maintaining white supremacy. We as a society must seek out and support Indigenous sovereignty and do whatever is necessary to pick up the call to action listed in the Truth and Reconciliation report wherever we are situated in society. We must decolonize all of the institutions in the entire country.

May the spirits of the missing and murdered Indigenous people of Turtle Island continue to soar.

The 32-minute film is divided into three parts.

Part one – kiyâskiwâcimowina (myth)

Explores the myths that “everyone is equal in Canada. Canada does not have a race problem. Education is the great equalizer. Education is neutral.”  

Part two – tâpewêwin (truth)

Exposes public education inequities and explores the need for system change through an anti-colonial lens.

Part three – ôte-nikâniyihtamawin (hope)

Inspires hope that, together, we can create public education systems that support the success of all students.

The film was produced by Dr. Verna St. Denis, an internationally renowned scholar in anti-racist education and Dr. Jennifer Simpson who brought a team of academics and filmmakers together to create work from an anti-oppressive lens that would disrupt racist colonial practices. I came on board as director, co-writer and co-producer of the project. The film took nine years to our initial bi-yearly meetings in 2012 and involved the support of OYA Media Group to finish the film so that it could launch on National Indigenous Day on June 21, 2021. I am extremely humbled by this experience. For more information about the film and support systems available please go to the Saskatchewan Teachers Federation project’s web page: https://www.stf.sk.ca/education-today/lets-talk-about-decolonization?

The film features critical commentary a chorus of voices of renown educators guided by Cree Elder Mary Lee. They are: Dr. Herman Michell, Dr. Belinda Daniels, Dr. Mike Cappello and Angie Caron.

Many people generously gave their time and expertise to the project. Please pay attention to the credits and support Indigenous groups and organizations.

“What makes it okay…”

Featured

21 Black Futures – The Prescription

Stepping into hybridity, afrofuturism and BLM

When I received that call about The Prescription. The production was well on its way. Maybe 3-4 weeks into the planning and there was a ripple of excitement that rolled down from my neck bone to my toes. Sure, I’ll do it, without hesitation.

The Prescription Team

21 Playwrights

21 Actors

21 Directors

It was a pleasure working on this project. When I jumped on one of the projects entitled, Prescription written by Lisa Codrington and featuring Akosua Amo-Adem it was because director Sasha Leigh Henry had to leave for a long term production that started up again. Sasha had already been rehearsing diligently with Akosua for several days. Three weeks before the shoot, I met the group together for the transfer and then worked with Akosua for online rehearsals. During our rehearsals we talked a lot about how Black women are treated in the medical industry and by social workers and white fragility.

Akosua Amo-Adem in The Prescription written by Lisa Condrington and directed by Alison Duke

Our artistic process involved first separating the text into chapters that represented certain themes, emotions and story. We then experimented a lot with the performance as much as we could until we landed the right tone and flow. We timed all the takes to make sure we kept it within the 10 min allotted time limit. Once we were settled with timing and the arc of the performance we worked through the blocking. Blocking via Zoom isn’t easy but we tried to imagine how to make it work on a set that essentially would be a table, chair, some exploding pink light, archival footage and a Open Your Big Black Mouth pamphlet made just for the production.

The production meeting was really highlighted the fact that this series was a clash of genres – Canadian theatre and the film world. It included Obsidian Theatre producers to our fabulous creative team and Keenan Lynch who was charged with the responsibility of making 21 different monologues cinematically different. The actual shoot was fast paced. We had exactly four hours and not a second more as we were working with a unionized theatre crew. I don’t know how we did it but I was happy with the end result.

My inspiration came from sci fi movies and also documentary images that speak to the ongoing struggle for Black women to be heard. I also added contemporary photography from Nicholas Lachance, Malcolm Garrett and archival photography from Bob Brooks and Erik Christensen – a story telling technique that I borrowed from my documentary work. You can watch The Prescription and other 21 Futures films on CBC Gem. Here’s a link to The Prescription: https://www.cbc.ca/artsprojects/21blackfutures/the-prescription

Reviews

Reviews: 21 Black Futures

https://vdare.tv/posts/canadian-broadcasting-corporation-s-21-black-futures

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/article-obsidian-theatres-21-black-futures-five-streaming-sci-fi-plays-worth/

https://stories.td.com/ca/en/article/how-one-theatre-production-is-exploring-the-question-what-is-the-future-of-blackness

https://www.stage-door.com/3/Reviews/Entries/2021/3/21-black-futures-season-3.html

Students also made original art and work about this:

https://www.cbc.ca/arts/seeding-the-future-students-share-original-art-and-performances-inspired-by-21-black-futures-1.5923200

Photo Credit: Erik Christensen

Credits

Creative Team

Set and Costume Designer: Rachel Forbes | Lighting Designer: Shawn Henry | Projection Designers: Cameron Davis and Laura Warren | Props Coordinator: David Hoekstra | Head of Wardrobe: Joyce Padua | Assistant Set and Costume Designer: Jawon Kang | Hair & Make Up Specialist: Bianca Harris

Film Team

Cinematographer: Keenan Lynch | First Assistant Camera: Arvin Cordova | Digital Imaging Technician: Jeff Pentilla | Location Sound Recordist: Kevin Brown | Editors: Ramon Charles, Ashton Lewis, Joe Amio and March Mercanti | Sound Designer: DJ Loqenz | Sound Designers/Mixers: Antoinette Tomlinson, Inaam Haq, Debashis Sinha and Rez Dahya | Online Editor: Ken Yan | Senior Consulting Online Editor: Jordan Lavigne

Producing Team

Artistic Director: Mumbi Tindyebwa Otu | General Manager: Michael Sinclair | Artistic Producer: Fatuma Adar | Company Dramaturge: Myekah Payne | Line Producer: Muzafar Malik | Production Coordinator: Malina Patel | Stage Manager/Script Supervisor: Kat Chin | Production Manager: Crystal Lee | Associate Production Manager: Carlos Varela | Rehearsal Stage Manager: Emilie Aubin | Production Assistant / Driver: Emida Olusegun

Additional Creative Team Members

Creative Director: Chinedu Ukabam | Artwork by: Yung Yemi | Graphic Design: Gloria Asse Elogo | Publicity: Suzanne Cheriton | Assistant Director: KayGeni – Jah in the Ever-Expanding Song | Assistant Director: Abigail Whitney – Sensitivity, Witness Shift, Madness With Rocks, Notice | ASL Coach: Natasha ‘Courage’ Bacchus – Witness Shift | ASL Interpreter: Marcia Martins – Witness Shift, Beyere | ASL Interpreter: Denica C. Brown – Beyere | Artistic ASL Consultant: Dr Jenelle Rouse – Beyere | French Dramaturgy: Stéphanie Jasmin – Chronologie | Movement Director: Esie Mensah – Cavities | Workshop Director: Sasha Leigh Henry – The Prescription

CBC

Supervising Producer: Lucius Dechausay | Website: Jeff Hume | Copy Editor: Marcia Chen | Production Manager, CBC Arts: Luke Myers | Manager, Digital Business and Rights: Clara Lee | Executive Producer, CBC Arts: Andrew D’Cruz | Executive in Charge of Programming, CBC Arts: Grazyna Krupa

Featured

Promise Me

Running Time: 24:47 Audio: Stereo Aspect Ratio: 64:27, 5632 x 2376 Canada 2020

Directed & Co-written by ALISON DUKE Co-Written by LINDSEY ADDAWOO Cinematography by LUCAS JOSEPH Edited by Eui Yong Jong Composed by EZINMA Sound Designed by DEREK BRIN Art Direction by LADAN SIAD Executive Produced by ALISON DUKE, NGARDY CONTEH GEORGE Featuring Oluniki Adeliyi, Breonna Morrison, Angela Reid, Alana Bridgewater, Wyatt Lamoureaux

Promise Me ‘(20) is a 24-minute dramatic film about a young girl trying to inspire her ill mom to get better while their lives are under surveillance by child welfare. The film is inspired by true events that occurred while I was directing the documentary The Women I Have Become (Duke, 07) about eight African, Caribbean and Black Canadian women living with HIV in Toronto, Canada.

This new work essentially is a fictionalized treatment of many Black women’s interactions with the child welfare and education systems. In this new Neo realism fictional piece, the main protagonist Charlie Thomas (15) played so tenderly by Breonna Morrison is facing the reality that her mother Yolanda Thomas (40) played brilliantly by Olunike Adeliyi is dying from complications of living with HIV, and can no longer parent as she has before. Out of loyalty, Charlie insists on being her mother’s caregiver even though her actions may cause child welfare (Angie Reid) and the school board to tear their family apart. But she feels she has no choice, knowing that she may have to live with a decision that’s outside of her control. The film culminates with a heart wrenching ending. This film has been lived by many Black women and their families in Canada.

The emotional ride from the first frame to very last is reflective of the co-writing process working with Lindsey. It was inspired by true events that I witnessed and many situations that I have heard about but the reality for Black women is actually far worse. We decided to concentrate the relationship between Charlie and her mother so that people could really feel the what it would be like in their shoes.

I met with Olunike for several month to talk about Yolonda’s character and what the possible backstory could be. The backstory to Yolonda represents many different women I know living with HIV. They are smart, gorgeous, amazing women. Oluniki and I, sort of preplaned a lot of things about the character before anyone else was involved such as her wardrobe, the head tie, how she was lie on the couch. I had a few false starts with casting and luckily found Angie and Wyatt. I knew Alana and wanted her to play that role from the get go. But finding Charlie took some time. It was so nerve-wracking because I only had a limited time to finish the project.

As soon as I met Breonna, I knew she was Charlie and when she read for me it was perfect. I had two read through/ rehearsals with entire cast. We allowed for feedback to help them make the words their own.

Thanks to my producer Fonna, the team came together quite easily. I went to each location with my Cinematographer to roughly block out all my scenes. I wanted to be really discipline with the blocking. I have been shooting observational documentaries for almost twenty years and in this film I wanted a much tighter shooting style where I was aiming to make the viewer feel increasingly trapped or even claustophobic by what was transpiring on the screen.

The film is as dark as it is light. There are a lot of happy moments as well.

Charlie playing with her friends

Poetic flashbacks of Yolanda’s life in better days, scattered throughout the film, remind the viewer that Black women with HIV is so much more than their illness. But it is very much a “horror story within a love story or a love story within a horror.”

The intersectionality of various social issues such as race, gender, poverty, motherhood and HIV/AIDS status, and their resulting oppressions, are contrasted against the truth that her Black life was also filled with so much joy, beauty and hope. The result is a social commentary on numerous Canadian institutions, specifically the health, education and child welfare systems.

I feel that my long artistic practice of making social justice documentaries has now evolved into the genre of new Neorealist fiction. One of the tenets of Neorealism is working with real people, instead of actors. This was Breonna’s first film. Another tenant is that it showcases some social issues in the society. This film was surely inspired by events that I personally documented in previous work as well as many other horrific stories that I heard.

I spoke to teachers and social workers and they all confirmed that this happens to Black women and families facing these issues. For the work to be neorealism, it has to have a realistic style to it and this film certainly does feel like you are inside of Yolonda’s and Charlie’s bodies although the actions of the characters do not resemble anyone. I’m taking a lot of creative liberties to drive home the point. It’s more about what Black women living with HIV/AIDS go through than a specific person.

It will be interesting to see how far and wide this film will be seen. It is currently touring the festival circuit. Some people after viewing ask me if this really happens to Black women and I say yes!!

I’m currently writing new material and dusting off a few scripts. After all these years, I’ve finally caught the fiction bug.

Our producer brought this cake to set on our final day.

Screenings/Festivals:

– Social Justice Now Film Festival

– International Pan African Film Festival du Cannes – Finalist

– Reelworld Film Festival

– Festival du Nouveau Cinema

– Columbus Black International Film Festival – Best Short Film

– Bronzelens Film Festival

– Las Vegas Black Film Festival

– Afro Prairie Film Festival – Winston W. Moxam Best Canadian Short award

 – Short Film Factory – Winner

For more information and to book a screening visit:

www.oyamediagroup.com/promise-me

Featured

Mr. Jane and Finch

A documentary about Winston LaRose, an 80-year-old community activist, inspires a Toronto community surrounding the intersection of Jane St. and Finch Ave. to challenge the traditional powers and run for political office for the first time.

Director: Ngardy Conteh George

Writers: Ngardy Conteh George and Alison Duke

Producers: Alison Duke and Ngardy Conteh George

Cinematographer: Mark Valino

Editor: Sonia Godding Togobo

Composer: Orin Isaacs

Graphics: Ramon Charles

Running Time: 44:06

Production: OYA Media Group/ CBC Docs POV

Distribution: McIntyre Media Education and Curriculum Content

Awards: Two 2020 Canadian Screen Award – The Donald Brittain Award for Best Social Political Documentary and the Best Documentary Writing. Nominated for Yorkton Multicultural Program Award

We got lucky. The project kinda fell into our lap after Ngardy directed, ‘Dudley Speaks for Me,’ (one of the six films in the Akua Benjamin Legacy Project that I produced about Black activist in Toronto who were no longer alive). A personal friend of Winston LaRose approached her him and his tremendous archive that nobody had seen. Winston was an amatuer documentarian. He had filmed over 5000 hour of footage throughout the Diaspora over the past 50 years and in particular had captured the underground activist scene in Toronto, Canada and never showed it in public. Mr. LaRose was interested in meeting Ngardy because he was a big fan of Dudley Laws and loved what she did with the archives in that film and was wondering what could she come up with regarding his archives.

I remember that Ngardy was nursing her son Zakai at the time but made the time to meet with Mr. LaRose. She then invited me along to one of their meetings at York University. He was 80 at the time and struck me as such a dignified man. He had this old school way about him that would be great to capture on camera. And he remembered everything. We would meet with him regularly just to hear all his stories. Eventually, he would bring some of his archives on DVD and we would watch hours of footage on our computer in his presence as it never left his possession.

We came up with strategy. If we could find 10-12 stories in his archives that could be supported by other folks then we could make a tv hour doc.

We probably met with him for a period of 10 months before deciding what those stories could be before drawing up the agreement for his life rights. CBC Docs POV came on board quickly with development which allowed us to film a few interviews and start the process of documenting and transcoding his archives.

But first we had to come up with a strategy. He had over 5000 hours in different formats from VHS, super 8 and 8 mm film, miniDV and DVD. His apartment had two floods so a lot of the film footage was scattered around in unusual places and judging from the boxes there was a possibility that some of it was damaged and needed to be restored. Because of that, we decided to start with the super 8 and 8 mm film and enlisted a super 8 processing and transfer house called Frame Discreet. It’s one of the few places in Toronto you can process super 8 to 2k and 4K and get a colour grade and a bit of restoration all under one roof.

Also, I knew Justin Lovell the owner from back in my music video days and because of our connection, he would allow us to film there. Turned out that Justin is of Guyanese heritage like Mr. LaRose so we had a fascinating visit. We were able to produce a short digital extra from our visit there.

Archiving Mr. LaRose, 2019 © OYA Media Group

We were giving the green light to film in May 2018 and with a scheduled delivery date for January 1st, 2019. The broadcaster wanted the film for Black History Month. We were up to the challenge but shortly after we started production, Mr. LaRose decided to through his hat into the ring for the 2018 provincial elections. We were only commissioned to make one documentary but literally had two stories to contend with and Ngardy had already spent an enormous time with the archives. We decided to follow the campaign story but had to be pragmatic about our approach to the narrative arc storytelling structure because we didn’t have the luxury of time to experiment. Our tight delivery schedule meant we had to write, shoot and edit at the same time.

Mr LaRose’s campaign signs. 2018 © OYA Media Group

In terms of structure, we knew that the active story was the election and listed all the events that would possibly tell the story. First of all, Mr. LaRose had to submit his application by a certain date, so that meant he had to collect at least 20 signature from constituent in the Jane and Finch corridor (otherwise known as Ward 7) and hand it in on time to qualify. Second, if he got his application in before the deadline that would trigger three other narrative pathways. We then organized our story arcs around each possibility — he could quit, he could win or he could lose.

Until we past the point, where we knew that dropping out was not an option, Ngardy had to film with the three possible outcomes in mind. But what really complicated the process was that election was in October and our editor Sonia Godding Togobo had already started working on a assembly in August. She had to assembly the footage with two possible vibes, either he would win the election or lose the election.

L to R, Alison, Ngardy and Sonia deliver 2018 © OYA Media Group

For most of post, until we had that ending it was like playing tetris. Putting this film together was frustrating and fun at the same time. Winston’s archive was used to bring to light his perspective and represented how he saw the world.

Mr. LaRose reading his narration 2018 ©OYA Media Group

I give Ngardy a lot of credit for keeping her eyes on the prize. She worked really hard. The film Mr. Jane and Finch can be found on CBC Doc POV.

For Educational Distribution inquiries: McIntyre Media Education and Curriculum Content

Featured

Reflections of Wata by Alison Duke

C-Magazine art review

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Reflection of Wata by Alison Duke (1 of 3 multi-screening channels revisited)

I finally got a chance to read Mary McDonald’s very thorough CMagazine’s summer 2017 art review of New-Found-Lands: Exploring the historical and contemporary connections between Newfoundland and the Caribbean diaspora curated by Pamela Edmonds and Bushra Junaid – Eastern Edge Gallery, St. John’s Newfoundland.

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C-Magazine Summer 2017 issue. See Mary MacDonald’s review on page 64

MacDonald writes about the connection I make between water and labour in my mult-screening digital installation entitled Reflections of Wata.  This work is comprised of 3 panels that screen simultaneously.  Digital installations allow me to work more freely with content.  In this medium, I feel like I am not bounded by traditional filmmaking rules of space and time.  And I feel that I can communicate more poetically, rhythmically. Since, I started my journey into the arts writing poetry, perhaps digital installations will become more significant to my artistic practice today.  Go to C-Magazine to read the review of this entire show. 

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NEWS FLASH: A single channel of Reflections of Wata will screen in a retrospective film program in Toronto on Black Canadian performance in November 2017.  This retrospective will also feature  The Trilogy (1997) a music video I directed for Motion featuring Apani and Tara Chase. Stay tuned for the official press.

 

 

Featured

Changing Seasons

May 2017 Project

I met this group of seniors last year around the fall. They had been calling me all summer to make a video about their group that has been meeting for over 40 years in a community center in Flemingdon Park. Flemo (that’s what we called it back in the day) was home to a large West Indian community in Toronto.

(Note: Click on above photos for Vimeo link)

The area was also known for hosting epic cricket and soccer matches on the weekends. The Seniors Guyanese Friendship Association started meeting here in 1972. When I finally got a chance to speak to their treasurer, Jim Bovell, he happily said they just received a Canada 150 grant to make a video about their group.

Sr Guyanese
Here I am about to start editing the film Changing Seasons.

Before we met I couldn’t see myself doing this all. Not that I didn’t want to. I could hear my Guyanese ancestors cussing me out if I didn’t step up to the plate. At the time, I had way too much on my plate… a few educational films in post…that nagging thesis film still needed to be finished. And I knew that anything that includes any kind of historical element just takes time.

And what was their plan? Was it even feasible?

Initially they wanted me to document all of their trips and events during the following year which could have been super fun but I could only do 3 days of shooting.  What would you do with all that footage anyway, their story was much deeper and important that watching them go on trips. The more I spoke to them the more I fell in love with them telling stories, the type of stories you hear from your grandparents and also the type of stories that really provides context for the Caribbean immigrant experience in Canada. As I looked through their photo archives I noticed how the weathered look told a story of its own.  Then I thought, why don’t I just pitch to them a photo shoot where they could be interviewed while getting their portraits taken. They went for it. It was a great creative strategy that helped on all levels,

Photography2
Jalani Morgan and his camera.

I approached Toronto-based photographer Jalani Morgan to take the portraits. We decided to shoot with an old school Polaroid camera and also show the behind the scenes footage of the seniors getting their portraits taken. I really wanted to create a visual tension of the seniors in a space with old and modern technology. I wanted the film to hint, how these seniors, like this old camera (that’s been around the block a few times),  were still able to produce beautiful images.  And that’s exactly what happened  Their stories were vibrant and funny and it really felt like sitting with your grandparents and listening to them tell stories.  But getting those stories wasn’t that easy.  I didn’t know any of them. It takes time for people to open up to a strangers, so I asked their group to work on the questions and then approached visual artist/animator Sandra Brewster to interview them since she volunteered with the group on a regular basis and was the one that introduced the idea of doing this video to me.

Dancing seniors
Cecil and Doreen dancing at home.

The video was shot in 2 days. I hired the amazing Robin Bain to be the director of cinematographer on the portrait shoot. I shot most of the b/roll of the behind the scenes of seniors coming into the shooting space as well as the footage in their homes.  We shot with DSLRs to help keep the filming vibe intimate.  We wanted the documentary to feel like a series of portraits that came alive through story rather than film about portraits.

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Senior Guyanese Friendship Association founding members with members at large.

I edited this piece myself largely because the budget didn’t really allow for any more hands on it. After the first pass, I decided to call it Changing Seasons, largely inspired by the letters I was given by the group about their experiences coming to Canada during different times of the year and how they felt about the group over time.  Some of those letters made it into the film as well.

The group also supplied me with over 300 photographs (and video shot on cell phones and iPads) from their personal archives.  Many of their photos from this archive were distressed.  I left them “as is” because they  felt authentic and once again worn but still beautiful like our theme. A few of the group photos had been damaged by a scanner and I decided to Photoshop those ones because it was a bit too distracting.

Sr. Guyanese trip
Seniors trip to Washington edited with their letters

This 1/2 hour piece actually took a few weeks to edit. It was fun, but I am glad its done mostly because I’m used to collaborating with “full-time” editors. LOL!

Overall the experience was a extremely positive, personally and creatively. These seniors are truly amazing. They are professional, passionate about what they do for seniors (regardless of what Island they come from) and they embrace the arts. I’m so humbled and grateful for the opportunity to produce this work. This project taught me a lot about aging in Canada and how being a part of a group as you age could be one of the bests things you can do. The good news is that the group says that they love the film and I heard there are a few screenings already planned.

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Here I am reviewing the credits and about to output the project.

So far I’ve heard of one screening in the community and one hosted by the Guyana High Commission and Consulate of Guyana in Ottawa to celebrate the Canada 150. I have to say that the whole Canada 150 celebration is bitter-sweet.

As an immigrant, as its been 150 years of the oppression of First Nations and Metis people and many of us came to their land knowing very little about their culture and struggle for their human rights, civil rights and treaty rights. That is a film in itself.

Keep checking back with me. I will post a link to the video when the Senior Guyanese Friendship Association uploads it to their site.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cool Black North

Cool Black North explores the unique and vibrant Canadian Black Community and its role in our country’s contemporary identity.

Cool Black North trailer Second Time Around Productions Inc. © 2021

Running Time: 88 minutes Language: English Country: Canada

Directed by Alison Duke Written by Aiken Scherberger Produced by Suzanne Steeves and Aiken Scherberger Production 2019 – Canada Production Company: Second Time Around Productions Inc.

TV Canadian premiere City TV / Rogers Media on February 22, 2019 Now available on Rogers on Demand Distribution: McIntyre Media Education and Curriculum Content (click link)

Through a series of intimate profiles, we are witness to a wide spectrum of life experiences, including the arts, entertainment, law, business, science and social activism. Though each person’s pathway to success is unique, they all share a common purpose and strength in overcoming often racially-based obstacles to succeed at the highest levels in their respective fields.

Most importantly it’s their commitment to helping others and giving back to their communities that has earned them the recognition of the Harry Jerome Awards – these incredible people paint a diverse and compelling portrait of excellence in the documentary Cool Black North.

Who is Harry Jerome?

I actually started working on this film in the summer of 2019. That was the most active year to date asa filmmaker. We just got he green light on Mr. Jane and Finch with CBC and I was approached by Suzanne and Aiken to direct this film showcasing Black Excellence in Canada that would be based on people who had won a Harry Jerome awards.

Harry Jerome Award Statue in Stanley Park, Vancouver, Canada 2018 © Alison Duke

The Harry Jerome Awards is a very prestigious event held annually by the Black Business and Professional Association in Toronto for over 40 years. In order to be nominated ( or considered ) for a Harry Jerome Award you must be nominated by your peers and complete a robust application package. Over the past 40 years about 240 people have won an Harry Jerome Award.

It was a whole process to get to the 14, first we met with community members to help shortlist our main subjects to 30 people. Then we did preinterviews and used whatever information such as availability, story etc to widdle the numbers down to . and also got I traveled across the country interviewing 14 previous winners to be showcased int segments and also six other people to give commentary throughout. We did pre-interviews.

From Vancouver to Halifax the project gave me the opportunity to spend time with people in the community that I really admired. I was also able to recruit a lot of young people in as production assistance from the Black Youth! Pathway to Industry program, such Marcus Armstrong, who remained with us for the entire production.

L to R, Aliso, Marcus, Tracy Moore host of Cityline, Aiken 2018 ©AlisonDuke
L to Right, Aiken, Donovan Bailey, Alison filming at Sportnet 2018 © Alison Duke

It was a pretty fast paced shoot. We spent between a few hours to a few days filming segments with the main people. My role as the director felt like a cross between directing an adventure doc and field producing.

I learned everyone’s story during prep but we had to get visuals to match. We were often dropped into locations that we never seen before and for many cases a location scout was impossible. So a lot of times it was run and gun and I had to think quickly about what we were going to shoot visually. My biggest challenge came when we went to visit the quilters in Glasglow.

Originally, the shoot was supposed to be in a studio space but it was not available and we were told to go to the home of one of the quilters. It was a lovely space but and there was not enough room to film, three quilters and the artist and we only had a two hour window to film them. Aiken was looking at me, like I don’t know what we’re going to do. Then I remembered the story about how quilts with secret messages woven in them were hung outside to provide people escaping slavery directions where to go. I immediately used the history as my source of inspiration and we all went outside. We filmed the quilters tacking the quilts to the porch and it ended up being a cool scene.

I wanted to shoot a few things in slow mo but we ran out of time. The sequence cut together perfectly though. I wasn’t involved with the writing or the editing.

Tracy Moore, Host of Cityline

Dr. Afua Cooper, professor at Dalhousie
Composer Orin Isaacs

As a director for hire you are not always there in post. This was one of those situations that felt a bit strange to not be involved in that process since I spent so much time with the the people. In the end it, turned out just fine and after the TV premier, Rogers/CityTV streamed it on their platform after their premiere and was their top ten streaming show.

CAST/PARTICIPANTS: Justice Donald McLeod, Jully Black, Wes Hall, Yabome Gilpin-Jackson, Dr. Afua Cooper, David Woods, The Honourable Jean Augustine, LeeAnn Prendergast, Tracy Moore, Professor Kevin Hewitt, Eugenia Duodu, Tanya Walker, Orin Isaacs, Reverend Dr. Joyce Ross, Nadine Spencer, Mayor John Tory, Marcia Bowen, Njeri Damali Sojourner-Campbell, George Elliott Clarke, Donovan Bailey, The Honourable Mayann Francis, Debbie Jerome Smith, Luther Hansraj, Denham Jolly

Women’s History Month – a celebration

What’s there to celebrate?

I am always fascinated by the resilience and grace of women.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, where you are from or how much money you have. I feel that women are here to share themselves with the world.

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THE MAJESTIC MYSTIC OF BLACK GIRL MAGIC

Even though I love boys just the same, my predicament as a middle child and only girl in a house of five children have given me few different thoughts about this gender thing. We live in a world where our gender can still predict what kind of future we will have.

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What kind of job, what kind of salary, what your health outcomes may be like? The doors that you get to walk through and what you get to do when you are there? How questions like these and many others intersect with race has produced a creative tension within my own work – a tension that is always searching for answers.

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As a mother, everyday, I wonder about what the future may hold for my daughter? How to prepare her for today’s world with challenges I may not even recognize?

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How can I pass on my knowledge to her in a way that doesn’t smothers her but also does not make her naive?

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How can I teach her my personal philosophy while giving her the support to create her own?

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I discovered something last summer, while, watching my daughter whimsically draw a picture of a little girl on concrete.

Miata shadow 2There was a shadow of herself dancing inside of her creation. I remember feeling that I was so wrong. This was not a front-row seat into another whimsical creativity in motion but a confirmation that her women-instinct-spirit had already formed.  Her movements were not arbitrary, but methodical and I realised at this moment that she may already know exactly what she wants out of this world.

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For the past month, I have been looking at this photograph of my daughter in concert with snapshots I’ve taken of other black girls/women/ females over the years ( especially my great auntie above taken with my cell phone in Guyana in 2008) to see if there is a symphony of spirit playing. And I have to say when I look at them  – yes there is.  I can hear it. I see it.  And I wonder how to continue to celebrate that spirit in myself and others.  Happy International Women’s Day everyone. Everyday!

Alison Duke with Maasai wandering storytellers ©AlisonDuke

I’m proud of how far I have come in life, where I have been, the stories I have listened to and carried with me. Especially, as a Black woman. Even in this day you are told that you shouldn’t have higher expectations than what people have for you which is mostly pretty low. My advice to young creative women coming up today is don’t listen to people who don’t see you. Don’t give anyone who belittles you the time of day. Seek out people who want you to lead and be great. Surround yourself with people who cherish your ideas as much as you, and don’t just take your creativity and ignore who you are. The world is a big place. There are many people who know and understand how magical you are. Be, work and play with them.

A Goldelox round-up in the summer of 2017

What a wild summer!  There seems to be so much going on in the world and so little time to process it all. One thing I know for sure is that WE ALL need to stand up to hate and stand up for love, but we all need to have EMPATHY for one another.

Colour coded title.jpgColour coded stat.jpgCreatively, this is a big year for finishing films that illustrate what we all must understand about oppression and how to circumvent any socially constructed falsehoods which creates power dynamics where people are made to feel superior and inferior.

I’m currently, in the home final stretch on two films that forces us to think about the other side and where we are situated in their oppression.  Colour Coded, is a short documentary about the racialization of poverty in Toronto (co-directed by visual artist Liss Platt); and, Education for all of us, about the educational system in Saskatchewan through the eyes of the First Nation and Metis educators.

Both of these film are research-based.  In order for them to work I engage in a process of brand messaging.  Instead of telling you what to buy (and why you should buy it), these films, unpack themes like racism, poverty and systemic oppression to guide audiences through how to think about the injustices that exists in this world that we live in and create positive change.

I’ve learned over the years that keeping the audience engaged in branded social justice documentaries is a bit of a different road to travel than making a traditional character-based film.  It requires thinking through story using the logic behind understanding concepts that can be quite abstract, rather than just following the actions of the main character.

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Still from Education for Us All directed by Alison Duke

With branded social issues content you have to balance messaging with on-the-ground realities so the work inspires learning across the board. And by across the board I mean, it has to be able to spark conversations that will start to change the attitudes and behaviours of people with varying experiences regarding that particular issue.

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Canada 150 forgot about its Indian problem

Your audience may not know anything about the issue or they might know a lot about the issue. They may even be a leading researcher on the topic but may not have experienced it personally or know exactly how others have experienced it.

Knowing that these types of films are often used as educational resources in the humanities and arts and that they may be available to the public either online or through community-based screenings, also informs my creative process.

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Serving so many masters can get tricky but getting to the heart of it – making it clear and fresh – for a wide range of people is a challenge I embrace with every film.  The grind of documentary storytelling doesn’t change, but the stakes in social issues documentaries might be even higher. Finding the right balance is key to this type of messaging. You have to listen to the research, the clients, the participants and the universe.  Being curious about how people think and finding ways to challenge their perception has actually become a creative niche for me.  I now end all of my emails with the tagline, In Creative Solidarity!” 

After these films are released, I will be diving into films about people trying to do the right thing.  I can’t wait to tell you all about it –  In Creative Solidarity !!!


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