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