‘The people make the festival.’ Regent Park Film Festival aims to keep its community traditions alive at a time when connection is needed more than ever

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Toronto’s Regent Park Film Festival is underway for its 18th year and it is working to connect the community in a time when a pandemic has made it all the more difficult.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the festival, like many others, online. The free festival kicked off Thursday night and runs until Nov. 29 through an online platform where registrants can screen films produced by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and people of colour) filmmakers and watch panel discussions.

There is also a pitch competition featuring emerging directors.

While being online can in a way broaden the festival’s reach, it’s still bittersweet for the community.

“Anyone from anywhere in Canada, who wishes to watch can virtually attend,” Angela Britto, the festival’s executive director, said. “But it also does bring up some questions around access, specifically technological access.”

Britto added, “There’s also a little bit of a sense of loss.”

Annual events like the festival as well as outdoor screenings the Regent Park Film Festival usually hosts in the summer, are magnets for the community. Families and neighbours usually gather in the park, snack on free popcorn and play games before the sun sets and the screening can begin.

“We miss that face-to-face interaction in connecting with each other,” Britto said.

In a way, that feeling that has been present all year inspired this year’s theme, DIS — PLACE.

Regent Park is known as Canada’s largest and oldest public housing neighbourhood, but as the area gentrified, many of its long-standing racialized and immigrant residents have been displaced and forced to move to other areas of Toronto.

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“We confront the meaning and effects of displacement and how we as individuals and communities navigate that. We take the exploration of the theme one step further and focus on our relationship to ‘dis place,’” programmer Faduma Gure said in a press release.

Since 2003, the festival has been a way to highlight stories that reflect Regent Park’s very racialized community.

“The people make the festival,” Gure told the Star over email. “This festival is about thanking Regent Park and giving back to the people that make Regent Park what it is.”

The festival has not only been a means for the community to see its stories reflected, but a launching pad for emerging filmmakers.

The closing program for the festival includes an emerging directors spotlight and pitch competition.

“We have six Toronto filmmakers whose short films we’re spotlighting in the festival, and they are pitching their next project to a jury of CBC programming judges for the chance to win a development deal, as well as the $1,000 cash prize from RBC,” Britto said.

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The competition is a chance for the festival to support the filmmakers’ development, for the filmmakers to get feedback on pitching, and for the winner to continue with their next film.

The full line up of programming can be accessed through an online portal at https://watch.regentparkfilmfestival.com/, but the festival proposes a daily schedule to view the panels, to mimic the usual festival. The festival runs from Nov. 26 to Nov. 29.

Angelyn Francis

Angelyn Francis is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering equity and inequality. Her reporting is funded by the Canadian government through its Local Journalism Initiative. Reach her via email: afrancis@thestar.ca
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