Regent Park Film Festival: Dis-Place on a digital platform

An illustration of a busy street
Photo courtesy of Regent Park Film Festival.

The Regent Park Film Festival rang in their 18th year on the last weekend of November as Toronto’s longest-running free community festival. On Nov. 26 to 29, Regent Park community members and others across Canada had the opportunity to stream a range of well-crafted films from the comfort of their homes.

“Taking into account a factor like a global pandemic, I started to think about the ways we could feel further isolated and displaced from our routines and traditions. Displacement is not new to Regent Park,” says Faduma Gure, the programmer of the festival, on opening night.

Like many events this year affected by COVID-19, Regent Park Film Festival went digital to bring film lovers together across different communities. The theme of this year’s festival was “Dis-Place”a concept built through the acknowledgement of displacement.

Angela Britto, the executive director of Regent Park Film Festival says that everyone’s ways of life has been affected, whether that be how they make art or in the case of the festival, how they organized the event.

“I think the displacement theme is particularly important when you’re thinking about creating a festival under pandemic conditions,” says Britto.

The festival highlights the various forms of displacement within Regent Park communities, whether that be migration or Regent Park residents being displaced from their homes, according to Britto.

The festival has been a community staple for nearly two decades and aims to bring different communities together through film. Britto says that the effects of COVID-19 have made the feeling of displacement palpable.

“This [theme] is a nod to all the BIPOC and immigrant families, especially in Regent Park, who have watched their neighborhood change in real time due to gentrification, all while at the same time, coming to terms with their relationship to this place,” says Gure.

The Regent Park Film Festival team relied on social media platforms in order to gauge reactions to their events and the impact of the festival as a whole. 

To make the best of this year, the team took the initiative to reach out to festival participants through surveys in order to focus more on building community relationships and maintaining them, according to Britto.

Creatives from across the world were featured in the festivals, with their works categorized into short films, documentaries and feature films. There were also an array of panels featuring filmmakers and creators alike to discuss the impact of film and representation in the current social climate, such as the Being Black in Toronto + Talkback Panel or the Creating Change Through Indigenous Leadership: The Indigenous Screen Office segment.

The festival was streamed over Cinesend, a platform similar to Netflix or Amazon Prime Video, with access to all video content spanning over the four days.

This year’s selection included short films based around the theme of displacement, from Masterpiece, directed by Runyararo Mapfumo, a comedy short about a group of men attempting to decipher their friend’s art in order to show support (an analysis of a empty bowl of cereal sparks the concept of poverty), to Empty, directed by Tristan Laughton, a short film about a man calling a loved one, reflecting on the effects of the pandemic. 

Feature films were also available to stream, highlighting various cultures and communities, some focusing on relationships and adjustment. This included Ruthless Souls, directed by Madison Thomas, a story of a woman rebuilding her life after losing a partner and healing with this loss while navigating the intricacies of relationships. Judy Naidoo’s Kings of Mulberry Street follows a young boy who has just moved to a new neighbourhood and established a new friendship on his street.

The familial aspect is very important to the team at Regent Park Film Festival, who have in past years hosted family days complete with a free community breakfast, film screenings and activities, as well as free childcare for attendees of the festival, says Britto. To promote a sense of family bonding through film, various screenings on the festival lineup were labelled family-friendly. This includes Christene Browne’s 2019 documentary Farewell Regent, under the Block by Block: Regent Park Short Documentaries category.

A photo still from the film Farewell Regent. A group of people holding signs, the sign focused on in the image reads "Housing is a human right."
Still from Farewell Regent (2019). Photo courtesy of scenecreek.com.

These documentaries also highlight several key Regent Park community members and were created to recognize “some of the heroes and champions of Regent Park, along with the grassroots community organizing and communal care these folks are involved in building,” says Britto.

Although the digitalization of Regent Park Film Festival this year allowed a broader reach, there were many technological obstacles to overcome so that the event could run as smoothly as possible, according to Britto. 

Through the production of such a large-scale event was entirely online, the team had to adapt in order to bring the festival to fruition. Britto says that she is grateful to have led a team so successful in adapting to a remote group setting.

For Britto, the theme of displacement also takes on an additional meaning during the COVID-19 pandemic. With the virus impacting the ability of many tenants to pay rent, many communities have experienced evictions and displacement as well. 

Large group of people sit on blankets on the grass, backs faced to the camera as they watch a large screen playing a film in the distance.
Regent Park Film Festival hosts Under the Stars, an outdoor screening, in 2019. Photo courtesy of Regent Park Film Festival.

Britto is looking forward to the time when the Regent Park community has the opportunity to reconnect again at future Regent Park Film Festival events and celebrate the aspect of community and inclusion.