We were always here… Black, Indigenous, multigenerational immigrants and people of colour were always here as were the heritage sites; this will be a true awakening to Toronto’s unseen history and our stories that need to be told.
Julien Christian Lutz pka Director X

World-renowned director Julien Christian Lutz pka Director X mentors 10 Toronto-based emerging and mid-career filmmakers – all Black, Indigenous and people of colour – who will be taking a seat at the table to make places and spaces accessible; presenting short films that aim to disrupt, discover and display colonial narratives from the past within the present day world.

Each of the filmmakers* focuses on one of the ten Toronto History Museums to connect to the current space, its historical narratives and the spatial and temporal context in which the site exists – to bring to light untold truths, stories, names, cultures and faces that have been often and intentionally left out or completely erased. Some of the films are part documentary, some are more experimental; all are based in anti-oppression and offer a look inside a world never seen before.

Julien Christian Lutz was born and raised near Toronto. He is noted for directing visually distinctive videos for popular artists including Kendrick Lamar, Justin Bieber, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Drake and more. Director X marks his spot with grand narratives, graphic visuals and emotional storytelling that encapsulates the human condition. With a passion for monumental installation, Director X has started exploring different creative outlets as his artistic practice continues to develop.

 

After deciding not to attend a racial justice protest, Stu, a young black woman, is feeling more conflicted than ever regarding her role in the movement. She calls her friend T for guidance and before she knows it, T dives into a historically driven rabbit hole to help Stu discover her way of pushing culture forward.

Using the lives of two people who proved to be connected in their morals and standards―Mary Ann Shadd Cary and William Lyon Mackenzie―T shows Stu that people don’t need to take the same course of action to move in the same direction. If traditional protests are not what empowers her to invoke change, that’s okay. But whatever she does, she has to do something.

T’s words accompany Stu on a surreal journey through Mackenzie House where she discovers dance as her contribution, her protest… her lane.

Karimah Zakia Issa is an emerging director and passionate storyteller based in Toronto and recently settling into London, UK. Her first music video, Ravyn, won Best Music Video at the Toronto Independent Film Festival 2019 and her two most recent music videos are being submitted to festivals. She has directed a visual album born in quarantine that is currently in post-production.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Karimah Zakia Issa talks about the renewed sense of empowerment that working on this film gave her. “Specifically, to take ownership of my own education of the Black history we’re surrounded by. And, like Stu in the film, to combine that knowledge with my unique way of inspiring others.”

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“Fuyuzakura” is a short film that explores mapping, what kinds of monuments we currently have, and what monuments or public spaces could be possible in the future. The film inspires questions such as: Who and what should we be remembering? What kinds of public spaces should be created that encourage emotional healing? It looks toward a brighter future while not forgetting the mistakes of the past. “Fuyuzakura” was researched and partly filmed at Gibson House.

Michael Hitoshi Maddeaux is a Toronto-based filmmaker. He received his BFA in Film Production from York University where he specialized in cinematography. He has shot for a variety of different projects ranging from narrative short films, to docu-drama television series. His work has screened at festivals like the Toronto Buffer Festival and at venues such as the TIFF Bell Lightbox.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Michael Maddeaux shares his own awakening to the existing reminders of Canadian historical trauma that go unnoticed around the city, such as names of streets, buildings, parks and statues. He talks about how through his film, he came to ask the question, “What kinds of city spaces can we build that will acknowledge these stories and encourage healing?”

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Witness an interstellar effort to save a future world from falling into complete chaos. Through the eyes of Afronaut―a descendant of Joshua Glover, an historical resident and former enslaved African who found refuge at Montgomery’s Inn―we embark on a time-traveling mission.

This journey involves retrieving vital information in the form of memory energy or aura data assets from artifacts at the historical site. While at Montgomery’s Inn, the time-traveller is racing against time and other obstacles to find the answers needed to change the world.

Winner of the Joshua Glover Memorial competition in Toronto, Quentin VerCetty is an award-winning multidisciplinary storyteller, educator, and one of the world’s leading Afrofuturists. With a Bachelor’s in Fine Arts from OCADU and a Master’s Degree in Art Education from Concordia University, Quentin’s work focuses on the inclusion of people of African descent in the public sphere for the future. His work aims to educate about connectivity and was shown in countries on every continent.

Mission Sankofa Awakening won 2021 Best Sci-Fi Short Winner at the Vancouver Independent Film Festival and was awarded 2021 Official Selections at the Canadian Diversity Film Festival, Montreal Independent Film Festival and Phoenix Shorts.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Quentin VerCetty compares his experience working on this film to that of an octopus discovering its ability to adapt and modify to do extraordinary things. “At first I had a lot of doubt, but I trusted my inspiration, the mentorship I was given and discovered in a very fluid way, different approaches to tell ancestral stories that I hadn’t done before.”

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Instagram Chat with Quentin VerCetty

Enjoy on-demand chat with Quentin VerCetty to learn about his process and vision behind his work on the film “Mission Sankofa Awakenings”.

“EMPIRE” is an investigation of what we consider public space. The film questions the relevance and utility of preserved places, by following the journey of a South Asian elder walking home from an ethnic grocery store close to the museum. An audio interview with the artist’s mother provides context into western imperial housing design(s), its role in the memory of people of colour, as well as the ways that these structures have been re-claimed and re-constructed as spaces of joy and cultural preservation. How people design private space is also directly applicable to how we can reclaim public space.

This project connects preservation with settlement, and demolition with migration, while contrasting the two as experiences of White and non-White people. Filmed at Scarborough Museum.

Noor Khan (she/her/hers) is a community-engaged artist, who facilitates the direction, production and installation of art and film. She is based in Scarborough, raised in Saudi Arabia, with roots in South Asia. Her work centres the connections between humans and physical geography, as well as the experience of living and loving on the margins. Noor is pursuing her M.F.A in Community Arts from Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and has a B.A. in Community Development from University of Toronto.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Noor Khan talks about her original intention for the film of finding ways to challenge the colonial architecture of Scarborough. She also discusses her discovery, while interviewing local residents for this piece, that they have already practically re-defined these structures for themselves in their private residence.

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Instagram Live Chat with Noor Khan

Noor Khan hosts a series of Instagram live chats throughout March. She will continue the investigation of what we consider public and private space, which is the focus of her film for Awakenings.

  • March 9 at 3 p.m. – Chat with artist Nina Escalante, with roots in Philippines, who works with textiles.
  • March 16 at 3 p.m. – Chat with artist Samar Hejazi, who works with materials and fibers and channels her Palestinian ancestry through historical choreography found in craft practices.
  • March 23 at 3 p.m. – Final Instagram Live chat with Kichwa digital media artist Samay Arcentales Cajas whose work explores human connection and relationship to land, as well as melding Indigenous cosmology with technology. Her family owned business, PACHA (Kichwa for “earth”) Indigenous Arts Collection aims to showcase the best of Indigenous arts and crafts and connect traditions from North (Turtle Island) and South America (Abya Yala).

Reflecting on the history and the geography of Todmorden Mills, this experimental short film by Alex Lazarowich explores the relocation of the Don Valley River and the impact of land extraction on the Indigenous peoples of Tkaronto and Kanata.

Alexandra Lazarowich is an award-winning Cree producer and director originally from northern Alberta. Her documentary “Fast Horse” premiered and won the Special Jury Award for Directing at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. She is a co-founder of COUSIN COLLECTIVE, an experimental film collective supporting indigenous artists from around the world.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Cree director and producer Alexandra Lazarowich shares her inspiration from the famous painting “Ophelia” by John Everett Millais and how she used it as a starting point to talk about missing and murdered Indigenous women and the impact of environmental disasters affecting natural resources for Indigenous people across Canada.

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Toronto is built on land that has been inhabited by several Indigenous nations since time immemorial. Their histories, cultures and languages were instrumental in the founding of the city, so why does this history continue to be forgotten? From exploring the Indigenous origins of the city’s name, to the murder of a Mississauga chief that nearly caused all-out war, “Acknowledgment” sheds light on how Indigenous people’s lives and histories have shaped Toronto’s origins and asks the question; in this era of reconciliation, how do we acknowledge our collective history? “Acknowledgment” is filmed at Fort York.

Jonathan Elliott is a Mohawk filmmaker from the Six Nations Reserve. He has worked as a director and cinematographer on a variety of projects including: “Wild Archaeology”, “Voices From Here”, “Tsi Teyoto:te” (Even in the Silence), “Along the Water’s Edge” and “Her Water Drum”. Jonathan’s award-winning body of work focuses on telling contemporary Indigenous stories that explore individuals’ complex relationships to their cultural identity, families and communities.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Mohawk filmmaker Jonathan Elliott reflects on the importance of evolving land acknowledgments past mere lip-service in order to properly recognize the true history of Indigenous people across Turtle Island and their contributions to the founding of the city of Toronto.

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Using Spadina Museum as its visual and contextual backdrop, “circa” is a piece that reclaims the agency of Black identities and bodies in Toronto’s history. Now an empty space, what was once Spadina Museum offers a socially-loaded canvas to question the grey area between imagined and erased. The superimposition of imagined bodies rewrites their erased stories, they blend through the house’s shadows before regaining their individual identities when their faces meet the light. “circa” encourages a dialogue between present and past: as the filmmaker repaints the ghosts of the Austin’s family, the othered show us their eyes.

Sonya Mwambu is an experimental filmmaker and editor based in Toronto. She graduated from York University’s film production program where she developed her craft in shooting and experimenting with film to explore concepts of race, language and a connection to her own cultural identity. Although she was born in Kampala, she grew up in Canada and her films are centred on the intersections of her identities.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Sonya Mwambu shares her experience of reimagining Mary Austin, lady of Spadina Museum.

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“Mimie & the Garden” addresses the complexities of women’s health and the role that nature plays as a source of healing and solace. Follow the spirit of Jemima ‘Mimie’ Frances Howard, one of Canada’s first known breast cancer patients, between her resting place at Colborne Lodge and her retreat into the surrounding High Park. Heavily medicated on mind-altering doses of painkillers, embark on this journey with Jemima through pain, hallucination and ultimately tranquility as she descends on her beloved Garden.

Sara Elgamal is an international filmmaker who has produced work in Canada, Cuba, Dubai, Morocco, Japan, the UK and more. Using compelling and high-quality visuals to tell meaningful global stories (documentary, branded content, music videos and short films), she aims to shift the perceptions of global regions and people by cinematically illuminating the quiet, unseen beauty that is often overlooked.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Sara Elgamal shares the challenges of telling the story of a woman she had little to nothing in common with, a wealthy white settler in the 1800s. She focused on a commonality — that of the connection between mental/physical.

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While digging deep into the city’s past, this film challenges what findings are held in reverence. For three days in September 1851, St. Lawrence Hall in Toronto was the site of the largest anti-slavery convention in history. On the heels of slavery being abolished in the states and 20 years after its end in Canada, Black leaders and educators joined to discuss one question: “What is the future of Black People in North America?”

This experimental documentary takes the viewer on a journey through the historic St. Lawrence Hall. Its hallways are lined with the portraits of the past Mayors of Toronto and people who entertained in this space – all white men. In the four-story space, faint clues of Black excellence and Black history fail to tell the full and important story of the conference that took place here almost 170 years ago.

As the story unfolds, archival newspaper clippings are juxtaposed with footage from this year’s protests. They have you questioning—what’s changed? Toward the end of the film, Black bodies and Black art appear and begin to express themselves in the Hall. With even just a look, they carry on the story of Mary Ann Shadd, Henry Bibb, Rev. Martin Delaney, Frederick Douglass and countless others who fought for the advancement and equal treatment of marginalized communities today. “Reverence” was researched at Market Gallery and filmed at St. Lawrence Hall.

Teaunna Gray is an Afro-Indigenous director and film photographer based in Toronto. In her process, the camera is used as a tool to document themes and subjects often underrepresented and overlooked in today’s society. The inclusion of womxn, people of colour and the Deaf community impact the work she creates and collaborators she chooses to work with. Through visual storytelling, her work will continue to uncover unique narratives with a focus on representation.

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Awakenings Reflections: Behind the Scenes Discussions

Teaunna Gray contemplates the emotional connection to Black history and the anti-slavery conference that took place in St. Lawrence Hall. She turned the space into a creative outlet for emotions.

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* Content posted on “We Were Always Here” as part of the Awakenings program operates under the principles of anti-oppression, anti-colonialism, sustainability, advocacy and storytelling. The content, views and opinions expressed are those of the individual story teller/presenter/producer and does not necessarily represent the City of Toronto’s views or opinions or an endorsement of such views or opinions by the City of Toronto.

Any content provided on “We Were Always Here” is not designed or intended to constitute medical advice. It is not meant to be used for diagnosis or treatment. Please talk to your medical doctor to help you make decisions about your treatment or medication.

The City of Toronto is not responsible for any legal claims, costs, damages, liabilities, or obligations arising from the use or misuse of any content presented or filmed as part of the Awakenings program. The City of Toronto does not guarantee or warrant the quality, accuracy or completeness of the information presented or filmed as part of the Awakenings program.


Funding Partner

This project has been made possible in part by the Government of Canada.

Black and white logo of the Government of Canada

 

Media Partner

Black and white logo of Elmnt FM radio