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 10 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.

 

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.

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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