Akin to Montreal, there were many happenings to get into that were fresh and new to me. One of the first events that I volunteered at was the Reelworld Film Festival. I got to network with many fun creatives who were so hyped about why they were volunteering. We were immersed in the centre of it all. I was excited to meet Roger Guenveur Smith (Panther, Do The Right Thing) and Tonya Lee Williams. And the opportunities to meet these actors, take in films and create friendships as a new creative in a new city were priceless. Working with like-minded artistic people was fuel to my fire. I held on to my volunteer t-shirt for many, many years after. It reminded me of the camaraderie, excitement, and stellar experience I had with my first foray into Toronto’s entertainment world.
Fast forward to 2022, and the Reelworld Film Festival is over 20 years old. It's known and respected as one of the prestigious screen incubators for many in film and beyond. Providing valued support to Black, Indigenous, Asian, South Asian, and People of Colour through specialized programs has been one of Reelworld's forte. This year, Reelworld has shifted its directive. The 20 screenwriters it will mentor will participate in a different version of Emerging 20 (E20), which has been restructured to aid screenwriters’ advancement in both a series and film format.
"We realized that there was a gap with writers and with us and our kind of mandate, making sure that BIPOC people are the ones who are telling their stories. Also, with our programs, we always pair participants with mentors. So this process isn't just about teaching them how to go through the process of writing their own project. It's also pairing them with a story editor, so they get industry feedback on their projects. At the end of the program, they have a completed manuscript," says Industry Programming Manager, Safia Abdigir.
It's vital to support the creatives in every aspect of their project, including networking. The opportunity to cultivate relationships via meeting producers and distributors is imperative. Ideally, Reelworld would like to see participant projects continue a lifecycle beyond the script. Abdigir explains, "What we want to do is take people's projects and get them made. In Canada, there is a severe lack of racialized Black and People of Colour producers who are able to get these projects greenlit. For us, it's important that we don't just have people move through our programs, but that there are people who have a tangible difference in their career because we want to see long-lasting change."
What has to be understood is networking is a compartment of mentorship. Mentorship is not just primarily about personal development. It encompasses all aspects in between as well. Like many other industries, the film industry is based on relationships. Developing and bolstering these connections can take you a lot further than any book and class can. As we all know, digging in and getting your hands dirty is usually the way. Mentorship is crucial to tapping into circles and finding the pivotal pockets needed to further propel yourself and your career. You don’t understand the processes for funding? Find someone who’s been through it. Not all opportunities are presented to everyone. A mentor in the field may know where to find them and direct you down the right path. Need feedback on your career process? Well, you know what to do.
Reelworld presents programs like E20 to guide creatives in bettering and elevating their craft and skillsets. Essentially, to build upon an existing network and strengthen its foundation with the assistance of industry leaders. “One thing that sometimes happens is these mandates will happen, and different organizations will have a checkbox that they want to check, but not necessarily be invested in the people they want to move forward with. These programs give folks who have the skillsets and the experience, but maybe not necessarily the support to move to the next step,” says Abdigir.
The mentor/mentee relationship is bilateral. It's a two-way street where each one learns from another. And since both parties are equally busied with everything else they're working on, Abdigir says that it's important to be specific, direct and concise about your asks. "Keep it brief. Also, follow up with folks. Mentors are very busy. They have packed schedules. Don't hound them (laughs), but following up is all right. And again, a lot of times if people don't have the time, there'll be able to then direct you to somebody who's able to help you."
Reelworld Festival continues to contribute to Canadian storytelling by supporting diverse filmmakers. Giving emerging racially diverse Canadian content creators an open door to excel is a big feat in itself. Where there is genuine guidance and facilitation, you will find success and accomplishment. Congratulations to Reelworld’s E20 class of 2022, and good luck to those who apply in the future. It’s a competitive and hard-driven industry, but with the right foundation, you can get to where you want to be.