An Interview with Frances-Anne Solomon
Frances-Anne Solomon (left) with ReelWorld Film Festival founder Tonya Lee Williams
This week marks the launch of the 7th Annual ReelWorld Film Festival. Opening on Wednesday, April 11th, 2007 and running through Sunday, April 15 th, this year’s festival will feature 66 films from 13 countries, 8 world premieres, 2 international premieres, 34 Canadian premieres, 15 headline feature films, 6 French language titles, 26 documentaries, and 41 shorts. The opening film of this year’s ReelWorld Festival is director and producer Frances-Anne Solomon’s A Winter Tale.
A poignant drama taking place in Toronto’s Parkdale working-class neighbourhood, A Winter Tale examines the aftermath of the tragic shooting of a 9-year-old boy who falls victim to a bullet meant for a drug dealer. Frances-Anne Solomon endeavours to take us into a soul-searching examination of the root causes, and healing process, needed to tackle the problem of so-called Black-on-Black violence among Toronto’s Black youth.
With a stellar ensemble cast helmed by veteran Canadian actors Peter Williams and Michael Miller, and Caribbean stars like actress Leonie Forbes of Jamaica and stand-up comic Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall from Trinidad, A Winter Tale promises to bring an authentically multi-layered narrative to the screen.
AfroToronto.com recently had the opportunity to sit down with the hard-working Frances-Anne Solomon to gain some insight into the vision behind A Winter Tale.
She began describing the very organic process behind the 4-year long journey to bring A Winter Tale to the big screen.
“I began working on the project which is about the inner life of Black men in the city because, at the time (4 years ago), there was a lot of so-called black-on-black violence that was being reported in the media. Black men were being portrayed as being monsters. And I thought that it didn’t resemble anything that I knew, or the people that I knew. … What I was seeing in the press didn’t correspond with what I know of my community.”
As Solomon goes on to explain, her project sought to look at these people, these characters, from inside rather than from the outside. The process demanded a lot of research. She began by interviewing about 25 young men in the community of different ages, income, class, occupation and background. That essentially formed the basis of the project. Many of these men talked about coming to Canada with high hopes. Some arrived in the sixties and seventies. While other younger immigrants came to these shores in the eighties and nineties. But the constant experience seemed to be towering difficulty to make their own opportunities or to find opportunities.
Quoting Frances-Anne Solomon: “In a society that prides itself in being multicultural, there are a lot of barriers. Particularly, I found, for Black men. And that’s what they were talking about. But they were talking about it from a lot of different perspectives. … I wanted to put together a storyline that would interweave the stories of different men.”
The interviews served to highlight the striking reality that, as Solomon indicates, “there’s a very high percentage of Black men who have been excluded by the education system and who have been criminalized from a very young age. And when you talk to these young men, there’s a confusion of feelings about what’s happening to them. They don’t really know what to do in order to find their way out of a kind of complex mesh of what is essentially systemic racism in this society.”
As young Black men make up a very high percentage of the prison system’s population, there’s a perception that Black men are dangerous or bad.
“So, a couple of the youth workers that I spoke to said that they felt that what would be useful would be a support group … that men need support. So setting up a support group for men where they would have an opportunity to talk about what was going on for them [would be beneficial]. To share their feelings about what was happening to them with other men would be a very useful thing. So that was the birth of the idea of the central character of Gene (played by Peter Williams) who’s a 40-something social worker who remembers his own father’s dream of coming to Canada during the Trudeau era when the doors opened and Canada was being called the land of opportunity. The just society. The dream of a just society” as Frances-Anne Solomon relates.
So the character of Gene Wright falls back on the memory of his father’s dream and tries to set up a group where men in his Parkdale neighbourhood can come together and talk about their dreams and their frustrations. The idea of the Black men’s support group is the backbone of the story.
To achieve that all-important sense of authenticity for the project, Solomon put out a call to actors in the community with the purpose of reflecting the multi-cultural reality of this country. She recalls how, in 2004, about 90 actors lined up around the street to audition for a half-day. “The place was packed. It was quite something. And of those people, I’d say that half of them were wonderful actors” as she recounts.
After putting together a team of 14 actors, Solomon started sending them into the community to talk to people. She also encouraged them to share their own lived experiences with each other. As she goes on to explain:
”So they brought their own experiences of living in Canada to the development of their characters. And story workshops where we kind of built the story through improvisation. After the workshops, I would go and write. Put together the story and weave it together. And so it was a very organic process. Obviously, I had a story to start with, and I had an idea of the characters in my head based on my research. But once the actors came on board, they brought their own integrity, they brought their own language and so, little by little, we put together this framework of the script. Which is really built on the lived experiences of people in Canada. Both from a research point of view and also from the point of view of the participation of the actors.”
Frances-Anne Solomon is a director, producer and writer in film, TV and new media. She is the founder and president of Leda Serene Films, and artistic director of its sister company, Caribbean Tales, a nonprofit company developing multimedia educational tools that draw on Caribbean heritage storytelling. She is an award-winning filmmaker, writer and producer whose credits as a writer/director include Lord Have Mercy! (VisionTV, 2003), Peggy Su!What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4, 1995) and Bideshi (British Film Institute, 1994). She is the President and Artistic Director of the two companies she founded, Leda Serene Films and CaribbeanTales and has also worked as a film and television producer for the BBC. (BBC Films, 1997), What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4, 1995) and Bideshi (British Film Institute, 1994). She is the President and Artistic Director of the two companies she founded, Leda Serene Films and CaribbeanTales and has also worked as a film and television producer for the BBC.
Screening Dates, Times and Prices:
80 Front Street East (@ Jarvis)
Purchase advanced tickets on-line: