How the Mr. Jane and Finch creative team is supporting young talent entering the film industry
Updated: May 17, 2019
The documentary Mr. Jane and Finch has pocketed many accolades since it’s release – a national broadcast debut, positive reviews, a sold-out crowd at the Toronto Black Film Festival premiere, a Golden Sheaf nomination from the Yorkton Film Festival – but it’s most prized possession takes the form of mentorship.
Producer/director/writer Ngardy Conteh George and producer/writer Alison Duke always saw the project commissioned by CBCDocs POV as a perfect vehicle to hire Black youth pursuing careers in film and television to shadow key crew members.
They looked to Black Youth! Pathway to Industry (BY2PI), a three-year initiative that supports post-secondary graduated black youth, living in the GTA, who are looking for work in this sector. The program provides access to networking, mentorships and essential skills training. In all, five youth from the program were hired to work on the film from production to delivery.
Conteh George thought the experience the youth would receive working on a television documentary would be invaluable but it was also important for these up and coming talents to interact with a community elder as a subject matter. Mr. Winston LaRose affectionately known as Mr. Jane and Finch, had accumulated over 6000 hours of footage spanning over 60 years while documenting the Diaspora.
“There is a rich sense of Black history that should be passed on to Black creatives. You don’t get opportunities to work with Black archives in most creative spaces and I wanted the youth to have access to that, to experience that,” Conteh George quips. As the storyline shifted and changed to Mr. LaRose running for public office, they also got a chance to witness our local political processes and how gentrification is changing the face of Toronto. The importance of civic engagement and voting were key takeaways for everyone.
One of these young creatives joining the team is Nathan Allen.
Allen’s road to Mr. Jane and Finch began in Live It To Learn It (LILI). LILI is a program partner of BYP2I that provides short internships on prominent Canadian television series. The program, now in its fourth year is housed in the Regent Park Film Festival. Allen earned a spot on the post-production team of the multi award-winning Canadian Screen Award show Kim’s Convenience and worked alongside seasoned television editor Aren Hansen. When asked about this experience, Nathan notes how Aren went above and beyond to support him. “I really just asked to shadow but he called me for extra days and he still keeps in touch. It was almost like a casual mentorship. It was very helpful.”
After Kim’s Convenience, Allen started working as a post-production assistant on Mr. Jane and Finch and was quickly promoted to 2nd Assistant Editor . In addition, to supporting the editorial workflow, Nathan was responsible for organizing Mr. LaRose's vast archives. Before you knew it, Nathan was editing the digital shorts including 90 seconds of Black Canadian History used to promote the larger film. Nathan often talks about how the opportunity to work on a high profile national broadcast project wasn’t only about practical experience, it was about being more connected, “Before I was doing videography I would be in isolation," he says, "I didn’t have much of a chance to be social and be in a collaborative environment.” Allen now works as an in-house packaging editor with Oya Media Group.
Black Youth! Pathways to Industry (BY2PI):
BY2PI is the only program in Toronto that caters to Black youth seeking employment in the television and film industry.
The beginnings of BYP2I started with Alison Duke, the co-founder of Oya Media Group, who wanted to address the high unemployment rate among black youth living in the GTA. “Toronto has a two billion dollar a year film industry. Wouldn’t it be great if we could help alleviate the income disparity of Black youth with a program that prepares these youth for jobs in the film industry?” says Duke. “This industry has been good to me as a career, and I didn’t go to film school initially, I don’t see why there isn't a program that can support those who have.”
Black youths face more obstacles finding consistent work in creative industries than any other group because they lack mentorship and networking opportunities. They simply don’t have the same access to employment as others. According to the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, Black youth across the province are unemployed at nearly two times the provincial rate.
The first year of the program focused on building employable skills and experience in digital media, film and television through partnerships with Nabet 700 Unifor, Regent Park Film Festival, Live it to Learn It, Mattru Media, Hungry Eyes, VTAPE, TIFF, Women in Film and Television - Toronto, and Pie in the Sky Studios and many mentors and supporters.
Alongside Allen, a variety of youth have been able to find employment and internship opportunities because of the partnerships mentioned above. Only 8% of the youth had any employment at the start of BY2PI. By the end of the year, over 96% of the youth had at least one employment opportunity and 81% percent found industry roles. With the second year focusing on production and more industry partners joining forces, they are hoping for even more success.
Yvano Wickham-Edwards worked as a set photographer and production assistant for Mr. Jane and Finch. Wickham-Edwards has continued to work with the Oya Media Group team and other projects all while growing his photography freelance business and working toward gaining enough hours to gain eligibility for IATSE 667 Union.
River Jordan-Allick was a production assistant on Mr.Jane and Finch. BYP2I has provided Allick with mentorship opportunities with the Toronto Media Arts centre, granting her access to free events and co-working space and accessible web design mentorship for her magazine Self Care. She has also been able to get Vtape (a partner of Pathways) to distribute her first short doc.
Wade Hudson is a full-time photographer with a focus on editorial and beauty. He had the opportunity to photograph Winston LaRose for the official Mr. Jane and Finch poster. He hopes to learn more about directing and cinematography for commercial and tv work.
Through BY2PI, Aaron Newby is using his artistic skills as a rapper, web series producer and graphic designer to become a well-rounded multimedia artist. He created graphics for the Mr. Jane and Finch archives and designed the BYP2I logo and is often hired by Oya Media Group for design work.
Other BY2PI participants:
KhaRa Martin is an actress who entered the BYP2I Program with a goal of pursuing screenwriting. Through the program, she landed an opportunity to work in a writer's room for a television comedy series (being produced by a program partner). She is now a member of the Women in Film and Television- Toronto (WIFT) where she hopes to expand her network and future career opportunities.
Fonna Seidu has formal training in Production Management and Production Coordination. Her goal when entering the BY2PI network was to create industry connections to widen her network; gaining potential customers, employers, and future projects. She is now a member WIFT and recently produced a short film.
Isaac Lemi entered the BYP2I Program with aspirations of pursuing a career as a Director. With not enough hours to enter the Directors Guild of Canada - Lemi used job opportunities through the program to become an NABET UNIFOR 700 apprentice. He is now in the union.
When she entered BYP2I, Evelyn Appiah was pursuing a career as a screenwriter for television. Through the program she participated in workshop and networking activities that would lead to more experience. Now she is employed with a major Canadian mass media and broadcasting company .
The Special Mentorship of Winston LaRose:
The spirit of mentorship practiced by the Mr. Jane and Finch team can also be credited to Mr. Jane and Finch himself. Winston LaRose's social advocacy in the Jane and Finch community has deep roots. In 1994, he joined the Jane and Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO) and raised money for youth from Toronto and Jamaica to take a trip to Ghana, creating a remarkable experience for youth who have moved on to great professions. This story is now part of the 90 Seconds of Black Canadian History shorts.
Participants in BY2PI have received mentorship in various streams such as editing with Lu Asfaha, composing with Orin Isaacs, graphic design with Ramon Charles, and recording audio in the field with Tricia Harris.
On Thursday April 4th, BY2PI held the graduation of Year 1 participants at TIFF where
participants, Yvano Wickham-Edwards, KhaRa Martin, and Aaron Newby showcased their experimental docs using archival footage from Mr. LaRose's Archive.
Olympic Island by Aaron Newby captures the annual tradition of Toronto's annual Caribana picnic before it was moved off of Olympic Island. Newby says it's a flashback to the rich culture of Caribana. “Today, it doesn’t have the same authenticity and it’s overpacked. The real tradition is distorted now and Toronto has created its own context for what the celebration. It feels far removed from the joyous celebration that it was.”
Yvano Wickham-Edwards's short doc #Black compares the emotional outcry of protestors in Toronto today versus 20 years ago. “Technology has expanded but people haven’t,” says Wickham-Edwards.
KhaRa Martin’s film, They will not have it, juxtaposes footage of young people today reacting to archival audio of riots in the past. For KhaRa that past is not that far away. “Our uncles, aunts and our grandmothers, that are still alive today that can talk about things that happened to them.” It’s about using the images to evoke emotion.
BY2PI APPLICATIONS ARE NOW OPEN UNTIL MAY 31, 2019:
Year 2 of the program runs from June 2019 to February 2020. This year the focus is on production. To be selected participants must be 18-26, living in the GTA, a graduate from a post-secondary film, television or media arts program. If you or anyone you know meet the program requirements and/or would have an interest please feel free to share this opportunity.