black bodies toronto

Toronto short film made by all Black female team gets into Sundance

Black Bodies, the short film by Toronto director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, beat out thousands of other submissions for a place at this year's Sundance Film Festival

At just over four minutes long, the film pulls powerful numbers.

It was one of only six Canadian films selected to be part of the United States' largest indie film festival.

Of those, it was the only film produced solely by Black women. And when it debuted at TIFF last year, Black Bodies won the festival's inaugural Changemaker Award, and a $10,000 prize on top of that.

But considering the film's accomplishments—and those of its directors and producers, including Tamar Bird and Sasha Leigh Henry of Bitches Love Brunch and Sinking Ship—the name Black Bodies remains largely unknown to Canadian audiences.

It wasn't until a recent tweet from trailblazing filmmaker Ava DuVernay, the first Black woman to be nominated for a Golden Globe Award for Best Director, that Fyffe-Marshall says the success of Black Bodies felt fully validated. 

"I was shook, all of the emotions," she said. "She's one of the people I look up to in the industry the most. And for her to stumble on [my] tweet was kismet." 

But DuVernay's co-sign, while monumental and deserved, draws attention to the flaws of Canada's own film industry. Fyffe-Marshall, Bird, and Henry say Hollywood North has a long way to go in regards to uplifting its homegrown talent. 

"It constantly feels like we're celebrated internally, our communities are celebrating, but on the outside it's constantly like being overlooked," says Fyffe-Marshall.

Better marketing across networks and a complete restructure of the hiring process in the film industry to include more BIPOC artists could help stop the loss of Canadian talent flocking to the States for more opportunities and recognition, says the Black Bodies team.

"We need big institutions to give back in a big way," says Henry. "With real fervor, not just a band-aid." 

Tamar, who has worked on production of shows like The Umbrella Academy and The Strain, says that, following a year of heightened awareness around the Black Lives Matter movement, accomplishments by Black creatives should be celebrated more loudly now than ever.

The irony of visibility, specifically about a film called Black Bodies, isn't lost on the team. The event that inspired Fyffe-Marshall's film got an excess of media attention, compared to the coverage that Black Bodies received.

In 2018, Fyffe-Marshall and her friends were accused of burglary, on the basis of being Black, while checking out of an Airbnb in Rialto, California. 

The ensuing media frenzy, conversations around anti-Black racism, and resulting trauma led Fyffe-Marshall to create her short film starring Komi Olaf and Donisha Rita Clair Prendergrast, who were also present during the incident. 

More than two years after the incident, Fyffe-Marshall admits that the retelling of her story can be exhausting, but she feels it's necessary.

She's now working on her first feature film, When Morning Comes, which will resume shooting in Jamaica when lockdown allows.

"I feel a sense of responsibility because there are so many people who have died or gone to jail or don't have the platform. I'm speaking about it on behalf of them. As long as I see change I keep fighting."

There are promising signs of change in the industry, with room for more household names in Canadian media beyond Kim's Convenience and Schitt's Creek.

Plus there's the all-Black award show from Black Academy headed for Toronto in 2022, if everything pans out—an event that Fyffe-Marshall, Bird, and Henry are amped for. "We already bought our dresses," they said. 

Lead photo by

Kelly Fyffe-Marshall

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