ReelWorld Film Festival press conference

ReelWorld Film Festival celebrates 13 years of diversity

by Angela Walcott

In the process of promoting another installment of her highly anticipated film festival, if there is one thing that ReelWorld founder Tanya Lee Williams hopes for, it is that filmmakers will feel more empowered.

The impetus to start the festival in 2000 came from a desire to give a voice to the unvoiced; to show diverse stories on screen and provide sustainable opportunities for people of colour. With this visionary outlook in hand, Williams took the initiative. She went the distance and financed the festival with her own funds while it was in its infancy. Thirteen years later, her hard work and determination has paid off with an impressive list of sponsors including TD Bank, Shaw Media, City, Omni and Pierre Laurent among others.

Tonya Lee Williams

Tonya Lee Williams

“The minute you start thinking ‘my entire success is attributed to the actions that I take’ –when you start thinking that way, you have immediately empowered yourself to start moving forward,” she says of being able to take grab the bull by the horns in all aspects of life particularly in the filmmaking business. It is this go-getter attitude that successfully sprouted a key spot as a major influencer in the Canadian filmmaking industry. Williams has been able to bring the films of the festival to Uganda which has started the ball rolling in other countries, with Kenya reaching out to do a joint festival.

A self-proclaimed movie fanatic herself, Tanya Lee Williams likes different films for different reasons. She enjoys films that offer introspection – and films that can make her laugh or cry and It is this eclectic mix that is reflected and fully realized in the ReelWorld 2013 line-up. At her festival press conference launch, it was recently announced that the festival opener is the romantic-comedy Contract from Ghana. The Orisha Suite is a black opera shot in Toronto, there is Nollywood film Hoodrush, international and Canadian shorts and a series of visually unique and spectacular music videos.

Williams is a dynamo in the entertainment industry with stints as producer, director and actress (most notably as Olivia Winters in the long-running soap The Young & The Restless). But surprisingly there is one role she doesn’t associate herself with — teacher. Although Williams has been instrumental in providing mentoring and training initiatives through her foundation to develop skills-building for filmmakers, she sees herself more as the head school master. “Before I started the festival, people were always asking me the questions. But listening to one person’s perspective, or one person’s journey is not really how you can shape your journey,” says Williams. “I thought it would be more useful to create a platform like a school, where I could bring lots of different teachers and mentors and let them all share.” She hopes that this format will provide emerging filmmakers with necessary material they can apply to their profession.

ACTRA's Young Emerging Actors Assembly

ACTRA’s Young Emerging Actors Assembly

Within this platform, Williams highlights the importance of promoting a film with the proper amount of  marketing  good turnouts at screenings. “At Cannes you see people walking up and down the streets handing out postcards and urging people come to see my screening these are things I feel we have to want. I feel that the Canadian industry A lot of leaning back and expecting people a lot of other people to do the work for you as opposed to there is no one else to do the work . You have to market it and create it, film it and edit and get it out there and make sure an audience is sitting in that seat supporting it.

Williams recommends filmmakers attend festivals to learn how to promote their work to hear varied perspectives and advice.” You are going to have to listen to many voices and take from it what you think is valuable and throw away what you think is not valuable,” say Williams who has frequented TIFF for 30 years.” You don’t go to a festival once and hope all your questions are answered. You have to know that it is a process. It is a life journey process.”

ReelWorld Film Festival runs April 10 to 14 at the Famous Players Canada Square Cinemas. Tickets can be purchased online at or at the box office located at 2190 Yonge Street with a free Family Screening of Shyamal Uncle Turns Off the Lights.

ReelWorld board member Moe Jiwan

ReelWorld board member Moe Jiwan

Photos by Kyle Burton, except Tonya Lee Williams photo, which is courtesy of Angela Walcott.

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