Africville in Black and White

Review by Michelle Brunet, Halifax

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I entered St. Matthew’s Church in Halifax on Tuesday evening. The FIN Atlantic International Film Festival production was advertised to be a “live documentary” to tell the beginning, life and tragic end of Africville, Canada’s largest, historic African Canadian community that was located in the north of Halifax for over 200 years. Gazing around the packed church in anticipation, I noticed colourful cardboard dog cutouts, two large screen televisions mounted at the front, and a clothesline with laundry hanging to dry.

The production opened with live guitar and banjo, and actor Justin Carter (whose biological mother grew up in Africville) inviting us to imagine we were sitting inside Africville’s Seaview Baptist Church. The meaning of “live documentary” format quickly became apparent: the feature consisted of both pre-recorded and live interviews with former residents of the community, academics and politicians, intertwined with dramatic interpretations of the vibrant village, all weaved together by compelling vocalists and musicians crossing various genres, from negro spiritual to reggae.

As we watched from the pews at St. Matthews, the entire combination of already filmed and on-the-spot vignettes were in turn being documented by several camera operators under the guidance of writer/director/producer Cyrus Sundar Singh.

Save for a few technical glitches with sound quality, Africville in Black and White proved to be a cohesive and consistently intriguing look at the community’s chronology. Heads shook in shame when the many examples of blatant oppression against Africville residents were pointed out: like how residents paid property taxes but had no access to running water or sewage; the City’s garbage trucks never serviced the community but showed up on eviction day to drag the Africvillians away; and Halifax called Africville an eyesore, yet it was the City who decided to put a dump there in the first place.

A true highlight of the evening was the presence of people who actually lived or were descendents of Africville. Those in the audience sang along and clapped to reminiscent gospel tunes. Irvine Carvery stood up and shared his memories growing up in the community: of the penny stores, the strength of the mothers and never having to lock your door. His brother Eddie Carvery, who has been living in a trailer on historic Africville land for all these years in protest, was also there. His proclamation that just as the City took the residents out of Africville, it should now bring them all back, was met with enthusiastic applause.

The night closed with a woman in the audience standing up and saying to Director Singh, “Thank you for keeping our story alive.”

Africville in Black and White

Director/Producer/Writer: Cyrus Sundar Singh
Executive Producer: Vanessa Laufer, Salaam Shalom Production Inc.
Co-Producer: Juanita Peters, and San Family Productions, NS
Associate-Producers: Daniel Boos, Shelley Hamilton, Justin Carter, Irvine Carvery