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Calgary filmmakers shine a new light on Africa with documentary series, Motherland

Calgary filmmakers shine a new light on Africa with documentary series, MotherlandPhina Brooks and Sylvester Ndumbi, co-producers of Motherland.

Phina Brooks figures she has been to at least 16 Stampede parades since arriving in Calgary from Nigeria two decades ago.

Last year, the filmmaker brought her camera in hopes of capturing some of the African culture that has increasingly become a part of our city’s makeup.

But she saw only one group, which didn’t actually have a float, on hand to represent the Calgary’s African community.

“I love the Calgary Stampede, it’s my favourite festival in the whole world,” says Brooks. “I was so disappointed that there was just one African group in the parade. We went to film the Stampede hoping we would see different floats — we filmed Filipino floats, Chinese floats, native floats, cowboys, the military. It was so disappointing. Only Ethiopia was represented from Africa.”

Brooks hopes that her new documentary series, Motherland, acts as an ambassador of sorts, helping build stronger bridges between the African community and other cultures in Canada.

It will begin airing on Shaw Cable later this month, but Brooks and co-producer Sylvester Ndumbi will offer a sneak peek on Saturday with a free screening at the Globe Cinema in celebration of Black History Month.

Brooks worked as a TV producer in Nigeria and resumed her career in Calgary 20 years ago. Motherland, which includes six episodes, was both a response to what she and Ndumbi see as the overwhelmingly grim tone of most media reports that come out of Africa and a call for Africans at home and here in Canada to take control of their own stories.

“Good news doesn’t sell, bad news sells,” she says. “Mainly it’s only when Boko Haram strikes, or kids are kidnapped or some militant comes to Africa. That follows every African anywhere in the world. We wanted to steer the conversation about some of the positive highlights that actually do happen within the African community here, first of all in Canada, and hopefully shape the way Africans are viewed.”

Motherland was shot in Calgary, Edmonton, Niagara Falls and Mississauga and also in Nairobi and Lagos.

The stories take on a variety of tones: from portraits of successful African-Canadian business owners and musicians to heart-wrenching tales of resilient refugees who withstood harsh conditions in camps and eventually established new lives in Canada to more lighthearted segments about African food and traditional African weddings. The documentary that will screen at the Globe Cinema compiles a number of these stories and the filmmakers plan to take it on the festival circuit later this year.

“Sometimes I feel that (Africans) are not trying to reach out to other communities,” Brooks says. “And maybe people are not reaching out to them. It’s both sides really. We need to try to reach out to other communities so we can understand their communities.”

Motherland will screen Saturday at 4 p.m. at the Globe Cinema. Admission is free.

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