That’s roughly how many hours of film that Winston LaRose had in his personal archives when filmmaker Ngardy Conteh George met up with him to research a documentary she was making.
He had shot footage of Charles Roach, a Black civil rights lawyer who fought to change Canada’s citizenship requirements to allow people to swear an oath to the country instead of the Queen, which he argued represented a legacy of oppression, colonialism and racism. He had filmed Dudley Laws, a Canadian civil rights activist who became an outspoken critic of the Metropolitan Toronto Police after a number of Black Canadians were shot by police during the ‘70s and ‘80s. And he had also recorded Marlene Green, who called out racism in Toronto’s education system; and Roosevelt “Rosie” Douglas, a Black student leader who organized The Montreal Congress of Black Writers and led a national tour to build unity between Black and Indigenous Canadians – and was deported for his efforts.
He had archived footage of many more Black Canadian activists who had, as he told George, inspired him to become an activist and leader by their tenacity to represent Black people.
She wanted to use the footage in a documentary she was making on Black activists, but the more they talked, the more she realized that LaRose was a story onto himself: At 80 years old, he was running for a seat on city council to represent his neighbourhood, Jane and Finch, in the 2018 Toronto municipal election.
Located in the northwest end of Toronto, the multicultural, low-income neighbourhood has been home to successive waves of new immigrants but was now being squeezed by urban gentrification. LaRose had spent much of the past 25 years of his life helping residents of the community with issues such as housing and childcare as director of the Jane Finch Concerned Citizens Organization (JFCCO).
Recognizing how important LaRose and his campaign was to the community, George teamed up with her mentor, Alison Duke, and created Mr. Jane and Finch, which ran on CBC Docs POV and was nominated for two Canadian Screen Awards: for Best Social/Political Documentary and Best Writing for a Documentary.
That was also one of the first productions for Oya Media Group, the incorporated company George and Duke created after joining forces. For the two filmmakers, Mr. Jane and Finch is an example of the kind of impact they can make in bringing together their more than 40 years of combined experience in film and tv production.
Before George and Duke founded Oya in 2018, each had their own production company but felt they had “hit a ceiling” trying to work on their own, given the huge expenses involved in making films. Says George: “You’re solo running a company and you scale up and hire all the crew for different positions when things are busy and you have productions, but when it’s not, you have to scale back down to yourself.”
What they wanted to do, instead, was chase bigger projects and bigger budgets, and felt they had a better chance of success doing it together.
An upcoming project—a feature-length film called Mothering in the Movement—is an example of that. Following the renowned poet, author and feminist Staceyann Chin, the midlife coming of age story looks at Chin’s relationship with her mother who abandoned her as a baby then again at the age of eight, the same age Chin’s daughter Zuri is in the film. It’s about reconciling her own labour pains of raising a child while working to create a world in which their lives not only matter but flourish.