Mina Shum and Selwyn Jacob on Canada's hidden history, racism and their new film 'Ninth Floor'

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Mina Shum and Selwyn Jacob on Racism in Canada and Ninth Floor

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Photo credit: Véro Boncompagni

Check out the trailer of their new NFB film Ninth Floor making its world premiere at TIFF 2015.

Synopsis of Film

It started quietly when a group of Caribbean students, strangers in a cold new land, began to suspect their professor of racism. It ended in the most explosive student uprising Canada had ever known. Over four decades later, Ninth Floor reopens the file on the Sir George Williams Riot – a watershed moment in Canadian race relations and one of the most contested episodes in the nation’s history.

It was the late '60s, change was in the air, and a restless new generation was claiming its place– but nobody at Sir George Williams University would foresee the chaos to come.

On February 11, 1969, riot police stormed the occupied floors of the main building, making multiple arrests. As fire consumed the 9th floor computer centre, a torrent of debris rained onto counter-protesters chanting racist slogans – and scores of young lives were thrown into turmoil. Making a sophisticated and audacious foray into meta-documentary, writer and director Mina Shum meets the original protagonists in clandestine locations throughout Trinidad and Montreal, the wintry city where it all went down. And she listens. Can we hope to make peace with such a painful past? What lessons have we learned? What really happened on the 9th floor?

In a cinematic gesture of redemption and reckoning, Shum attends as her subjects set the record straight – and lay their burden down. Cinematography by John Price evokes a taut sense of subterfuge and paranoia, while a spacious soundscape by Miguel Nunes and Brent Belke echoes with the lonely sound of the coldest wind in the world.

Mina Shum: Biography

Born in Hong Kong and raised in Canada, Mina Shum is an independent filmmaker and artist. “I’m the child of the Praxis Screenwriting Workshop, Cineworks Independent Film Co-op, the Canadian Film Centre and working class immigrant parents,” she says.

With Ninth Floor, a production of the National Film Board of Canada, Shum has written and directed her fourth feature film and first feature documentary.

Her first feature Double Happiness (1994) – developed while she was resident director at the Canadian Film Centre – premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won a Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Feature Film and the Toronto Metro Media Prize. It went on to win Best First Feature at the Berlin Film Festival and the Audience Award at the Torino Film Festival. Following its American premiere at Sundance, it was released theatrically in the U.S. by Fine Line/New Line Features. It was nominated for multiple Genie Awards, Canada’s top film honour, winning Best Actress for Sandra Oh, and Best Editing for Alison Grace.

Shum’s second and third features – Drive, She Said (1997) and Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity (2002) – also premiered at the Toronto Film Festival. Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity was subsequently invited to both Sundance and the Vancouver Film Festival, where it won a Special Citation for Best Screenplay (shared with co-writer Dennis Foon). It was released theatrically in Canada and the U.S.

Shum’s short films include Shortchanged; Love In; Hunger; Thirsty; Me, Mom and Mona, which won a Special Jury Citation the 1993 Toronto Film Festival; Picture Perfect, nominated for Best Short Drama at the Yorkton Film Festival; and most recently I Saw Writer’s Guild Award.

Her TV work ranges from Mob Princess, a TV movie produced for Brightlight Pictures/W Network, to episodic directing on About A Girl, Noah’s Arc, Exes and Oh’s, Bliss, The Shield Stories and Da Vinci’s Inquest.

Shum’s interests extend beyond film and television. Her immersive video installation You Are What You Eat was held over at the Vancouver Centre for Contemporary Asian Art, Centre A, and her cinematic theatre piece All, created in collaboration with the Standing Wave Music Ensemble, was presented at the 2011 Push Festival. She has hosted sold-out events for the experimental Pecha Kucha program, and her Internet hit Hip Hop Mom was featured in Calgary’s official Canada Day celebrations.

In 2004 she was invited to deliver the inaugural UBC/Laurier Institute Multicultural Lecture, entitled New Day Rising: Journey of a Hyphenated Girl, and in 2011 she was the recipient of the Sondra Kelly Writer’s Guild of Canada Award.

She is currently preparing her next feature, Meditation Park.

Selwyn Jacob: Biography

Selwyn Jacob was born in Trinidad and came to Canada in 1968 with the dream of becoming a filmmaker. It was a dream that wouldn’t die: he became a teacher and eventually a school principal but eventually chose to leave the security of that career to educate a wider audience through film. He has been a producer with the National Film Board of Canada since 1997.

His early work as an independent director includes We Remember Amber Valley, a documentary about the black community that existed near Lac La Biche in Alberta. Prior to joining the NFB, he directed two award-winning NFB releases – Carol’s Mirror, and The Road Taken, which won the Canada Award at the 1998 Gemini Awards.

In 1997 he joined the NFB’s Pacific & Yukon Studio in Vancouver, and has gone on to produce close to 50 NFB films. Among his many credits are Crazywater, directed by the Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen; Hue: A Matter of Colour, a co-production with Sepia Films, directed by Vic Sarin; Mighty Jerome, written and directed by Charles Officer; and the digital interactive project Circa 1948, by Vancouver artist Stan Douglas.

Released in 2010, Mighty Jerome addresses issues of race and nationalism while paying tribute to Harry Jerome, one of the most remarkable athletes in Canadian history. The film went on to win multiple honours, including a Leo Award for Best Feature Length Documentary and the 2012 Regional Emmy Award for Best Historical Documentary.

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