It isn’t always easy being a content creator in Toronto. After the success of her independent film, Happy One Year, (in collaboration with CityLife Film Project) Alicia Bunyan-Sampson’s film received recognition from a multitude of festivals including the Toronto Black Film Festival, Regent Park Film Festival and the CBC, to name a few. But for the big-hearted, quirky, and compassionate creator, this simply wasn’t enough. She decided to lend her talents to #GYALCAST, a weekly women-led podcast in Toronto that tackles prevalent – and sometimes unpopular – issues about, well, everything.
Filmmaker by day, podcast personality by night, Alicia shared with us what filmmaking means to her.
1.L.A : Why did you choose film? What does the artform do for you?
ABS: As cliché as it sounds, and I know it sounds incredibly f*cking cliché, but I didn’t choose film, film choose me. I really, really mean that. I’ve always felt like my thoughts are a film. During an experience, after an experience, [and] just in going through my life I arrange things together in my mind in very specific ways almost as if I am always watching and directing and writing a movie in my head. Film does a few things for me. I think the most important [thing] (especially now in my life) is that is allows me to move some of the clutter out of my head. I feel overwhelmed by myself most of the time. Writing, directing, and creating a world out of the chaos of my [own] is an incredibly freeing process for which I am constantly thankful for. Film lets me breathe.
2. L.A : Congratulations on the success of ‘Happy One Year’! What was the creative process with CityLife like for this project?
ABS: Thank you! I have this running joke with myself that being in City Life was the best and worst decision of my entire life. I would not be where I am today if it were not for City Life, but I think I would be far less disappointed and pessimistic if it were not for City Life. Creatively I found everything fairly easy to be perfectly honest. Creativity has never been a barrier for me. What I found most difficult was working with other people, trusting other people, and being vulnerable with [them]. I am forever thankful for City Life and the entire process but I am deeply traumatized by a series of things from that experience. So I guess to answer your question, the process was complicated.
3. L.A : What was the inspiration behind H1Y?
ABS: The inspiration behind H1Y was my own personal experience of sexual violence and this essay I read in university called “This Disease Called Strength” by Trudier Harris. I wanted to talk about how this idea of strength as endurance is a really dangerous way to walk through life and draw from my own experiences to highlight that danger. I took a combination of experiences I’ve had with my family, men, and sexual violence and jumbled them up into one single 10-minute story that spoke to the danger of endurance and carrying pain, and the power of being fearlessly vulnerable.
4. L.A : What do you think was the most valuable thing you learned during this filmmaking experience?
ABS: I am remarkably resilient.
5. L.A: What does diversity in film mean to you?
ABS: I think diversity in film is something white people say so they can feel less racist about themselves. I’m a black woman…existing in a white world…Diversity in film? It means nothing to me honestly.
6. L.A : What do you think are some of the biggest challenges women of colour – especially black women – face in the Canadian film industry?
ABS: The biggest challenge black women face in the Canadian film industry is being black women. The Canadian film industry is white and incestuous, so of course (just like in the wider world) black women face the most challenges…and by most I mean all of them. Our existence is threatening. We are unwanted.
7. L.A: What does your activism look like? How do you marry your activism with film?
ABS: I am really uncomfortable with calling myself an activist. I think an activist is someone who gives his or her entire life to the movement, whose every day is about the fight. My everyday is about trying to heal my own trauma with a sprinkle of politics. The personal is political, so I think naturally when I witness or experience oppression that experience will go into my work. I use my work as a way to process difficult things and to bring attention to complex things.
8. L.A: I know you do a lot of work with other content creators around the city with your podcast, GYALCAST, and that you recently launched the #GYALCAST Academy. What are some of the goals you hope to achieve? Why do you think it’s necessary and what voids do you hope to fill?
ABS: I know The GYALCAST Academy will be a Canadian movement. Black women in Canada need community, support, and love. Self-care is the core of The GYALCAST Academy because it is something Black Women know the least about. We are so exploited and so neglected and I am so tired of myself along with my sisters working so hard and not being treated fairly. We will create a network of Black Women who can come together and share skills and resources. Most importantly, this means a network of women who will aggressively support and love on each other. We are going to change everything.
9 L.A: What would you like to see happen in Toronto’s media landscape?
Less white men, more black women and women of colour — that’s literally it.
10. L.A: Anything else you’d like to mention?
My film “Happy 1 Year” will be playing on season 2 of ABFF Independent which premieres August 4th 9PM (ET) on AspireTV. If you’re reading this and you live in the United States, please check it out!