Interview with Tonya Williams from @kleffnotes

I had the chance to chat with the founder and festival director of the Reelworld Film Festival, which took place in October of this year. This event is held in Toronto and designed to showcase BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) content creators and allow diverse communities to claim their own stories and bring unique voices to the table. I appreciate her taking the time to answer all of my questions.

Could you tell our readers a little about yourself?

I was born in London, UK. My parents are Jamaican. I’m an only child. I love being by myself and I require a lot of quiet time in my life. I’m passionate about people and the world around me. I’m a bit obsessive about having quiet around me. I find it impossible to function professionally in noisy environments. I’m not to everyone’s taste. I’m direct and hate the exercise of small talk. I like to refer to myself as a functioning loner!

The 19th annual Reelworld Film Festival was October 2019 in Toronto, how would you describe this event? 

Reelworld Film Festival is the only film festival in Canada dedicated to giving exposure, access and professional development to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Colour) Canadian talent in the Canadian screen based industries.

How did this year’s line up differ from previous years?

This year’s festival showcased, for the very first time, 100% of its festival films created by Canadian BIPOC filmmakers. Since the inception of Reelworld, my goal was always to have 100% Canadian programming but the content wasn’t there yet. So over the years we would program between 60-90% Canadian content but this year I just decided we’re now going to commit 100% going forward and it’s been so rewarding. It’s going to be challenging for our programmers (or so they keep telling me), but it’s a direction I feel strongly about.

What inspired you to start the Reelworld Film Festival?

Originally I created Reelworld Film Festival to be the first platform dedicated to give a voice to BIPOC (Black, Indignenous, People of Colour) Canadian talent in the screen based industry. I soon realized we had to be so much more. I couldn’t find programmers or arts administrator who were BIPOC, so I incorporated Reelworld to be a training ground for these lucrative jobs. Overs the years people that have trained and gained experience with us, have gone on to work at other film festivals across Canada.  That is something I’m really proud of.

Why did I do it?  I come from parents who instilled the values of always helping others – that success can never be just what you achieve for yourself, but how you also improve the lives of others. I enjoy helping people reach their goals in the entertainment industry. I know how challenging it can be, and if I can help them in anyway, that makes me feel good.

Could you discuss in more detail the Virtual Reality Zone installation?

Yes – in partnership with the Toronto Reference Library we have presented this program for the past four years. VR is so cutting edge and filmmakers are using it to really give an audience an amazing experience. To be able to step in someone else’s experience and feel it is impactful. We only program Canadian films so it’s a much richer experience for those who come out and enjoyed it.

Would you also be able to discuss the Reelworld Emerging 20 Filmmaker Incubator program?

This has been really successful for us. For the past 18 years we’ve done a call for submissions of stories by BIPOC content creators then we have a jury choose the top 20 that we help with their oral and marketing pitches through a four-day workshop. From there, we set up meetings for them to pitch one-on-one with industry professionals – distributors, producers, funders – and we’ve had so much success with this. Many of the project have been developed and produced. Each year we expand the program to give our E20’s the best experience possible.

Where can our readers keep up with you and Reelworld Film Festival online?

You can find everything you need to know at If any of your readers want to volunteer or intern they should let us know. They can send their resumes and apply in the areas of programming, marketing, and operations. And people can always find me on social media. I may not post that often but I’m there! You can follow Reelworld at @reelworld and myself at @wilboent.

Share your thoughts with us in the comments or on Twitter, @thenerdygirlexp. You can find me on Twitter, @kleffnotes, on my blog,, and on my kleffnotes YouTube channel.

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