Celebrated filmmaker to host workshop at Black Canadians Summit in Halifax
Sobaz Benjamin says making movies helped him 'exorcise my own personal demons'
Sobaz Benjamin found healing in the form of a camera.
"Being able to tell my own story, in my own voice, in my own way ... allowed me to really exorcise my own personal demons," Benjamin said of his four years at film school in Toronto.
Three decades later, the film director, mentor and advocate runs In My Own Voice, a Halifax-based organization that works with marginalized youth to use art as a tool for healing.
This weekend, he'll moderate an interactive workshop at the National Black Canadians Summit where participants will be encouraged to explore their passions and creativity.
The three-day summit runs from July 29-31 at Halifax Convention Centre.
Benjamin spoke with Information Morning's Kyah Sparks about how his journey informs his work. Their conversation has been edited for clarity and length.
Listen to their full interview here:
What inspired you to start In My Own Voice?
What inspired me to start IMOVe was my own healing journey growing up in London, England, as a dark skinned Black person. I'm in my 50s now so being dark skinned and Black is cool now, for the most part. But growing up, it wasn't. I had a lot of internalized racism, I guess is the best and easiest way to describe it. I internalized a lot of that stuff and turned it in on myself, used skin-bleaching creams. So my healing journey came about when I started film school in my 20s.
When I left Grenada and moved to Toronto I started film school. I was in a place where I needed my own healing, and film and video production provided me with that.
iMOVe grew out of that. When I came to Halifax, I was asked to do a video by the Nova Scotia justice department about the inordinate number of African Nova Scotian males at that time — this was in 2007 — being incarcerated. They said, could you do a video about cultural esteem? I said could I suggest something a little bit more long ranging? And that's when the idea for In My Own Voice [came about], reflecting on my own personal journey of healing myself through film. That's when I took all of that and put into this thing that is now iMOVe.
We rolled out our first program in 2009 at the Nova Scotia Youth Facility in Waterville. We had a group of mentors, young people, with us. Quite a few of them were from the Prestons, East and North Preston, and the people we met there, immediately that process of trust [happened]. It was young people who looked very much like them and shared the same experiences and stories.
What are some of your favourite success stories from iMOVe?
That idea of [people] going through the program and inspiring others is constantly what we see happening. We've got a young man, Alexi Rodriguez, running his own adventure, outdoor tours company right now for young people. He's out in Antigonish working with First Nations communities ... and he's working with us as well. He's done some work around culturally appropriate learning tools for co-operative learning. He's worked with us to develop that so it speaks to BIPOC people and young people.
I was in a place where I needed my own healing, and film and video production provided me with that.- Sobaz Benjamin, In My Own Voice
What makes the organization so special in terms of inspiring youth?
My journey toward health, the program iMOVe is based on that. And very often just because a person takes a path doesn't mean it will work for others. But what I feel fortunate about is the fact that it has resonated. The approaches we take, the philosophy we take, the goals are rooted in my own personal journey toward healing. I think that anybody who is looking to get to a place where they can experience more peace, more plenitude, where people feel centred in their own lives, where the aspirations that people reach for become reachable, it resonates. I feel very fortunate, and blessed even, to have had an experience that resonates with others.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.
With files from CBC Radio's Information Morning