(Selwyn Jacob/Photo: Fish Griwkowsky)
April 24, 2017 – Montreal – National Film Board of Canada (NFB)
On April 22 in Edmonton, pioneering filmmaker and National Film Board of Canada producer Selwyn Jacob received the Outstanding Achievement Award, recognizing outstanding accomplishment, contribution to media art, and body of work, at FAVA FEST, the annual festival of the Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta.
Since the early 1980s, Jacob’s work has explored the experiences of Black Canadians as well as other stories from Canada’s multicultural communities; first as a trailblazing independent director―and the first Black Albertan director―and then as a producer with the NFB’s Pacific & Yukon Studio in Vancouver.
Originally from Trinidad, Jacob came to Canada in 1968 to attend the University of Alberta in Edmonton. While there, he was influenced and mentored by producer, author and broadcaster Fil Fraser (C.M., A.O.E.). After graduation, Jacob completed a master’s degree in film studies at the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts.
It was while teaching in Lac La Biche, Alberta, in the late 1970s that he had the idea for his first documentary, about Black immigrants from Oklahoma who settled in Amber Valley, which after years of research was completed as We Remember Amber Valley (1984). Subsequent independent documentaries included two award-winning NFB documentaries: Carol’s Mirror (1991), an educational film about race and culture in the classroom, and The Road Taken (1996), about the experiences of Black Canadian sleeping-car porters, which received the Canada Award at the 1998 Gemini Awards.
Since joining the Pacific & Yukon Studio as a producer in 1997, Jacob has produced close to 50 films, including many acclaimed NFB works exploring issues facing culturally diverse Canadians and Indigenous peoples, such as Cheryl Foggo’s The Journey of Lesra Martin, a 2002 documentary about a Canadian youth who helped to free Rubin “Hurricane” Carter; Ling Chiu’s From Harling Point (2003), about the first Chinese cemetery in Canada; Mighty Jerome, Charles Officer’s 2010 portrait of Black Vancouver track-and-field star Harry Jerome, winner of multiple honours, including four Leo Awards; as well as Inuvialuit filmmaker Dennis Allen’s Crazywater, a 2013 exploration of substance abuse among First Nations people.
In 2015, Jacob completed production on Mina Shum’s Ninth Floor, a feature documentary about the Sir George Williams Riot of 1969―a story that Jacob had wanted to bring to the screen for decades, since his own student days. Ninth Floor would go on to be selected to TIFF’s annual top ten list of the best Canadian films of the year.
Jacob is currently completing work on two interactive essays that will be featured as part of Legacies 150, an upcoming NFB #Canada150 online project.
“When your chosen subjects are from communities that have been subjugated and marginalized historically, it can be very difficult to get at the truth, to uncover the stories of the past in an honest and useful way. One of the things that I’ve admired most in Selwyn’s work is his unique ability to get at the truth and to bring his audience along with him on a journey of discovery and sometimes… revelation.”
– Dave Cunningham, Executive Director, Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta
Film and Video Arts Society of Alberta