Taking on TIFF 2023: A BGDM Member Perspective

Toni Cunningham • October 6, 2023

This September, Brown Girls Doc Mafia (BGDM) and the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) provided Industry Passes to a few lucky members. This fact was brought to my attention by a friend and fellow member, and we both jumped at the opportunity. To my surprise, I ended up with a pass! Though the festival is pretty close to my hometown in the Detroit area, it’s been on my bucket list for a while now. Due to travel, lodging, festival passes, and more, I have never been able to make it work.

Thanks to BGDM and TIFF, with the large expense of passes out of the way, I was able to make the rest of the trip work. A week or so later, the cohort was told that we would be given a $600 scholarship on top of the passes, which covered my housing for the week. By the time I actually arrived at the festival, the majority of my costs had been covered, making my stay for the rest of the fest stress-free. Now it was time to concentrate on the task at hand, which was meeting the rest of my cohort — Paige Wood, Sisa Bueno, Pamela Largaespada and Caroline Lee — and seeing as many films as I could.

BGDM Members at TIFF

In the five day trip, I was able to see eight films spanning across multiple genres and languages that I would not have gotten the opportunity to otherwise. I decided early on that I would see only films that I likely would not get a chance to see in theaters later, due to wider releases. The Industry Pass meant that most films were available to see in the earlier parts of the day, so waking up early, grabbing a coffee and settling in for a day of film was the schedule I followed for the most part! In addition to the films, there were also two panels I attended. One was a discussion on filmic language with Spike Lee after watching his documentary series pilot episode of NYC Epicenters 9/11 → 2021 1⁄2, and another was a live taping of Screen Talk Live with SAG-AFTRA director Duncan Crabtree-Ireland, in which they spoke at length about the WGA and SAG strike. Huge congrats to the WGA on their incredible deal, and endless support to SAG-AFTRA who are still on the picket lines.

BGDM TIFF Scholarship recipients at TIFF 2023

Lastly and perhaps most importantly, the Brown Girls Doc Mafia family! The BGDM TIFF 2023 Cohort had an active group chat which allowed us to meet up, hit the rooftop mingles, cheer champagne and network across multiple different opportunities. There may have even been a group outing to a tattoo parlor! As a writer, director, and producer, being able to be in this space and share the creative community with like minded filmmakers and — above all — see all the incredible work that is out there was so inspiring and provided me with a large gust of creative wind to push me back on track with my work, which I hope to have play at TIFF next year! See you there!

BGDM members meet up in Toronto at TIFF 2023
“[This] was an incredible opportunity to attend industry talks and screenings, and network with filmmakers and cultural workers from around the world. As a filmmaker based in Toronto/Tkaronto [and] as an emerging, neurodivergent, woman filmmaker of colour, this was an important and necessary experience.”
- Caroline Lee, BGDM Member

Toni Cunningham
Toni Cunningham

Toni is an independent filmmaker, a 2018 Kresge Arts in Detroit fellow, and the founder of Splash of Tonic Media LLC. Toni has written, produced, and directed films in multiple formats and is currently developing a pilot and feature film. She is also a Redford Center Environmental Documentary Grantee, as well as a Black Public Media grantee.