Filmmaker Roger McTair told stories of ‘ordinary people’

by Ron Fanfair
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One of Canada’s earliest Black documentary filmmakers has passed away. Roger McTair died on April 8 from Parkinson’s complications. He was 80.
Telling stories through African, Trinidadian and Canadian lenses, he produced nine films between 1977 and 2000.
The response to the films was overwhelming.
“There were people lining up around the block coming to see them,” award-winning producer Karen King said a few years ago. “The screenings were sold out. Roger told the stories of ordinary people. He told stories that are so important because they are the ones that actually tell us what Black life was like here in Canada, what was really going on in families as they gathered to celebrate their heritage or as they struggled to keep their children out of jail…Roger told our stories through an African, Trinidadian and Canadian lens. They were the most difficult to tell, but he insisted because it was at a time when we had to learn that our stories are valuable.”
Migrating from Trinidad & Tobago in 1970 and failing to secure a job in advertising after being told by several agencies that he did not have enough Canadian experience, McTair freelanced for several years before making his first film, ‘It’s Not an Illness’.
He wrote a diversity column for the ‘Toronto Star’ for nearly three years before teaming up with his ex-wife Claire Prieto in 1991 to produce ‘Jennifer Hodge: The Glory and the Pain’ that paid tribute to the life and ground-breaking work of Hodge whose pioneering projects in the 1980s established the dominant mode in African Canadian film culture.
The daughter of the late Canadian activist, author and TV personality Mairuth Sarsfield, Hodge succumbed to cancer in 1989 at age 38.
McTair also collaborated with Hodge on ‘Home Feeling: Struggle for a Community’, a feature film released in 1983 that examined the tenuous relationship between the police and residents in the Jane-Finch community and he directed ‘Jane Finch Again!’ four years later.
Just as he was completing ‘Journey to Justice’ which was the story of six Canadians who took the racism they faced to court, McTair got a job offer from Seneca College.
“I got on my high horse and told them I was a freelancer and I didn’t want to work for anyone,” he said. “They asked me to give it a try because they needed someone; and I did. The first cheque I got after two weeks was a good one and the second one after the first month was also good.”
McTair spent 18 years at the college.
“What I really liked about teaching was that I got to challenge young minds and having them challenge me,” he said.
With assistance from his son Ian Kamau, McTair’s first book, ‘My Trouble with Books’, a collection of short stories, was released in 2018.
Set in Toronto, Trinidad & Tobago and Barbados, the 13 short stories are filled with memories of childhood and adolescence as well as snapshots of his flat, calm and stoic style of writing.
“Roger always called to introduce us to new books and writings,” said storyteller and entrepreneur Itah Sadu. “He understood the human condition and was a griot in many ways. You always felt good in his company.”
Toronto Metropolitan University launched a scholarship in 2017, in the name of McTair who was involved in several community initiatives, including the Black Education Project and The Library of Black People’s Literature.
“The pride of our alumni is really the proof that this university has done its work but, in many ways, you are the proof that this university is what it is and what it will become,” then TMU Campaign Executive Director Krishan Mehta told McTair.
Black students pursuing filmmaking studies at the university’s School of Image Arts are the beneficiaries

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