CFC lends support to Sharon Lewis’ ‘Brown Girl’

CFC alumnus Sharon Lewis on the centre's role in developing and raising funds for her long-gestating feature, Brown Girl in the Ring.

Brown Girl in the Ring, a novel by Nalo Hopkinson, has been an ongoing preoccupation of Sharon Lewis’ for the past decade and a half.

Lewis has acquired the option to Hopkinson’s novel on three separate occasions over the past 11 years. After self-financing the option in both 2004 and again in 2010 – only for the option to expire before production could get off the ground – Lewis believes that third time’s a charm, with the CFC lending support for the Indiegogo campaign for her take on the novel: Brown Girl in The Ring: The Prequel. The campaign is targeting $30,000 in funding through Indiegogo to augment conditional funding of $105,000 already on the table from the Toronto Arts Council, Ontario Arts Council and Canada Council for the Arts.

Lewis has a long-standing connection with CFC as an alumnus of more than 20 years. Her connection with the organization began in 1994 when she starred in CFC film Rude, directed by Clement Virgo (The Book of Negroes). Later, she would also work at the CBC with Slawko Klymkiw, who would go on to become the CFC’s CEO. 

The Toronto-set story takes place in the year of 2048 against the backdrop of the “Burn” – a dystopian shantytown. Walled off by Toronto’s rich, the inhabitants of the Burn must struggle to survive with limited food, water and electricity, and no government. The story features teenage heroine Ti-Jeanne in a coming-of-age love story.

Lewis read the book initially more than 15 years ago and first took it to independent producer Damon D’Oliveira in 2004 to pitch it as a feature film. At the time, genre wasn’t where it is now, and the consensus was it was too big budget, said Lewis. The fact the story also featured a young teenage heroine proved to be a roadblock too, added Lewis, in a time before Hunger Games and Twilight.

Lewis – who realized a new approach was required – set about rewriting her screenplay, making it more character-focused, and also gaining more directing experience, before attempting to relaunch the project again several later. After rewriting the screenplay over two years, Lewis presented it to the arts council and secured funding last year.

The film’s target audience is three-tiered, said Lewis, with the sci-fi fans being the primary audience, followed by African Canadians and African Americans, and finally a demo of 12- to 17-year-olds. With the nature of crowdfunding though, simply identifying an audience is not sufficient, said Lewis.

“We’re cultivating communities by not just tweeting with ‘please donate’, but with tweeting about topics that we know are relevant to our audiences, in order to build a community around the film,” Lewis told Playback Daily.

The CFC is supporting the feature on its Indiegogo page, and the film is only the fifth that the CFC has backed on this platform. The other four projects previously supported by the CFC are Window Horses, How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, The Space Between and A Phantasmagorical Film With Live Score. When the time comes, the CFC has also allowed Lewis the use of its conservatory and some of its talent, said Lewis.

The overall budget for the feature will be between $200,000 and $275,000 and a shooting location has already been secured. Filming is scheduled to take place Sept. 24 to Oct. 10.

The Indiegogo campaign began in mid-June and ends this Friday, July 17.