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Toronto-born filmmaker Charles Officer, chronicler of Black Canadian life, dies

Toronto-born filmmaker Charles Officer, an expert chronicler of Black Canadian life, has died. 

The Black Screen Office, which he co-founded, confirmed the death Monday and touted Officer as a gifted storyteller.

"His work was poetic, passionate, and showcased an exceptional talent that was evident in everything he touched," Joan Jenkinson, the organization's executive director, said in an email.

But she said it was his character, beyond his body of work, that stood out.

"Charles was one of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met. His warmth and genuineness were as remarkable as his creative abilities."

The Toronto International Film Festival remembered Officer as a significant Canadian talent, while the National Film Board said it was grieving his loss. 

Officer's 2008 debut feature, "Nurse.Fighter.Boy," premiered at TIFF and was nominated for 10 Genie Awards, the precursor to the Canadian Screen Awards.

He went on to direct numerous features and documentaries that centred Black stories, including 2020's "Akilla's Escape." 

"He had this talent for getting into deep, personal themes — things like trauma, healing, and the tough realities faced by Black communities," Jenkinson said.

"His films weren't just about these issues; they felt like they lived them. And his style? It was unique — a mix of real-life grit and something poetic."

The same year "Akilla's Escape" was released, he co-founded the Black Screen Office with a handful of other Black Canadian directors. 

More recently, Officer won a Canadian Screen Award for best director on a drama series for the pilot episode of "The Porter," the critically acclaimed CBC/BET Plus series. 

"It was groundbreaking," Jenkinson said of that series. "But for him, it wasn't about the accolades. It was all about getting our voice out there, making sure our Canadian tapestry includes our stories. And he wasn't just about his own work. He was there for the next wave of filmmakers, guiding them."

Fellow director and film school classmate Sarah Polley said in an Instagram post that Officer made masterpieces. 

"This is a big loss. For all of us. And a call, in his gaping absence, to live up to his optimism, his dedication, his constant lifting up of others, his mastery of his craft," she wrote. 

"I saw him in environments where he was dismissed and disrespected. I never once saw his generosity flag. Getting to watch him acknowledged for the genius he was filled me up."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 4, 2023.

The Canadian Press

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