Toronto director gives audience taste of ‘Haven’

Kelly Marshall's film leaves audience in tears at Toronto Black Film Festival

For many, films are an escape from reality, an oasis offering a realm of possibilities that go beyond our realistic, sometimes mundane, thinking.

For director Kelly Fyffe-Marshall, this place of comfort can only be described in one word: haven.

That’s also the name of Fyffe-Marshall’s latest film, which was screened recently at the 6th annual Toronto Black Film Festival.

The festival, which ran Feb. 15-19, celebrates the work of black films during Black History Month. This year, a handful of short films were selected to debut.

Marshall’s Haven was shown Feb. 15 at the Carlton Cinema. Other films sharing the screen that day were Asked Bang’s Silent Nights, Dubois Ashong’s Where the Water Runs and Rick Hamilton’s Seeing Glory.

Haven unapologetically explores the strong bond between a mother, played by singer Tika Simone, and a daughter, played by D’evina Chatrie. It also examines such themes as innocence, honesty, sexuality and culture.

Nine-year-old Chatrie makes her debut in Haven. When asked about the bond she shares with her real-life mother, she said it’s “a great one,” a relationship that will never be severed.

Much of the film is shot in a living room, where the mother, with her daughter positioned comfortably between her thighs, brushes the girl’s hair. Marshall embraces the belief that, for a young black woman, getting her hair done on the floor between her mother’s legs is a moment of complete trust, comfort and strength.

“It is place where we can open up,” she said. “Our mother’s legs are a safe haven.”

And “open up” the young character does, speaking freely from the heart as she reveals something to her mother that weighed heavily on her. The director admits it is a topic she holds close and one she wants her audience to speak up about: the sexual abuse of minors.

“I want the community to help survivors of violence and sexual assault. I want to start the conversation to prevent this,” Marshall said. “If you see a child acting different, call attention to it. Don’t let it go unnoticed.”

Despite the film’s length — it’s just a few minutes long — many in the crowd showed signs of tears and applauded appreciatively at the end.

Haven was not only selected to premiere at the Toronto Black Film Festival, but also won a special mention at the One-Reeler Short Film Competition, was accepted into the South by Southwest Film Festival and nominated for best short film.