Creators that Inspire: Meet Henri Pardo
This article, along with six other portraits of creators that inspire, was first published in the CMF 2022 Annual Report..
Born in Edmundston, New Brunswick, director, producer, and actor Henri Pardo discovered a new world when his family settled in the Côte-des-Neiges neighbourhood of Montreal in the early 80s. The son of a Haitian family who fled the Duvalier dictatorship, he suddenly found himself on a primary school playground surrounded by close to sixty different cultures. His love of theatre was born when he joined a troupe, where he also tried his hand at directing. Originally drawn to acting, Pardo started to lose interest after playing several token Black roles that lacked substance. In the mid 2000s, he decided to enrol at the Institut national de l’image et du son (INIS).
“Truth be told, I wanted to become a director to finally be able to tell my story and the story of my community,” explains the Magnus Isaacson award winner at the Montreal International Documentary Festival last year. “I forged a beautiful relationship with my mother who started telling me about her background, as well as Haitian culture and politics. I instantly fell in love with who we are. That gave me the boost to create projects that reflect who I am.”
Henri Pardo didn’t stop there. In 2016, he founded Black Wealth Media, an Afrocentric production company that develops films about Afro-descendant communities from a variety of perspectives. “What I’m trying to do with the company is bring us as close together as possible, be a hub for Afro-descendant filmmakers, and encourage them to really stay true to themselves.”
One of his most ambitious projects to date has been telling the story of Canada from the point of view of the Afro-descendant community, which has never been done before. History is written by those in power, and yet the arrival of Afro-descendant people in Canada dates back almost as far as the first colonists. After two years of discussions with ICI Radio-Canada Télé, his series Afro Canada, produced with the support of the Canada Media Fund, was finally greenlit after controversy around the production of SLAV sparked different cultural stakeholders and broadcasters to look for new voices. “They said to us, ‘We don’t know anything about your history. It’s up to you show it to us.’” Pardo likes to say that is how he got his “carte noire.”
It took a year and a half of research involving historians, archivists, and anthropologists before filming could begin. Telling 400 years of a past that has very few remaining traces is a challenge. “We opted for historical fabulation—a term that is becoming increasingly used by underrepresented groups whose history has been erased. For example, we take an image of slaves fleeing, we present it to modern-day specialists, and we try to find a backdrop and a context. We no longer see these slaves as criminals breaking the law, but people who resisted to stay alive.”
The production team, which boasts an impressive mix of cultures, also turned to elders in the community to collect their testimony, using the oral tradition, and to First Nations people, who are also victims of the harsh reality of slavery. “My intention is that in watching Afro Canada, all Afro-Canadians will feel that they are part of the same family—a very diverse, very extended family, but one whose members have a lot in common,” says Pardo. “And beyond that, I hope that the way in which we created the series becomes a model for other productions, meaning that it’s about teaching others at the same time as we’re creating.”
Training the next generation is a mission that Pardo has given himself over the last few years, especially through the Black Ink program, which offers directors from Afro-descendant communities support and mentorship throughout the creative process. “It’s a duty, but it’s also great fun! I’m surrounded by my people, we speak the same language, we learn together, we fail together. It’s really very energizing. We are so much more beautiful and stronger together that I can’t pass it up. I sincerely believe that in order to fight racism, we have to give the mic to individuals who are affected and let them say what they want to say.”