The central character of “Bora” learns deep truths about herself and the world after a life-changing encounter shakes up her predictable, comfortable life. The film gave its creator a similar chance to persevere, grow and triumph during the rigors of COVID-19 pandemic.
“At the beginning of the pandemic, I was evicted from my apartment and lost my job,” writer and director Tiffany Toney told The Daily Progress. “It was scary. I remember thinking, ‘This film is the only thing giving me hope right now.’ Every encounter is a new experience. I have to be open to that and open to growth. It might teach me something about myself that I do not know.”
Toney will be on hand for a screening of “Bora” at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Charlottesville’s Vinegar Hill Theatre. Although her new feature is not a short film, it’s being presented by the Indie Short Film Series, and audience members can linger after the screening for question-and-answer time with Toney to learn more about how far the journey has taken her.
Starting the film project from scratch with limited resources at a dark and uncertain time represented a leap of faith for Toney. She said she discovered a new faith in her abilities at a time when having nothing left to lose led her to question what she’d accepted about her career and the status quo, plus faith in her friends’ loyalty and talents.
Writing and filming her own project gave Toney an opportunity to play a role that challenged her and allowed her to show her range. She realized that the roles she was being offered didn’t reflect respect for her master’s degree and experience. By portraying Bora, an Afro-Mexican hitchhiker who serves as a seductive and searing agent of change in grad student Elon’s life, Toney was able to demonstrate that she is ready for something more.
“I’ve been acting for a long time, but I was getting marginalized,” Toney said. “I wasn’t getting the roles I deserved.”
Toney co-directed the film with Andre McCoy. She got the script written in about six weeks and recruited friends who also were at loose ends during the pandemic to join the cast and creative team.
In the film, Elon, played by Ajima Cole, sets out on a road trip on the Day of the Dead in hopes of finding herself. What she finds is Bora, who fascinates her, shocks her and prompts her to re-examine the sheltering qualities of her strict religious upbringing and conflicting messages of love from an overly protective boyfriend. Issues of race, religion and entitlement get explored in a series of events Elon hadn’t bargained for when she left home.
“They’re both Black women, but they grew up in different environments,” Toney said of pampered Elon and elemental Bora. “You never know what someone’s been through. You can’t judge by outward appearances. Elon is a very curious character, and I think that’s how she ends up in a lot of trouble.”
Despite the dangers of the road Elon travels, Toney said audience members can expect an entertaining ride.
“I really wanted this character to be funny,” Toney said. “It’s a fun film that brings people together. People are laughing in the audience.”
Reality almost put the brakes on the road picture when Toney’s car got repossessed. (Thanks, COVID aftermath.)
“It was embarrassing,” Toney said. “I had to tell everyone, ‘You know the car scene? We need to reshoot it.’”
The setback just deepened her resolve to get the story told. Toney recently learned that “Bora” has been accepted by the Essence Film Festival, so brighter times are ahead.
“If this is how the world ends, we wanted to be known as people who gave it all they had,” Toney said. “We proved that we were creative and innovative and strong and vulnerable at the same time.”
Tickets are $20. Concessions sold at the theater will benefit Light House Studios.