FYIG Chats With Actress Tonya Williams

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Tell us a little bit about yourself. 
 
I was born in London, UK. My parents are Jamaican. I’m an only child. I love being by myself and I require a lot of quiet time in my life. I’m passionate about people and the world around me. I’m a bit obsessive about having quiet around me – I find it impossible to function professionally in noisy environments. I’m not to everyone’s taste – I’m direct and hate the exercise of small talk. I like to refer to myself as a functioning loner! 🙂 
 
How did you get your start as an actress? 
 
A legitimate agent approached my mother when I was 16 years old and wanted to rep me. I had not been pursuing a career in acting. I was in high school and loving my life with classical music – I played piano, violin, tenor saxophone. I thought my life would move in the direction of classical music – perhaps playing in an orchestra. After high school, I decided to study Drama seriously and was accepted into the Ryerson Drama Program. It was the best experience of my life. 
 
You played Dr. Olivia Barber Hastings on The Young and the Restless. Did you ever expect the role to become such an iconic one when you first began? 
 
No – never in a million years did I think it would have the impact that it did. I was not aware of the impact of Soap Operas at all. I didn’t grow up watching them but once on the show I quickly realized the responsibility and impact my storyline and character was for the black community, the audience in general and for the show. 
 
What can you tell us about the Reelworld Film Festival and why it was so important for you to create it 19 years ago? 
 
Originally I created Reelworld Film Festival to be the first platform dedicated to giving a voice to BIPOC (Black, Indignenous, People of Colour) Canadian talent in the screen-based industry. I soon realised we had to be so much more. I couldn’t find programmers or arts administrators who were BIPOC, so I incorporated Reelworld to be a training ground for these lucrative jobs. Over the years, people that have trained and gained experience with us, have gone on to work at other film festivals across Canada. That is something I’m really proud of. 
 
Why did I do it?  I come from parents who instilled the values of always helping others – that success can never be just what you achieve for yourself, but how you also improve the lives of others. I enjoy helping people reach their goals in the entertainment industry. I know how challenging it can be, and if I can help them in any way, that makes me feel good. 
 
This year’s festival showcased, for the very first time, 100% of its festival films created by Canadian BIPOC filmmakers. How important was this milestone? 
 

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Since the inception of Reelworld, my goal was always to have 100% Candian programming but the content wasn’t there yet. So over the years we would program between 60-90% Canadian content but this year I just decided we’re now going to commit to 100% going forward and it’s been so rewarding. It’s going to be challenging for our programmers (or so they keep telling me), but it’s a direction I feel strongly about. 
 
How has the festival changed over the years? 
 
It’s changed a lot. We have stronger and more socially conscious films and we’ve had a lot of talent who got their start at Reelworld returning to give back to the next generation. That is really wonderful! I’ve also changed. I’ve learned a lot from running the festival. I’ve made every mistake and have grown stronger from that. 
 
Do you have anything special planned for the 20th anniversary next year? 
 
We are currently in the planning stages for the 20th anniversary but I want to make it special. I want us to celebrate the last 20 years and all we’ve accomplished. I want to use the year to remind people of our successes and the talent who got their start with us and have accomplished so much. It’ll be a walk down memory lane! 
 
What is your life like outside of the film world? 
 
My life is pretty much the same for me since before I started as an actress. I’m an introvert. I love to read, and I like to travel by myself to places with a lot of nature surrounding me. It’s how I’ve always stayed sane. I’m the happiest in my own company. I’m fortunate that my mother is still alive, healthy with a keen mind at 89 years old. It’s wonderful to have someone that close to me share their wisdom. The perspective of an older person who has lived what you will eventually experience is so invaluable. I love, love, love a simple life – it’s what drives me creatively. I’m also spending a lot of time reading people’s scripts, searching for a story that excites me. I love political or detective scripts. I also love true-life stories that are not the typical ones you see all the time. 
 
Let the readers know where to find you and Reelworld online. 
 
You can find everything you need to know at www.reelworld.ca. If any of your readers want to volunteer or intern they should let us know. They can send us their resumes and apply in the areas of programming, marketing, and operations. And people can always find me on social media – I may not post that often – but I’m there! You can follow Reelworld at @reelworld and myself personally at @wilboent.