Never has a screensaver played more of a role in the creation of a history-making documentary.
The image on Kwame Mason’s laptop – one of him and Herb Carnegie – served as inspiration, especially during challenging times, while making Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future.
“I would look at my screensaver and say ‘you can’t stop.’ I knew that I couldn’t give up and that I had a duty to carry on,” Mason said.
He interviewed Carnegie as part of the project that explores Black players’ experience – and place – in hockey.
“There is nothing more special – it made the film for me,” Mason said of that conversation.
Carnegie is widely regarded as the best player never to skate in the NHL. “His is a great story of a person who persevered through adversity,” Mason said.
“It was an incredibly interesting experience.”
Their memorable conversation took place Feb. 28, 2012, one year after Mason’s mother died.
“It was an honour,” he said.
When they said their good-byes and he offered thanks, Mason said Carnegie asked him to come back and visit.
“I promised I would,” he added.
Carnegie died less than two weeks later, before Mason could return.
While ensuring Carnegie’s story would never be forgotten became an inspiration, the Toronto native said the project started as a way to combine his “double passion” – hockey and films.
While living in Edmonton, he attended many NHL games and became friends with several Oilers’ players.
Mason said – more and more – he began to wonder about not only why there were so few black players in the league, but also why his favourite sport seemed to have such narrow appeal to Black people.
“I wanted to do something to change that – I wanted to do my part to bring attention to the history,” he added.
Mason reflected on the research process, which included an initial Google search that unearthed what would become a key piece of the documentary.
“It made me really want to do the film,” he said of the Coloured Hockey League, an all-Black league founded in Nova Scotia in the late 1800s.
The loop, which operated until 1930, featured teams from across the Maritimes, with players talented enough for the NHL, but unable to make that jump because of their skin colour.
Mason called the lack of attention this ground-breaking league received as a “disservice.”
“It is about the idea of perseverance through adversity,” he said of the league’s story.
Not the focus
Although it is an important thread of the film, Mason agreed racism is not the central theme.
“It was certainly part of it, but not the focus,” he said.
When he started talking about doing the documentary, Mason recalled, some people “warned me to be careful.”
“It surprised me,” he said.
Mason added they assumed the story was going to focus solely on race and “underlying segregation.”
He noted the ability to “fight through” bigotry, of course, is there.
Mason said the three-year filmmaking process, one that presented challenges, was worth it.
“I couldn’t get funding,” he said, adding he sold his condominium to help finance the endeavour.
Noting he wanted to abandon the project on several occasions, Mason noted having “patience” became so important.
“I think people learned from the film,” he said, when asked about feedback he has received.
He described it, in general terms, as “inspired.”
“It delivers a timeless message,” Mason said.
Coming to Antigonish
The documentarian will visit the St. F.X. campus in Antigonish next month, where he will speak at the eighth annual Dr. Agnes Calliste African Heritage Lecture Series.
“I wanted to share something of myself [with the film] and I hope to do the same when I am there,” Mason said.
The lecture, which honours the revered, retired St. F.X. sociology professor, will take place Monday, Feb. 5, at 7 p.m., in the Gerald Schwartz School of Business (SCHW 110).
Soul on Ice: Past, Present & Future can be rented or purchased on Amazon, I-Tunes or YouTube.
“I hope people learn something from it,” Mason said.