Sunday, April 21, 2024
Feature/ProfileTaxi industry news

Film thanking Calgary Taxi drivers becomes international film festival finalist

“In the middle of COVID, in the middle of winter, Calgary was almost empty,” says award-winning artist Lanre Ajayi, “but any time I went out, I saw Taxis. Taxis everywhere – sometimes, they were the only vehicles on the road.

“People were thanking doctors, nurses, essential workers and I thought, ‘Who is thanking the Taxi drivers?’”

No one, Ajayi found out. No one was thanking the Taxi drivers, who were hard at work driving Calgarians to medical appointments, testing centres, and hospital visits. Most importantly, Taxi drivers were driving health care workers to and from work. Often, these workers were burnt out and exhausted after working long, stressful shifts.

“Clearly, Taxi drivers are ‘frontline workers’ too; I thought, ‘Someone should do a story about these people, they are doing an excellent job.’

“So, I decided to do a short movie about the Taxi drivers, to thank them for their work. I ended up talking to Checker Cabs, and there I discovered that it was as much family as business. I had no idea, the story behind the company; I decided, ‘I’m going to tell this story.’”

The result of Ajayi’s research and contact with Calgary’s Checker Transportation Group is the 48 minute film “Yellow Legacy,” which has been selected as a finalist film in the Festival del Cinema di Cefalu, Italy, as well as the SideReel Film Festival in the United States.

“Initially, I thought ‘Yellow Cabs’ were part of Yellow Cabs in New York, but when I looked into it, I found out that the Calgary company is run by a local family, and is more than 40 years old,” says Ajayi, who immigrated to Canada from Nigeria six years ago.

Ajayi spent almost two months of a Calgary winter interviewing Taxi drivers, staff at Checker and members of the Enders family, which was founded by Al Enders in 1974 and is now run by his son and daughter, Kurt and Kim.

“When I showed it to Mrs. Enders, tears filled her eyes and she thanked me,” Ajayi recalls. “That made me feel really happy.”

When they moved to Canada from Nigeria six years ago, Ajayi and his wife Tomi chose to locate in Calgary because “Calgary is in oil & gas country. We are from an oil & gas country. We thought it might feel familiar,” he says.

The video “Yellow Legacy” originally aired as part of Ajayi’s regular online program, “My City Speaks to Me.” Although he describes his first two years in Canada as “very quiet – I was doing more observing than participating,” Ajayi more than made up for lost time when he got launched in the Arts community in Calgary. A Fine Arts graduate in Nigeria, he connected to many like-minded artists and designers in the city’s cultural community where he was hired to work in events and festival planning.

Samples of some of the arts and activities in which Lanre Ajayi founded or is involved include Ethnik Festivals;  a fashion show and clothing label; and the award-winning Adopt a Mailbox” program, which he launched after watching his mail delivery person drop a package off at his door and quickly move back to their delivery truck. He started “Operation Temporarily Adopt a Mailbox Stand” to clean community mailboxes in his neighbourhood every day, and he asked people in his network to do the same. The idea has since spread to communities across Canada.