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New opening for Caribbean filmmakers
Sharp-tongued comic Rachel Price gave a small audience a glimpse of her vulnerable side recently, exchanging a long, tight hug with Caribbean filmmaker and distributor Frances-Anne Solomon. Price recalled how Solomon gave her the career-boosting chance a decade ago to star alongside Dennis “Sprangalang” Hall in the Caribbean-Canadian television comedy series Lord Have Mercy! which Solomon co-created. “Every child supposed to know who Frances-Anne is. Every child supposed to know who contributing to our culture,” Price said. She complained: “We do not honour or respect our own.” In television and film at least, Solomon is working to build respect for Caribbean creators. Since Lord Have Mercy! Solomon—a former BBC producer who grew up in Trinidad and now lives in Toronto—has given opportunities to other Caribbean people in the industry. Her latest initiatives include a video-on-demand service for films and television programmes licensed to her CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution company.
A “Caribbean Netflix” it was repeatedly called at its regional launch—headlined by Price—on September 29 at Rossco’s in Woodbrook. For US$9.99 a month, subscribers have access to the extensive CaribbeanTales catalogue. Solomon and her team will also be running a short-film competition from October 15-December 10. Winners will be announced by January 15. Entries are to be between three and five minutes long on the theme Caribbean Christmas. The winner will be the film that receives the most number of viewer “likes.” CaribbeanTales is a network of companies that promotes Caribbean films in different ways: finding buyers for Caribbean TV and film productions, including Lord Have Mercy! and the Gayelle TV magazine series; organising annual film festivals in Barbados, New York and Toronto; and offering training in film marketing and a filmmaking scholarship. “It was my dream that we in the Caribbean must have a Caribbean film industry,” Solomon said, telling the audience at the launch why she started CaribbeanTales ten years ago. “An industry where we created, produced, distributed and made money from the content that we created. And that idea really has come to fruition now.”
Her efforts were not the only reason for her optimistic statement: an unprecedented number of vistas have opened for Caribbean film in recent years. Caribbean film showcases have been sprouting up and growing in the region and North America, where there’s a large Caribbean diaspora. The region has at least ten film festivals, among them the just-concluded T&T Film Festival (TTFF), which had its biggest year yet in 2013. Another is coming up in the Animae Caribe Animation and New Media Festival, which runs in T&T from October 28-November 2. TTFF organisers announced a number of collaborations with the festivals in Cuba, the Bahamas, Dominican Republic, Curacao, Puerto Rico and Guadeloupe, including a Caribbean film market like those in Europe and the US, where industry professionals meet to network and buy and sell films. There are also plans to set up an online portal to further facilitate the buying and selling of regional films.
Various countries in the region have established state bodies to boost filmmaking, like the T&T Film Co, which provides funding and training for filmmakers. The film company and its mirror organisations in the Bahamas, Barbados, Guadeloupe, Jamaica and the Dominican Republic signed an MOU in 2011 to create a Caribbean Regional Film Commission to maximise their resources and efforts. Regional film commissioners met at the Unesco/TTFF conference Cameras of Diversity for a Culture of Peace, held from September 25-27, in Port-of-Spain. (Details of the meeting have not been made public.)
T&T cinemas have shown that they can be pursuaded to air local films, within and outside of festivals. MovieTowne—T&T Film Festival partner—earlier this year showed Home Again, a Canadian drama shot mostly in Trinidad. Last year, the multiplex aired the total-local puppet comedy I’m Santana: The Movie. Both films were big hits. Another locally made film, Between Friends, directed by Omari Jackson, premiered at MovieTowne on Wednesday. Director Nicholas Attin independently got his action-drama Escape From Babylon aired in multiplexes in Trinidad and Barbados. Online crowd-funding services like Indiegogo are helping Caribbean filmmakers raise cash, even though two filmmakers, in the audience of a TTFF panel discussion on funding, noted that the pledges came mainly from friends and family. New entertainment blogs and magazines like Jay Blessed Media and the T&T Guardian’s own Metro help create buzz around Caribbean films. It’s still a struggle to make films in the Caribbean. Competition for Best Local Feature film at the TTFF was light: just two films were up for it. And Mary Wells, who directed the festival favourite Kingston Paradise, is the first Jamaican woman to make a full-length movie. But the overwhelming popular response to Best Local Feature winner God Loves the Fighter—shot in Trinidad on a low budget—is an encouraging sign. The demand for the movie during the festival was so high that screenings sold out days in advance and organisers added another showing. The film won the People’s Choice award at the festival. “I can’t do it without you,” director Damian Marcano said on stage, announcing that the film would be released globally in March and acknowledging the importance of support from local audiences to the film’s wider success. “I have to get through the next five months of taking this film everywhere to show everyone that you guys gave a damn,” he said.
The CaribbeanTales VOD service and more information on the short-film competition are available at caribbeantales-tv.com