After making its local screening debut at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival in Movietowne, Port-of Spain, on September 25, Forward Home: The Power of the Caribbean Diaspora, was lauded by the viewing audience for its informative and enlightening content. The documentary Forward Home deals with the major social and economic linkages which exist between the Caribbean diaspora and their homelands in the region. The 50-minute film was shot by the duo of producer-director Lisa Wickham and director of photography, Sheldon Felix. Together, they were able to utilise and manipulate two years of research conducted by Dr Keith Nurse and his team at the Shridath Ramphal Centre for International Trade Law Policy and Services at UWI Barbados. In a Q&A session which took place after the screening, Wickham expressed her regret at Nurse’s absence stating that he possessed the initial vision to do the documentary. Recounting his fervent desire to put the research to use, Wickham shared, “He came to us and said, ‘We did all this research but a lot of the time research goes into a draw and no one gets to see it; students don’t get exposed to it.’” This triggered the team’s enthusiasm to commence working on what they hoped would be an edifying and resonant documentary.
The film focuses on the expansion of Caribbean economy to global cities and draws reference to major linkages such as the presence of the Guyanese in Toronto, Jamaicans in London, Dominicans in New York and Surinamese in Holland. Addressing the audience after the screening of the film, Wickham anticipated that many viewers would question the conspicuous omission of the Trinidad and Tobago diaspora in the film. Wickham explained that the research focused on the Caribbean diaspora in particularly concentrated countries.
She explained, “Trinidadians are all over everywhere so that’s another project altogether. And, of course, if there’s funding and support for us to do the Trinidad version, we are ready and willing.” In examining the economic power of the Caribbean diaspora, the film touched on the success of Jamaican products and business in the UK. The existence of thriving Jamaican-owned beauty salons and restaurants in the UK was discussed, stating that these businesses now appeal to the average British consumer and not just members of the Jamaican diaspora. Similarly, it was evident that Jamaican products and produce such as jerk seasoning, sweet potatoes, ginger, canned ackee and salted fish were growing in popularity in the UK. The documentary also examined the annual sum of remittances to certain Caribbean countries as well as the “barrel culture” of the English-speaking Caribbean countries —family members who live in global cities send large barrels filled with material goods to their loved ones in the Caribbean.
The economic benefits of “diasporic tourism” were also addressed. Over 70 per cent of visitors to Guyana are said to be from the diaspora. It was noted that in recent times, many diasporic tourists tend to seek accommodation in hotels rather than stay with relatives with whom they feel they don’t truly belong. In this way, diasporic visitors contribute greatly to the Caribbean economy. The film also examined the concept of members of the Caribbean diaspora feeling like outsiders in their country of residence as well as in their homelands. Described as “ambiguous citizens,” it was evident that many of these individuals who were interviewed experience a longing to belong to their homeland. This was apparent in the case of Surinamese residing in Amsterdam, many of whom attend the Suriname Heritage Festival each year in an effort to learn about their cultural heritage. During the Q&A session, an unidentified man of Puerto Rican origin, stated that he was able to identify with these “ambiguous citizens” and was deeply inspired by the film. He described the word diaspora: as a beautiful substitution for words such as “immigrant” and “emigrant” which he is frequently labelled. Making an obvious effort to express himself in comprehensible English, he stated, “I am Puerto Rican. I can be anywhere in the world. I am Puerto Rican. After seeing this (film), I will not be anymore, an immigrant or an emigrant. I will be diaspora.” His simple yet profound words were received with laughter as well as applause by the rest of the audience.
Among others who showered praises on the film was chairman of the Trinidad and Tobago Tourism Development Company (TDC) Rajiv Omah-Maharaj Shandilya. He congratulated Wickham on what he described as “a fantastic piece of work.” Wickham articulated that she shared all praise offered with Felix, her director of photography. “Sheldon Felix, who doesn’t like to talk a lot, is the director of photography. That is the person who looks at angles, lighting, cinematography etc.” Wickham informed the audience that Forward Home had already been screened in Brussels, Tanzania, Washington DC, Toronto and New York. With noticeable excitement, she added that she recently received a call informing her that a screening would be held at the Oxford University in the UK on November 2. When asked whether they planned to submit the film to be screened at other film festivals in the hopes of procuring international and regional awards, Wickham stated, “Honestly, we just do our work. Both of us, (Felix and I) we never think about festivals or award or anything like that.”