Animae Caribe, the first animation festival in the English-speaking Caribbean, was founded 15 years ago in T&T and has been growing since then in size and importance.
Now a selection of films that had been shown at the festival over the years is being exhibited in Washington DC. It's the first time Animae Caribe films are being displayed in a venue outside the Caribbean.
"It's a fabulous opportunity for us," says Animae Caribe founder Camille Selvon-Abrahams of the exhibition, now on at the IDB Cultural Center in DC.
The exhibition, called Caribbean in Motion: Improving Lives through Artistry and Animation, includes ten creations by animators from T&T, Jamaica and the Bahamas. They showcase a diversity of talent and ideas while at the same time being distinctly Caribbean.
Two films give a humourous look at working class life: Cabbie Chronicles–Drive Thru Drama by Trinidadians Alison Latchman, Anieph Latchman and Marlo Scott won the best Caribbean animation award at the 2010 Animae Caribe. And Vendor Rivalry by Jamaican Ansar Sattar won the festival's most oustanding Caribbean animation award in 2009.
Dance of the Daring by Trinidadian Danielle Blaize is a silent introspective film that examines same sex relationships and the risks of being yourself in a world that pushes for conformity. The film won best regional student film at last year's festival.
Project Ninja Slippers by Trinidadian Makesi Aquan is an anime-like fantasy film.
The exhibition features two pieces from Trinidadian Wendell McShine, one of the most celebrated animators/artists in the Caribbean: A music video for 12 The Band's song Prosper, which won the best use of animation in a music video in 2010 and Rainbow Hill, which won the award for the best T&T short that year. Both show McShine's signature combination of collage, surrealism and illustration.
The submissions from Bahamian Khia Poitier are gifs, flickering digital images. One of them, Alt/rs, is a triptych showing three black wet nurses from the early 20th century, one breastfeeding a white baby who turns into what looks like a pile of worms. The woman's face is covered by a yellow circle.
The exhibition took two to three months to put together, said Selvon-Abrahams. She explained how she chose the films.
"I went through over the years the ones that had the most impact," she said.In putting the exhibition together, she said, "we had to make sure it was expressing our Caribbean identity."
Jonathan Goldman, curator at the IDB Cultural Center, explained the interest in an exhibition of Caribbean animation.
"The Cultural Center of the IDB has a long tradition of bringing the art of the Americas to Washington," he said via email. "We have developed this exhibit to not only highlight the demand for animation in the world and the economics behind it, but also the social, cultural, and artistic
contributions Caribbean animators have already been making and could continue to make."
Selvon-Abrahams was invited to help organise the exhibition at a point of uncertainty for her career and the festival. She had just been acrimoniously and–she said–unfairly fired last year as head of the animation programme at the University of Trinidad & Tobago. The UTT Port-of-Spain campus and its animation students were important to the festival.
"I kind of put it aside," she said of the invitation, "because I was dealing with the emotions of all the things that were happening. I got a call like a month after, saying they still wanted to do this.
"As soon as I kind of pulled myself together, I realised the huge impact this will have on the industry and I pushed forward to make it happen," she said.
The response from viewers has been good so far, she said.
"The feedback we've had is that people are blown away by the level of professional animation coming out of the Caribbean," she said. "So much so that there's been requests for us to take it to the Bahamas, to Jamaica and possibly Maimi."
Animae Caribe came off last year, smaller than usual, at alternative venues.
"I was determined to make sure that Animae Caribe happened so that we could show people that it was sustainable even without space and academic support," she said, "that this will continue because of the power of young people who want to make it happen."
Animae Caribe doesn't yet have a venue for this year. But Selvon Abrahams plans to take it to Tobago–Castara to be exact–over the last two days in an attempt to weave tourism into the experience.
"The animation will literally be taking over the Castara community–in the rum shops, in the community centers, at the beach," she said.
The DC exhibition gives a major boost just in time for the festival's anniversary. Selvon Abrahams plans to bring it to T&T.She recalled saying at the closing ceremony of the festival last year that she wanted it to make "some tangible movements" in its 15th year.
The exhibition, she said, "was one of many outcomes that I thought,'OK, we're making a dent.'"
The Caribbean in Motion exhibition runs until July 29. Animae Caribe will run from October 24 to 30.