22–28 Sept 2021
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Filmmaker in Focus: Ryan Khan

Last year we began a series on this site called Filmmakers in Focus, interviews with Caribbean filmmakers about their current work and upcoming projects. In the latest instalment we talk with T&T filmmaker Ryan Khan. Khan is the director of three short films—one of which, The Midnite Affair, was part of the portmanteau film Dark Tales from Paradise, which opened the ttff/10—and several music videos, commercials and animations. Last year, at the ttff/12, he won a pitch prize sponsored by the Tribeca Film Institute and WorldView for his first feature-film project, a political satire called Crabs in a Barrel.

Earlier this month Khan, formerly the ttff’s Technical Operations Manager, attended the prestigious Berlinale Talent Campus, a training initiative run by the Berlin International Film Festival, one of the world’s top festivals. Here he talks about this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

What is the Talent Campus?

The Berlinale Talent Campus is an annual six-day event that takes place during the Berlin International Film Festival. Its purpose is to bring filmmakers from all over the world together to network, learn about current filmmaking trends and views, partake in workshops, brainstorm about projects they are currently working on or have plans to make in the future, hang out, party and of course watch outstanding films being shown at the Berlinale.

How did you first hear about the Talent Campus, and what was the process for getting in?

I Googled it…I know, pretty straightforward, right? But I wasn’t searching for the Berlinale Talent Campus specifically, I was searching for a range of talent campuses, labs and incubators. It’s popular. It was like the third or fourth link down the page. Other factors made me focus on it more, like a friend from Germany recommending it and also a filmmaker friend who attended it already. The application process is standard procedure. You have to submit a demo reel of your work, background information and a couple paragraphs on your vision and intent as a filmmaker. They have a very good website where you can upload all the necessary materials to one place.

How many other filmmakers attended the Talent Campus, and from how many countries?

In the end, they accepted 300 individuals from 96 countries out of about 4400 applications from 137 countries.

What was the schedule?

The campus was six days of workshops, seminars and speed-meeting (like speed dating for work professionals), to name a few things. The schedule was very intense, with no possible way of attending all the available events because they overlapped in a lot of instances. For example, you would have to choose between a seminar by a renowned filmmaker or a workshop on cutting-edge film technology, and both are equally good. The great thing is the Talent Campus does record all of its events and puts them online so you can still catch whatever workshop or seminar you missed, but it’s not the same as being there. It takes out that being-present-in-the-moment aspect of the Talent Campus, where you could meet someone interested in you or your project at a particular event.

Who were some of the filmmakers and other film industry experts who were there?

Too many to highlight! [Talent Campus guests included Hollywood/Dutch director Paul Verhoeven, New Zealand director Jane Campion and British filmmaker Ken Loach.]

What did you find most interesting or helpful about the Talent Campus?

I found the most interesting aspect of the Talent Campus to be the student filmmakers themselves. There was such a wide and diverse selection of people from different cultures yet I felt no “lost in translation” moments. Two filmmakers I met in particular showed the power of art bringing people together. One was from Israel and the other was a Palestinian from Jordan—but in the Talent Campus they were just filmmakers, and they talked with each other and made jokes. Now it’s not all fun and games at the Talent Campus—there were filmmakers there with a serious message—but in this place you felt a sense of security and freedom to discuss matters close to your heart and thoughts, without judgement. The Talent Campus staff were most helpful. From Matthijs, the Talent Campus programme manager, all the way down to the guy opening the door for you just to enter the seminar, they were all warm and friendly and made the experience way better.

How important do you think it is for Caribbean filmmakers to seek out and take advantage of opportunities such as the Talent Campus?

Very important, especially now. As pointed out by [international film journalist and ttff/12 guest] Sydney Levine, the film industry is at a turning point and the current distribution market is in a state of uncertainty because of the Internet and current technologies such as video on demand and with new resolution formats such as 8K on the horizon. The great news is when they figure it out in about the next five years, we, the current filmmakers, will be the ones to benefit. Now is the time for Caribbean filmmakers to take part in these global dialogues about the latest filmmaking trends that are being held at events such as the Berlinale Talent Campus. This is the starting ground where we can stake our claim in the market, and on the global perception of ourselves and our culture. All you need to do is show up!

Having been exposed—even if for just a short time—to other filmmakers and films from around the world, how do you see the Caribbean film industry in terms of where it is and where it has to go?

That’s a good question but one that I don’t see a simple answer to. I mean certain points are clear, we lack content compared to other established and even emerging markets and our quality of work is still behind, but what was once a huge gap is now becoming marginal. Judging from where the current market is I personally feel that the only way for Caribbean films to make it into the world forum is through self-distribution, at first. Then when money is being made, then you will find a market being grown. Otherwise a Caribbean filmmaker has to make co-produced work so that they can tie their films to another already established market. This is based on the current way of distribution, but as I mentioned before the market is going through a change and this is a very important time for Caribbean Filmmakers to step up and be a part of that change. Whatever it may be.

What’s next for you?

Produce more work! As much as I can, music videos, short films, feature films. Also, teach some classes, maybe hold a small talk on my Talent Campus experience. Basically, continue to contribute to the development of T&T/Caribbean cinema in whatever way I can. I’m also exploring some opportunities in Europe but we’ll see how that goes.

Dom Rep film festival and ttff sign partnership agreement

Closer ties between the two organisations—and films festivals in the Caribbean in general—are expected to result after the Trinidad+Tobago film festival (ttff) and the Dominican Republic Global Film Festival (DRGFF) signed a partnership agreement recently.

The agreement was signed at the just-concluded Regional and International Film Festival of Guadeloupe (FEMI), between Annabelle Alcazar, the ttff’s Programme Director, and Omar de la Cruz, Director of the DRGFF.

The signing of the agreement also brings into existence the Caribbean Film Festivals Network, which is intended to bring together all film festivals in the region for the purpose of cultural cooperation and sharing of resources, as well as representing the Caribbean internationally where appropriate.

As part of the agreement, the ttff and the DRGFF agree to the listing of any films from the respective countries at each other’s festival as being presented in association with the DRGFF or the ttff, as appropriate. Further, each festival will be able to recommend films for showing at the other festival.

There will also be a festival personnel exchange, where one representative from each festival will visit the other festival every year and be included on a discussion panel and/or a competition jury.

“The signing of this agreement is significant because, as ttff already has one with FEMI in Guadeloupe, it means that three of the major Caribbean film festivals, each representing a different language base, will work closely together in many areas,” said Dr Bruce Paddington, Founder and Festival Director, ttff. “This can only benefit the local and regional film industry.”

Image: Annabelle Alcazar, right, Programme Director, ttff and Omar de la Cruz, Director, Dominican Republic Global Film Festival

Carnival Film Series ends with Youth Training Centre screening

The lads of the Youth Training Centre (YTC) will be in for a Carnival treat as the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) screens two movies at the YTC in Arouca, as the Festival’s Carnival Film Series (CFS) comes to its conclusion.

Sponsored by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company Limited, the CFS is a showcase of Carnival-themed narrative and documentary films. The public screenings take place across the country from 23 January to 05 February, while the YTC screening—which is a closed event—comes off on 8 February.

The two films at the YTC screening are by local filmmakers and both are previous selections of the ttff. The first is Pashan of the Froot, written and directed by Nadissa Haynes. Pashan of the Froot is a hilarious mock documentary about a singer who believes himself to be much more talented and popular than he actually is.

The second film to be screened is No Soca, No Life. Written and directed by Kevin Adams, this is an inspirational film about a young woman, Olivia, from a deprived background. Blessed with an amazing singing voice, Olivia is determined to overcome the obstacles before her and make it as a soca star. Soca Singer Terri Lyons, who plays Olivia, won the award for best actress at the ttff/12 for her performance in the film.

Both Nadissa Haynes and Kevin Adams will be on hand at the screening to introduce their films and engage the lads in question-and-answer sessions afterwards.

This is the second time the ttff will host a screening at YTC, after a successful event there in 2012.

“The YTC screenings reinforce our commitment to using film as an instrument of social transformation,” said Melvina Hazard, the ttff’s Director of Community Development. ”Through these films and Q&A sessions, we hope to inspire the lads towards productive forms of creative expression. We also hope that sometime in the future we will be able to showcase a film made by the lads in our annual festival.”

The YTC has as its main aim the rehabilitation and training of the lads committed to its custody, which would allow them to return to and function beneficially in the society from which, by due process of law, they have been temporarily set apart. To this end the centre has an active and varied programme of activities, including academic study, arts, sports and technical-vocational training.

Image: Penelope Spencer (left) and Terri Lyons in No Soca, No Life

Carnival Film Series comes to Trevor’s Edge in St Augustine

The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) continues to juxtapose traditional Carnival with the modern in its Carnival Film Series, which on Tuesday 5 February will be at Trevor’s Edge Bar in St Augustine from 7pm. International Power Soca Monarch finalist Lil Bitts will make a guest appearance to perform live after the film screenings of Jab: The Blue Devils of Paramin and five film portraits of traditional Carnival characters by Yao Ramesar.

Trevor’s Edge, located at St. John’s Road in St. Augustine, continues to be one of the most popular venues for the ttff’s community screenings. Audience attendance usually exceeds 200 patrons and to accommodate the great numbers the ttff provides simultaneous indoor and outdoor screening options.

The works of two prolific local filmmakers will be featured at this screening, paying homage to fading traditions in the contemporary Carnival landscape. Alex de Vertueil’s dynamic Jab: The Blue Devils of Paramin takes place in the weeks leading up to Carnival. The 47-minute documentary follows Kootoo, King Devil, as he prepares with his three brothers to once again win the village competition for the most convincing devil band. Known for his athletic prowess, and given to extraordinary feats like ripping up trees and scaling tall buildings, the charismatic Kootoo must still work hard with his band of devils to win the prize in the face of serious competition from a new generation of “jabs”.

Yao Ramesar’s film portraits of the minstrel lady, bat, midnight robber, black Indian and the fire dance pay touching and insightful tribute to five traditional Carnival performers renowned for their authentic, yet idiosyncratic characterisations of traditional mas.

Lil Bitts’ live performance—which will include “Raise de Dust”, a strong contender in the Power Soca Monarch finals—will follow the films. Lil Bitts, aka Shivonne Churche, was excited about the ttff’s Carnival Film Series and offered to perform at the Trevor’s Edge event presentation because she appreciates the role that Carnival traditions play for emerging, modern artistes. “Our traditional Carnival is the platform from which today’s mas and music has been built and is the source of my inspiration,” she says.

The screening at Trevor’s Edge marks the end of the public screenings for the Carnival Film Series, which is sponsored by the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company Limited. Admission to the screening at Trevor’s Edge is free, and food and drinks will be on sale.

Image: Still from a short by Robert Yao Ramesar

Filmmaker in Focus: Ryan Khan

Dom Rep film festival and ttff sign partnership agreement

Carnival Film Series ends with Youth Training Centre screening

Carnival Film Series comes to Trevor’s Edge in St Augustine

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