Film Festival heads to Havana to Present Showcase of Caribbean Cinema
For the third year in a row, the trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is set to present Caribbean Calling, a showcase of Caribbean films, at the Havana Film Festival (HFF) in Cuba.
The showcase comprises four feature-length and five short documentary and narrative films, all of which were selections at the ttff/14. The films represent a cross-section of the non-Spanish speaking Caribbean, and a number of them were ttff/14 prizewinners.
Officially known as the International Festival of New Latin American Cinema, the HFF is the oldest film festival in the region. This year, its 36th, the festival runs from December 04–14. Caribbean Calling takes place from December 04–07.
The lineup is as follows:
The Abominable Crime (Micah Fink, Jamaica, 2013)
The Price of Memory (Karen Marks Mafundikwa, Jamaica, 2014)
Sensei Redemption (German Gruber, Curaçao, 2014)
Legends of Ska (Brad Klein, Jamaica, 2014)
The Seawall (Mason Richards, Guyana, 2010)
Glass Bottom Boat (Kyle Walcott, T&T, 2014)
Field Notes (Vashti Harrison, T&T, 2014)
Cleaning House (Toni Blackford, Jamaica, 2013)
Creole Soup (Karine Gama, Guadeloupe, 2013)
In addition to the Caribbean films in the showcase, two other Caribbean films, both from T&T, will screen at Havana as official selections of the festival. The first is Art Connect, a documentary directed by Miquel Galofré, while the other, Dubois, is a short narrative film directed by Kaz Ové.
A number of the filmmakers with work in Caribbean Calling will be in Havana to introduce their films and engage in Q&A sessions after the screenings.
“Once again, the ttff is pleased to share films from our Festival with our Cuban brothers and sisters,” said ttff Programme Director Annabelle Alcazar. “Also, the directors of the films involved also get a chance to make fruitful connections with members of the international film industry who are at Havana, long considered a prestigious festival.”
Image: a still from Legends of Ska
MovieMaker magazine acclaims ttff among coolest festivals in the world
The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) has been named one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world.
This accolade has been bestowed upon the Festival by Movie Maker, an American magazine dedicated to the art and business of cinema.
Founded in 1993, Movie Maker has a readership of 160,000 and its website has approximately one million unique visitors a year.
A panel of seven judges comprised of international film industry professionals put together this exclusive list.
According to an article published in Movie Maker on 17 November 2014, “Uniformly excellent cinema” is one thing that all 25 festivals on the list have in common, as well as “genuinely thoughtful, inspiring panels and moviemaker education events.”
Movie Maker also notes that these festivals “elevate their communities throughout the year.”
The citation—in full—for the ttff reads as follows:
“’A hip and trendy place’ with a laid-back vibe, our panelist enjoyed ‘liming (i.e. hanging out) with industry and locals at the bars in Port of Spain after an afternoon and evening of screenings.’ Sounds like paradise. The festival ‘supports the Caribbean filmmaking scene as a whole, as well as individual filmmakers, extending its coolness beyond borders.’ Extracurriculars include a workshop on film appreciation, and an industry networking event billed as group speed dating.”
Bruce Paddington, Founder and Festival Director, ttff, said, “We are very proud to be named one of the 25 coolest film festivals in the world. We have a fantastic team who include young and energetic interns and volunteers and, of course, a dedicated staff who not only love film and Caribbean cinema, but are determined to develop the film industry across the region and put Caribbean cinema on the world map.
“With the help of our sponsors and partners we have seen the Festival grow and become a highly respected organisation in the region and beyond. And, of course, we can never forget the filmmakers whose work and dedication to their craft make all this possible.”
The Movie Maker accolade comes as the ttff gets set to celebrate its tenth anniversary in 2015. Plans for the ttff/15 include the launch of a Caribbean Film Mart + Regional Film Database. This project is being made possible with the financial contribution of the European Union (European Development Fund) and the assistance of the ACP Group of States.
To read the original Movie Maker article, go here.
Film festival selections screen as part of Art Society exhibition
The ttff is pleased to be collaborating with the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago in screening several films as part of the society’s November group exhibition. This Wednesday 19th September at 7.00pm, two films will be shown: Smallman: The World My Father Made (Mariel Brown/T&T/10′, a ttff/13 world premiere) and Luise Kimme: I Always Wanted to Sculpt Apollo (Eike Schmidt/Germany, T&T/56’/ttff/12). The venue is the Art Society, corner Jamaica Blvd and St Vincent Ave, Federation Park, Port of Spain. The screenings, which begin at 7.00pm, are free and open to the public.
Synopsis for Smallman: The World My Father Made
Kenwyn Rawlins had a passion for making things. In a workshop beneath his house he made push toys, model battleships, miniature furniture and dolls’ houses. Smallman is an exploration of the world that Kenwyn Rawlins made, as told by his son Richard.
Synopsis for I Always Wanted to Sculpt Apollo
The late Germany-born sculptor Luise Kimme lived and worked in Tobago for over three decades. This film, shot in 1994, tells the story of her life and art.
Last Wednesday 12 November Smallman: The World My Father Made and The Radical Innocence of Jackie Hinkson were screened at the Art Society.
Image: A still from Smallman: The World My Father Made
ttff/13 Selection about Grenada Revolution to Screen in Tobago
Forward Ever: The Killing of a Revolution, a feature-length documentary about the 1979 Grenada revolution and the murder of prime minister Maurice Bishop four years later, will have its Tobago premiere at the Kariwak Hotel on Sunday November 9, at 6.00pm.
Directed and produced by Bruce Paddington, the film has been screened in sixteen countries since its premiere at the 2013 trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff). With successful screenings in England, Canada, North America, Latin America and a number of Caribbean countries, screenings have attracted large audiences, followed by lively Q&A sessions.
The film explores the achievements and shortcomings of the People’s Revolutionary Government (1979-1983) of Grenada as it attempted to forge a new revolutionary society. The film focuses on the year 1983, with gripping and previously unseen archival footage, as well as first-hand recollections of persons who witnessed the tragic events of October 19. It examines the circumstances surrounding the execution of Maurice Bishop and his close colleagues, whose bodies were never recovered. With its multiple perspectives and different narratives, the film raises questions that must be answered about this key event in the recent history of the Caribbean.
Playwright and director Kwame Kwei-Amah calls the film “a spectacular and honest piece of filmmaking” while filmmaker Anup Singh praised “its nuanced concern, compassion and restrained rage”. The film was produced with the assistance of the University of the West Indies, The Fundashon Bon Intenshon, Flow (Columbus Communications), and the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company. The Tobago screening is supported by the ttff and the Kariwak Hotel.
Film festival hosts cinematic tribute to Geoffrey Holder
The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) is pleased to host a screening of the award-winning documentary Carmen and Geoffrey, next Friday, 31 October, at its office at 199 Belmont Circular Road in Belmont.
A tribute to the actor and dancer Geoffrey Holder, who died earlier this month at the age of 84, the screening takes place in association with BelFest, a celebration of the arts in Belmont.
The film begins at 7.00pm, and doors open at 6.30pm. Admission is free and all are invited.
Released in 2005, Carmen and Geoffrey is an affectionate and moving portrait of two towering icons of the arts, Geoffrey Holder and his wife Carmen de Lavallade. From the time they met and wed in 1955 until Holder’s death earlier this month at the age of 84, the two were celebrated dancers, actors, choreographers and much, much more, together and individually.
Geoffrey Holder’s many achievements include memorable performances as Professor Shakespeare X in the film Dr Doolitte and Baron Samedi in the James Bond film Live and Let Die. He also won two Tony awards for direction and costume design of The Wiz, an all-black adaptation of The Wizard of Oz.
Carmen and Geoffrey was filmed over three years in the United States, France and Holder’s native Trinidad and Tobago. It combines archival footage with candid interviews to provide a remarkable glimpse into the lives of an extraordinary couple.
Winner of the prize for best feature-length film at the ttff/09, Carmen and Geoffrey is directed by Linda Atkinson and Nick Doob, and is 80 minutes in length.
Film in Focus: Siddharth
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Siddharth is a film about the value of children.
The director, Richie Mehta, is a Canadian filmmaker. His first film was Amal (2007). In 2013, Siddharth, his second feature, premiered at the Venice Film Festival. On the website for the film, in the director’s notes, Mehta writes:
“In 2010, I met a man on the streets of Delhi, who asked me for help in finding a place called Dongri. I asked him what it was, he told me he thought it was where his lost son was (!).
“He went on to tell me his story—that he sent his 12-year-old boy away to work, and never saw him again. He believed his son was kidnapped and trafficked. After the initial shock wore off, I asked him for more details—a photograph, the spelling of his son’s name. He couldn’t answer any of them (being illiterate, and having never taken a picture). Since he was obliged to work every day to support his wife and daughter, all he could do was ask others for help. And he’d been doing this for over a year.
“Knowing that this man didn’t have the ability, nor the means, to even properly inquire about his son is an unfathomable tragedy. He barely understood why this kind of thing happens, much less how.
“This film is my attempt to reconcile my extremely layered relationship with this circumstance. It’s a story made up in equal parts by tragedy and optimism, and I hope what we’ve done here transmits even a fraction of the confusion, sorrow, helplessness, and ultimately, hope that I felt in meeting this man.”
This is exactly what takes place in the film. The audience is taken on a 96-minute journey with Mahendra, Siddharth’s father, experiencing every excruciating day that goes by when looking for his son, who he sent to a trolley factory to earn more income. As in the real-life situation, Mahendra does not find his son. Sadly, this is not a rarity and not exclusive to any particular country. According to statistics, in 2009, it was estimated that 1.2 million children were trafficked worldwide for sexual exploitation, including for prostitution or the production of sexually exploitative images.
According to a report by the National Human Rights Commission of India, only 10% of human trafficking in that country is international—almost 90% is interstate. Nearly 40,000 children are abducted every year, of which 11,000 remain untraced.
One of the things that I find most admirable about Siddharth is that it does not force-feed the story to the audience. It does not exploit your emotions by presenting Siddharth in dangerous and hurtful circumstances. Rather, the story is told through the family’s desperate efforts to find Siddharth; and through the heartache of Mahendra’s financial woes, which he must surmount, day after tiresome day, to buy bus fare and investigate any leads he finds in order to make progress in finding his son. This allows the audience to understand the social and economic situation of Siddharth’s family, as well as the pervasive societal attitudes to child abduction: resigned acceptance and nonchalance.
This incited much ire within me and took me back to a comment made by Ms Jearlean McDowell, a teacher at Success Laventille Secondary School in T&T, who helped facilitate the making of Miquel Galofré’s ttff/14 world-premiere documentary Art Connect: “Children are really our future and they are suffering so much trauma. We need to help them and stop all of the trauma.”
According to a 2013 report, T&T has been put on a human-trafficking watchlist by the US State Department. The report listed T&T as “a destination and transit country for adults and children subjected to sex trafficking and adults subjected to forced labour.” Our country is a destination, source and transit country for women and children subjected to trafficking, specifically for forced prostitution, and children and men subjected to forced labour.
While I can commend the cinematography of Siddharth, which shows the captivating and bustling street life of Delhi, or the true grittiness of living under the poverty line in India, it would not capture the heart of the film. The heart of the film lies in the closing scene, where Mahendra has no choice but to continue to work and take care of his wife and daughter and hope that his son will return one day. The heart of the film lies in its reality and true-to-life form.
One audience member commented, “This film was very moving and I leave the theatre thinking about all of the children who have been lost and will never be found.” Clearly, I was not the only one who left the theatre broken-hearted.
Film in Focus: Mother of George
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Even though I have seen many African diaspora films, I did not have a specific film vocabulary for Nigerian films because I haven’t been exposed to that cinema. I am very pleased that my initiation into that world comes via Andrew Dosunmu.
Andrew Dosunmu is a Nigerian photographer and filmmaker who came to prominence in the United States after directing music videos for various acclaimed artists. His debut feature, Restless City (ttff/12), premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. Mother of George (2013), his most recent film, also premiered at Sundance.
The story unfolds around the wedding of Ayodele, the owner of a Nigerian restaurant in Brooklyn, and his fiancée, Adenike. Their traditional Yoruba wedding culminates in a ceremony where Adenike is named for her yet-to-be-conceived son, George. As someone who has enjoyed freedom over my own body and a choice as to how and when I will have children, I immediately felt oppressed and trapped by this traditional ceremony. I was left wondering, is the sole function of these traditional marriages to reproduce?
As the months pass without pregnancy, the audience can actually feel the mounting pressure from her mother-in-law and Adenike’s inclination to leave off with her Yoruba culture and immerse herself more in her new American life, encouraged by her friend Sade. Unfortunately her attempts to earn money for herself or try American fashion are shut down by Ayodele and Adenike is left to cling to her traditional way of life to please her community. I think that Dosunmu does an amazing job of intertwining the feel of American films and their synonymous promise of dreams and freedom with that of the feel and grain of culture in African films.
After Adenike makes every effort to address the fertility issues in her marriage, she buckles under the massive pressure of a childless 18 months of marriage, Eventually, by the encouragement of her mother-in-law, she decides to sleep with her husband’s brother to try to get pregnant. Her mother-in-law insists, “It is the same blood.”
To me, this is a rather extreme measure. However, even with this thinking, Dosomnu shows the differences between Nigerian traditional culture and more modern Westernised cultural standards. This role of the mother-in-law represents a very interesting theme of tradition and family and how close-knit an immigrant family can be when trying to maintain their sense of home and community. It also poses questions of assimilation and speaks to the realities of problem-solving as an individual versus as a community in a traditional space, especially when modern methods are available and not as oppressive.
Mother of George is such a multifaceted film, shot with both physical and metaphorical textures and layers. The director’s background as a fashion photographer (not to mention Bradford Young’s stunning cinematography) lend colour and artistic flair to this portrait of Nigerian immigrant family life.
These themes of family life, tradition, fertility, a woman’s role, immigrant life, assimilation, sexuality and marriage are all universal themes that define our humanity and anyone who watches this film will be able to connect with and appreciate this window into another culture.
Of Good Report
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD
Holy crap. This film…. First of all, the beginning was so riveting that I didn’t even realise that I was holding my breath for the entire opening sequence. I spent the majority of time with a tense body and with my hands ready to cover my face as I anticipated the scenes.
Of Good Report induced a physical reaction in me. From the middle of the film to an hour after the film ended I felt like I was going to throw up. I suffered an allergic reaction and was wired until about 4am. Moreover, when driving home, I thought that the Afro-Trinidadian man wearing glasses with an oval face who pulled up at the lights next to me was Mr Sithole, come to follow me home and abduct me. Oh, the imagination of a writer. Still though, the film gets to you on a visceral level. It’s kind of like Dexter on steroids.
Of Good Report is a film by Jahmil XT Qubeka, a South African filmmaker. Parker Sithole arrives in a poor rural township to begin a new job as a teacher at the local school. The audience is treated to some intentionally vague flashbacks as they try to piece together this man’s character, a task made extremely difficult by the fact that we do not hear him utter one single sentence during the entire film (a detail which concretises the creepiness of his character).
He appears to be of unimpeachable character yet almost immediately he begins an affair with a student, 16-year-old Nolitha. Soon the true nature of this seemingly mild-mannered man is revealed: Parker is a bloody psychopath. As the film progresses, the flashbacks become more intense in detail and impact and then, in a climatic, gut wrenchingly murderous scene, Parker confronts his antagonist, the ghost of his dead mother, and is left to deal with the consequences to his actions.
The film is shot in black and white, a perfect stratagem for conjuring the hair-raising feel of the piece. The noirish Hitchcockian quality of the film immediately establishes an aesthetic that gives you the feeling of being on the edge of a very sharp knife. The sound design is equally evocative.
Mothusi Magano as Parker Sithole is exquisite. The only vocal expressions that the audience gets from him are jubilant laughter or guttural, excruciating screams. Yet he says so much with his eerily observant eyes and placid face, even as he is sawing the body of his ex-lover to pieces and placing those pieces in plastic bags. No wonder this film was banned before its premiere at the Durban International Film Festival.
I also appreciated the use of literary motifs such as Othello in grounding the story and simultaneously lending it a wonderfully macabre theatrical element.
When I asked audience members about their experience post film, one woman said that she quite enjoyed the film but found it anticlimactic. When I asked if she found that the level of violence was too much, she said no. One man commented that it was brilliant and quite reminiscent of Bates Motel. His friend agreed that it was well done, even though it was quite disturbing—definitely not something that she could watch twice.
Of Good Report it a great film. It is entirely provocative and brings to light issues regarding child molestation, teacher-student relationships, under-aged sex, pregnancy, abortion, family relations and psychological health. More than that, these issues are presented in a haunting manner that you are sure never to forget.
Film in Focus: Manakamana
Manakamana is a spiritual experience.
True, it is filmed inside a cable car that is transporting its passengers to a temple in the foothills of the Nepalese Himalayas dedicated to Manakamana, the Hindu goddess of good fortune. However, the ethereal experience of the film does not only belong to the passengers but also to us, the audience, the voyeurs.
The work is filmed with a fixed 16mm camera and records eleven, roughly eight-and-half-minute trips to and from the temple. This gives the audience the depth of time to watch, listen, observe and internalise these pilgrims. In this hypnotising act of looking, we become pilgrims ourselves, enthralled in a simultaneous internal and external exploration of landscapes.
Stephanie Spray and Pacho Velez are the filmmakers behind this work. Stephanie Spray is a filmmaker, phonographer and anthropologist who has been working at the Sensory Ethnography Laboratory at Harvard University since 2006. Her work exploits different media to explore the confluence of social aesthetics and art in everyday life. Since 1999 she has spent much of her time in Nepal, roaming its mountains; studying its music, religion and language; and making films. Pacho Velez’s work sits at the intersection of ethnography, structuralism and political documentary. Though shot in different countries, using distinct formal strategies, his films share a preoccupation with local responses to broad changes wrought by globalisation. He teaches at Bard College.
The influences of the two filmmakers are reflected in the situation of the work geographically, both on a temporal and otherworldly level. The nuances of culture, gender, nationality, age, and marital status are all revealed to us on this journey.
As a trio of elderly women, a pair of young Canadian tourists, a husband and wife, three young men, two musicians and a small herd of goats each take their trip above the rich and verdant landscape, a character study ensues. Each entity is occupying space that someone else previously did. However, even thought they may be travelling along the same route and may have the same destination, they are all worlds apart.
One of the things that I will carry forever with me of this film is the feeling that not only was I watching these people, but that they were watching me too. The camera lens felt like a two-way portal. That feeling of being connected to another time, space and entity engendered feeling of meditative peace and tranquility. It sparked a complex internal dialogue that could not be translated with words.
Manakamana is probably the furthest thing away from Hollywood that I have seen, at least in a long time. It is breathtaking in the boundaries that it challenges and transcendental in its quiet ambition.
And the ttff/14 Winners are…
Behaviour, an incisive portrait of the life of an at-risk boy in Havana, claimed the top prize at the 2014 trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) in an awards ceremony held in Port of Spain this evening.
Directed by Cuba’s Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Behaviour beat out four other films to nab the Best Narrative Feature prize at the Festival. Behaviour was also a favourite with the Festival’s youth jury, who awarded the film a special mention.
The youth jury gave its top prize to a Brazilian film, the charming LGBT-themed coming-of-age drama The Way He Looks, directed by Daniel Ribeiro.
Best Documentary Feature was awarded to a film from the Dominican Republic, Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada’s You and Me, an intimate look at the complex relationship between an elderly woman and her domestic servant.
A documentary was also the winner of the Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature Film—Miquel Galofré’s Art Connect, an uplifting crowd-pleaser featuring young people from the urban community of Laventille in east Port of Spain, whose lives are transformed when they undertake an art project.
The inaugural Amnesty International Human Rights Prize went to The Abominable Crime, Micah Fink’s touching, troubling reflection of the struggle gays and lesbians in Jamaica face to achieve their rights.
Here is a full list of the awards:
Best Narrative Feature: Behaviour, Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Cuba
Best Narrative Feature, Special Mention: Sensei Redemption, German Gruber, Curaçao
Best Documentary Feature: You and Me, Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada, Dominican Republic
Best Documentary Feature, Special Mention: Hotel Nueva Isla, Irene Gutiérrez and Javier Labrador, Cuba
Best Short Film, Narrative: Bullock, Carlos Machado Quintela, Cuba
Best Short Film, Documentary: ABCs, Diana Montero, Cuba
Best Trinidad and Tobago Feature: Art Connect, Miquel Galofré
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Narrative: Dubois, Kaz Ové
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Narrative, Special Mention: Noka: Keeper of Worlds, Shaun Escayg
Best Trinidad and Tobago Short Film, Documentary: Field Notes, Vashti Harrison
Best New Media Film: They Say You Can Dream a Thing More Than Once: Versia Harris, Barbados
Amnesty International Human Rights Prize: The Abominable Crime, Micah Fink, Jamaica/USA
BPTT Youth Jury Prize for Best Film: The Way He Looks, Daniel Ribeiro, Brazil
BPTT Youth Jury Prize for Best Film, Special Mention: Behaviour, Ernesto Daranas Serrano, Cuba
People’s Choice Award, Best Narrative Feature: A Story About Wendy 2, Sean Hodgkinson, T&T
People’s Choice Award, Best Documentary Feature: Art Connect, Miquel Galofré, T&T
People’s Choice Award, Best Short Film: Flying the Coup, Ryan Lee, T&T
RBC: Focus Filmmakers’ Immersion Pitch Prize: Raisa Bonnet, Puerto Rico
RBC: Focus Filmmakers’ Immersion Pitch Prize, Special Mention: Davina Lee, St Lucia
Best Student at the Film Programme of the University of the West Indies: Romarlo Anderson Edghill
Best Trinidad and Tobago Film in Development: Rajah: The Story of Boysie Singh, Christian James
Image: A still from Behaviour