In another sign that Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean’s film industry is beginning to take off, a number of regional filmmakers and films made their mark at the International Film Festival Rotterdam (IFFR) in the Netherlands, which ran from January 21 to February 1.
Included among these filmmakers was a T&T contingent comprising Damian Marcano, Vashti Harrison, Christian James and Christopher Din Chong. Also attending IFFR from T&T was Annabelle Alcazar, Programme Director, trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff).
IFFR, which celebrated its 44th anniversary this year, is one of the older film festivals, and one of the most prestigious, frequently appearing on top-ten lists of festivals. Its focus is on screening films by emerging independent filmmakers from around the world, particularly those with an interest in telling daring stories that embody authentic representations of the cultures from which they come.
One such film was writer and director Damian Marcano’s debut feature, the urban drama God Loves the Fighter. A world premiere at the ttff/13, where it won two awards, God Loves the Fighter proved a hit with Rotterdam’s audiences, ranking 42nd out of the 160 feature films up for the festival’s audience award.
Also screening at IFFR was Field Notes, Vashti Harrison’s short, black-and-white experimental documentary about supernatural folklore characters of T&T. Field Notes was previously a selection of the ttff/14, where it won the jury prize for best local short documentary.
Local filmmaker Christian James was also at IFFR, where he participated in the Rotterdam Lab for film producers, of which the ttff is an official partner. The lab is an opportunity for filmmakers from around the world to meet with producers with a view to forming co-productions in order to get their films made and seen.
James attended the lab after winning the bpTT-sponsored Best Film in Development award at the ttff/14, for a drama about the notorious mass murderer Boysie Singh.
“My experience at the IFFR 2015 was nothing short of incredible,” said James. “There were 58 producers and I made it my duty to meet every one at least once. However, there were a few producers I personally connected with, and now have four potential collaborators/co-producers.”
He continued, “I believe foreign producers want to co-produce with us here in the Caribbean as they recognise the fresh voice that we can bring to the world cinema table.”
In addition to the success of the T&T filmmakers, there was also success for filmmakers from Cuba and the Dominican Republic.
The Project of the Century, the second feature by Cuban writer-director Carlos Machado Quintela, was an IFFR selection, and won one of three Hivos Tiger awards for best feature. Quintela’s first feature, The Swimming Pool, was a ttff/13 selection, while his follow-up short, Bullock, won the jury prize for Best Narrative Short at the ttff/14.
Also from Cuba, writer-director Carlos Lechuga and his producer, Claudia Calviño, won the Wouter Barendrecht Award for their film Santa and Delfín, currently in pre-production. Their first feature, Melaza, won the jury award for Best Narrative Feature at the ttff/13. At the ttff/14, Lechuga attended the RBC Royal Bank Filmmakers’ Immersion, while Calviño was a part of the European Audiovisual Entrepreneurs Producers’ Lab.
Finally, another Caribbean feature screening at IFFR was Sand Dollars, by Laura Amelia Guzmán of the Dominican Republic and Israel Cárdenas of Mexico. Their previous feature, Jean Gentil, won the jury prize for Best Narrative Feature at the ttff/11.
The trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff) celebrates films from and about the Caribbean and its diaspora, as well as from world cinema, through an annual festival and year-round screenings. In addition, the ttff seeks to facilitate the growth of Caribbean cinema by offering a wide-ranging industry programme and networking opportunities. The ttff is presented by Flow and given leading sponsorship by bpTT, and supporting sponsorship by the Embassy of the United States of America.
Image: Christian James at the ttff/14 awards ceremony, receiving his award for best film in development from Thalia Barnes of bpTT