Tales of the Caribbean

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Tales of the CaribbeanEvery year, on the last weekend of July, thousands of Caribbean-Americans cross the border into Toronto, Canada, for the culmination of Caribana, reputedly the largest Caribbean festival in North America. Celebrating its 42nd year, Caribana 2010 officially kicks off on July 14 and closes Aug. 1.

Day and night in between there will be music, food, artistic performances, costume and band competitions, a black-tie gala, a celebrity ball, parties galore and the signature grand parade with its breathtaking array of colors and pageantry. 
Enhancing this cultural extravangaza is the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, a product of Toronto-based Caribbean Tales, creator, marketer and distributor of educational films, videos, radio programs, audiobooks, plays, Web sites and events showcasing the rich heritage of the Caribbean Diaspora. Running from July 29 to Aug. 2, this year, the film festival for the second consecutive year is partnering with the Harborfront Island Soul Festival to premiere select Caribbean films.

“Caribbean Tales’ mandate is to foster and encourage intercultural understanding and citizen participation through the medium of film, contributing to an inclusive Canadian society,” says Frances-Anne Solomon, accomplished British/Canadian-Trinidadian filmmaker and Caribbean Tales’ founder and artistic director.

There is a growing international awareness of the Caribbean’s burgeoning media industry, she says, and the Caribbean Tales Film Festival aims not only to entertain but also to broaden that awareness through screenings and discussions that spotlight exciting new trends in film and television from the Caribbean and its Diaspora.

To that end, Caribbean Tales is taking its screenings into the geographic Caribbean and its Diaspora communities worldwide. For example, recognizing the Caribbean’s strong ethnic and cultural ties to Africa, as well as the large Caribbean presence in Europe, the company presented several titles at the 2010 International Pan-African Film Festival in Cannes, France, in April. And from April 26 to May 1 in New York City, celebrated Caribbean poet, historian and cultural critic Kamau Brathwaite, Ph.D., hosted a selection of films from the Best of Caribbean Tales Film Festival 2010 at New York University. The four-day mini-festival was part of Marassa 10, 2010: A Festival of Caribbean Film, Story and Imagination, that takes place each year at the university’s Institute of African American Affairs.

“What is remarkable about these films is the amount of Caribbean culture that can be absorbed,” said Brathwaite, a Barbados-born professor of comparative literature at NYU who is perhaps best known for originating the concept of “nation language” to describe the indigenous Caribbean languages of peoples descended from slaves.  He has authored several groundbreaking works of poetry and nonfiction since the 1950s and is the recipient of such prestigious awards as the Guggenheim Fellowship, the Fulbright Fellowship, and the 2006 International Griffin Poetry Prize for Born to Slow Horses, a series of “poetic meditations on islands and exile, language and ritual, and the force of personal and historical passions and griefs.”

Solomon welcomed Brathwaite’s public support of the Caribbean film industry, at a time when Nigeria’s Nollywood and India’s Bollywood are garnering substantial mainstream attention. “I am delighted to be able to present the best of the best of our Barbados 2010 lineup at NYU. It is an honor to be hosted by Dr. Kamau Brathwaite, who is a Caribbean icon, having contributed so much to deepening our understanding of ourselves and our culture,” Solomon said. “Wherever there are populations of Caribbean people there is a thirst to see Caribbean stories. The explosion of exciting films and festivals like ours has generated great interest.  It makes sense that the festival, which began as a festival of films from the Caribbean and its Diaspora, would travel the world effortlessly.” 

An offshoot of the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, the Best of Caribbean Tales Film Festival debuted in Barbados this year, with, in addition to film screenings, a symposium on global distribution, the first-ever Caribbean film marketplace, workshops, master classes and youth screenings. “This extraordinary collection of films counteracts prevailing stereotypes of Black and Caribbean people as gun-toting drug dealers and primitive ‘natives’ by presenting three-dimensional and complex characters, in stories and situations that will be familiar to most Bajans,” Solomon said.

NYU is home to the Tisch School of the Arts, one of the country’s leading institutions for undergraduate and graduate study in the performing arts. The arrival in New York of The Best of the Caribbean Tales Film Festival coincided with the city’s famous annual Tribeca Film Festival (April 22 – May 2), which brings the elite of the U.S. film industry to town, and with the 17th Annual New York Film Festival (April 7 – May 31).
Six feature films and several shorts were screened at NYU.
Among them:

• Stephanie Black’s Africa Unite, which follows the family of the late reggae icon Bob Marley on their first trip to Ethiopia to commemorate Bob’s 60th birthday;
• Directors Geoffrey Dunn’s and Michael Horne’s Calypso Dreams, a documentary capturing performances and original interviews with legendary calypsonians;
• Life Lessons, a compilation of four short films by New York-based filmmakers of color, including A Departure from a Love by Ishmael Islam; The Lesson Plan by Eddy Duran; Sticks & Stones by Rehema Imani Trimiew; and Premature by Rashaad Ernesto Green;
• A Winter Tale, Solomon’s multi-award-winning audience favorite set in the Caribbean community of Toronto;
• Three shorts from Trinidad and Tobago: Directions by Renee Polonais; Invisible by multimedia artist Elspeth Duncan; and Mami Wata, an evocative film exploration of Shango ritual by Yao Ramesar;
• Rain, director Marcia Govan’s debut feature, one of the first films to be produced indigenously in the Bahamas;
• Surinamese filmmaker German Gruber’s short film The Legend of Buchi Fil;
• Drummit2Summit by Christopher Laird, the story of protesters in Port of Spain, Trinidad, during the 5th Summit of the Americas, who face down pressure from armed riot police;
• Carmen and Geoffrey by filmmakers Linda Atkins and Nick Doob, a documentary of the work of dancer and choreographer Carmen de Lavallade and Trinidadian dancer, choreographer, director and designer Geoffrey Holder.

Solomon returned to Barbados in May to launch Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distribution, the English-speaking Caribbean’s first film distribution company, with plans to acquire a catalog of Caribbean-themed films from the region and its Diaspora and market these through its festivals and other international events such as Cannes and Mipcom, as well as at trade fairs, missions and conferences. Based in Barbados, the company will position the island as a “center of excellence” for film in the region, Solomon said. “Other companies exist around the world, but Caribbean cinema has its own aesthetic, which unfortunately is marginal to such entities. We wanted to create something that will take care of our own,” she said.