Film students and people involved in the local film industry recently had an opportunity to listen to the views and experiences of local, regional and international filmmakers who discussed various aspects of their craft—their experiences of making films with an independent industry context, and the business of financing, marketing and distributing their films.
Eight panellists from Trinidad and Tobago, the US, France, India, Haiti, Jamaica, Lebanon and Puerto Rico gave their audience a peek into their lives as filmmakers and candidly shared their experiences in the industry. The panel discussions, which took place at The Carlton Savannah hotel in St Ann's, formed part of the 2012 trinidad+tobago film festival (ttff), which began at various venues throughout the country last Wednesday and runs until October 2.
Writer, producer and director Selena Blake spoke candidly about her latest documentary feature, Taboo Yardies, a controversial feature which explores the emotional issue of the effect of discrimination on the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community in Jamaica.
Jamaica-born Blake, who moved to New York as teenager, has tackled the island's intolerance of the LGBT community through her documentary feature. Blake said T&T is more tolerant toward gays and lesbians than her native country. While T&T has accepted her documentary, it may never be shown in Jamaica because of its content. Jamaica is known for its violently homophobic crimes and reported two homophobic incidents in June 2012, in which violence was threatened or used to injure innocent civilians because they were suspected of being homosexual.
On June 21, in Jones Town, Kingston, the police had to intervene as an angry crowd gathered in front of a house where five homosexuals were staying. After the panel discussion, Blake told the Express the documentary stands for support of human rights and against the violence being advocated and perpetrated against LGBT Jamaicans. She said she hopes Taboo Yardies will become a vehicle that spurs an open discourse that will ultimately promote respect and tolerance for everyone, regardless of sexual orientation. The documentary recently aired, for the first time in the Caribbean, at MovieTowne.
Blake faced some issues filming in Jamaica. "The LGBT community was really cautious about being interviewed. They felt they were taking a huge risk exposing their lives; they were cautious. They didn't know whether or not I was going to blur their images, so it was a great risk for them; it took a little while convincing them. I had to reassure them that my aim was to raise awareness to the problem and not to exploit them in any way. Eventually, I developed trust," she said.
She added: "Getting the film distributed in Jamaica is difficult. I have reached out to people; I have sent letters to the Prime Minister and I have not gotten any response. I am hoping to get feedback at some point. I would love to show Taboo Yardies in Jamaica. I would love for us to have a dialogue and deal with the issues, but this is going to take some time; I don't know how long, but I hope at the end of the T&T film festival I would get some exposure.
"I am looking forward to discussions about homophobia so that people would see our differences and find ways to bridge that gap. Homosexuality in Jamaica is a whole different topic. I hope we can use the film for sensitivity training; It can be used to bring awareness and tolerance; so I am reaching out and I am waiting for them. I cannot go into Jamaica and show the film without funding and without an audience. I am waiting for them to respond so we could work together," Blake said.
She noted that sourcing music for the film was another challenge, as various reggae artistes opted not to be involved with the project after they saw the film's trailer.
Blake is grateful for T&T's acceptance of the film. "People here have welcomed me; I did not expect the warmth and acceptance regarding the film. Every single person I spoke with was in support of the film. I did not expect the acceptance and the openness because just talking about Taboo Yardies amongst Jamaicans is risky; but it's not like that here at all. I know that Trinidad, just like any other place, has pockets of homophobia; and I haven't been here long but I know that people are more tolerant and open-minded. I haven't been in Jamaica in about two years, so I don't know what has changed with the new Prime Minister, but I hope that gradually things will change." Blake plans to screen her documentary at Guyana's Gay and Lesbian Film Festival.
Blake immigrated to New York from Kingston, Jamaica, when she was 16 years old. She has interviewed gay and straight Jamaicans in Washington and Boston, some of whom were directly affected.
Blake is also the writer-director of Queensbridge: The Other Side, a documentary on the history of Queensbridge Houses in Long Island City, where she still lives. The film was well received—it appeared in a number of film festivals and is now part of social studies lesson plans in 50 New York City public schools.
Most of the ttff panellists were filmmakers whose documentary features are based on pertinent issues which affect many lives.
Trinidadian Mariel Brown was also part of the panel. Brown's documentary feature, Inward Hunger—The Story of Eric Williams, is described as a groundbreaking documentary on the life of Dr Eric Williams. The film follows Williams's career from professor to politician, right up to his death.
Kum Kum Bhavnani, of India, whose feature, Nothing Like Chocolate, is a bittersweet story of chocolate and the children who are being used as slaves to produce it, exposes the heart-wrenching story of cocoa being harvested by child slave labour which supplies much of the world's cocoa. Bhavnani said her aim is to use the film as an outreach tool. "I want to start campaigns. The chocolate industry is an industry filled with slavery and child labour, especially with the cocoa that comes from the Ivory Coast. My goal, first and foremost, is to set up campaigns to raise awareness about this," she said.
Haiti-born filmmaker Guetty Felin—who was also part of the panel discussions and whose documentary feature, Broken Stones, also premieres in T&T—said her film will be used as an outreach tool. Her
goal is to take her film back to Haiti to have it shown publicly. Two and a half years after Haiti's devastating earthquake, despite billions of dollars in reconstruction aid, Felin said NGOs are not necessarily helping. There is need, according to Felin, for people to see what is happening after the devastating quake; the true reality of the situation, she said, is rarely shown in the media. BBC has offered to feature the documentary. "I want people to see what is happening after the quake and that we are not just what you see on television. When people see Haiti, they see poverty and gloom and doom; we are people who want dignity and we want to be involved in the reconstruction of our country. My goal is to see this," Felin said.
Tania Khalaf's documentary, Journey to Hope, tackles an orphanage in Guyana where many of the children have serious behavioural problems. It is an inspiring film about people dedicated to making a difference and the children whose lives they transform. Khalaf said many lives will be touched by this film.
French filmmaker Sophie Meyer's offering, Mystic Fighters, takes a look stick fighting in T&T. Meyer's love and passion for T&T drove her to research and develop stories on hidden or forgotten traditions. Mystic Fighters is her most recent film and the beginning of a series on martial arts in the West Indies.
Puerto Rican Juan Davila's inspiring feature, Partners of Struggle, tells the story of the struggle of a group of environmentalists to stop the expansion of the Marriott Hotel on an ecologically sensitive beach in Carolina, Puerto Rico.
These films are screened at various venues, including MovieTowne, the Little Carib Theatre and the UWI Centre for Language Learning. Visit ttfilmfestival. com for screening information.