Sunday, October 22, 2017

Frances-Anne Solomon Illuminating the history of Caribbean people

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Award winning director Frances-Anne Solomon. Photos: Anisto Alves

Mark Fraser


For a woman who has been hand-picked to compact the life of Justice Ulric Cross into a 75 minute-documentary film, Frances-Anne Solomon is unusually calm. Then again this might be the quiet confidence that comes with being in the film business for over 20 years.

An award-winning director, writer and producer, Solomon was first asked to be director of Ulric Cross – A Hero for All Time back in 2009.  Things didn’t work out because Solomon was working on her own  film A Winter Tale at the time, but she gave the team — Hero Film Limited — the names of other directors with whom they could work. 

This project was conceived and commissioned by the late Desmond Allum SC, a friend of Cross, who wanted to see a film made in his honour. Cross had been a squadron leader during World War II. When Allum died in 2010 his idea was carried on by a group of people who were determined to bring the film to light. The Hero Film Limited team includes attorneys Tara Allum and Rajiv Persad; Dr Jacqueline Sharpe; management consultant Anne Marie Stewart and Selby Wooding QC.

Interviews with Cross have been done over several years and once again the opportunity to direct was tossed back to Solomon. This time her schedule was wide open. She did not hesitate.

“It’s important to tell stories that illuminate the history of Caribbean people,” she said.

“These were not the stories we were told at schools — we learned about queens and kings because the narrative was colonial; there are all kinds of stories that we don’t know about ourselves.”

Working on the Ulric Cross film has been inspiring for Solomon, who was born in England of Trinidad parentage and educated here for part of her life. And she is happy to be working on it.

“This is a man who is almost 96 and his life spans the whole of the 20th century. He was a war hero; he was also a lawyer, an attorney general in the Cameroon at one point and a high court judge.”

As a girl Solomon used to put on plays for her family. She began her career at Banyan Productions and studied theatre at the University of Toronto. Solomon later went on to train as a film director at Bristol University and she also did the prestigious BBC’s Drama Directors Course.  She built a successful career with the BBC as a TV Drama Producer and Executive Producer and knew in her gut that directing was her “thing”.

Solomon’s body of work includes A Winter Tale, which received acclaim including a special mention at the FESPACO — Burkina Faso, West Africa’s version of the Oscars, he feature film Peggy Su! (BBC Films, 1997), What My Mother Told Me and documentaries

Literature Alive and I Is A Long Memoried Woman.

She describes herself as a storyteller who tells stories of freedom.

“I use reality as the basis to tell stories that help us to understand ourselves. I am very interested in how people find freedom.”

A director is much more than the fussy person sitting in a chair yelling instructions to the cast. As Solomon said, a director is the one in whom the entire vision of the film lies and the one who makes decisions ranging from design, choreography, post production, music and casting.

With each film she directs, Solomon believes that she brings a perspective that is always complex.

“Apart from being a damn good director,” she said with a laugh.

“I am never satisfied with simplicity. I always go for the three-dimensional, many-layered perspectives of characters.”

People are impressed by her films, she added, because they pack “emotional punch”.

“I go for the jugular, emotionally. I want viewers to think and understand the characters deep in their bellies.”

The emotional edge is what Solomon believes female directors have over their male counterparts.

“When a female directs a film it is more meaningful. We are connected to what we do.

“A male director would do an action film and kill about 100 people in it and you won’t be affected; a female director would do the same film and kill eight people and it would hurt you deep inside that they had to die.”

Solomon said it was a shame that, because of sexism, not enough women get to direct films in Hollywood. She averages that three per cent of directors are women and that more and more women, including her, are starting their own distribution companies. 

“It not only gives them their own vehicle but now they don’t need permission to own their narrative.”

Three years ago Solomon started Caribbean Tales Worldwide Distributors, a full-service film sales and distribution company for Caribbean-themed content. The company is a part of the CaribbeanTales Group of Companies owned by Solomon which include CaribbeanTales.ca, an educational non-profit company based in Canada, the CaribbeanTales Film Festival Group — which produces marketing events and festivals in Toronto, Barbados and New York.

Creator, producer and director of the Lord Have Mercy comedy Caribbean series, Solomon is encouraged that at least in the Caribbean, more female directors are emerging and holding their own. The vibrant film industry that exists in Trinidad and Tobago has also been a welcome change for the Canada and Barbados based director.

“Before now it was impossible to make a living in T&T in this industry. Now what is happening is that the film industry is making it possible for people like me to come back home and work and I am so happy to be making a contribution and telling our stories.”