When you google “Caribbean Film” you will receive a lot of returns for the Disney movie franchise “Pirates of the Caribbean”. Which can fit the description of Caribbean film, if you consider location as a significant feature of the classification of a film. But that movie isn't about the Caribbean at all. It is in the Hollywood tradition of “Affair in Trinidad” and perhaps even the James Bond film “Dr. No” where, though both were filmed in the Caribbean, they could have both been made anywhere. The region is hardly a significant player in the plot.
Caribbean filmmakers are increasingly less satisfied with this, and are making their own, Caribbean-based and centered movies. But is the region really on the path towards developing it's own industry? Is Cariwood becoming a real thing? teleSUR spoke to the people, in and of the region, who are in the business of making movies.
There are several film festivals within the Caribbean. If you include the diaspora, the opportunities for Caribbean artists to show their features and documentaries in film festivals are increasing. A partial list for this year includes Barbados in January, Caribbean Tales and TTFF17 in September and the Havana Film Festival in December.
But film festivals alone, do not an industry make, and getting an answer from practitioners results in a varied response.
“What is the Caribbean film industry and do we see ourselves as one full industry or are we still English speaking Caribbean as one group versus French islands as an extension of the Afrofranco experience globally, the Spanish considering themselves Latin American and the Dutch being just a totally separate things all together” is how Marc Woods of Caribbean Film Corner responds to the question of whether there is a Caribbean film industry."
As far as he is concerned the region needs to stop seeing itself in fragmented parts and come together as a cohesive whole. But that's not what's happening.
“Currently the industries are more nationally based in the English Speaking Caribbean and the French Speaking Caribbean. The area generally known as Latin America has a huge Latin American market (audience) and its own way of functioning, though you will find that the films are still labelled by country of origin.” says Mandisa Pantin. Pantin is the Programming Coordinator at the CaribbeanTales Film Festival, which is based in Canada. She says they hope to do more than just show films. Their goal is international distribution.
Distribution is a challenge. In 2016 Trinidadian music star Machel Montano's movie "Bazoodee" played in cinemas nationwide in Trinidad and Tobago. It also was shown in cinemas across the Caribbean parts of the United States, and in London. Actual sales figures are not known. Another Caribbean movie "The Cutlass" was also shown in cinemas across the Caribbean. The production team wanted to take charge of the distribution of their film to boost their earnings from it. They have also secured marketing partnerships with international sales agents to get their film in cinemas outside of the Caribbean.
But these experiences, which still need to be quantified with sales figures, are rare for feature films from the Anglophone Caribbean.
But Marc Woods sees diversification as the solution to the distribution problem. He, and his partner Neigeme Glasgow, run a multilingual Caribbean film festival, in London. Currently on hiatus, he says “Caribbean Film Corner was trying to be a place so we could unify and show our similarities to ourselves first and then show Europe, in their languages, how we have become what we are taking from our colonial influence and made into our own”.
In some countries it is said movie goers don't like subtitled movies. Marc doesn't believe that's true for the Caribbean., he tells teleSUR, "I think the subtitles helped us see that we saying the same things, just in another language."
The vibrant film festival circuit is also providing a pathway to a more encompassing film industry. Dr. Bruce Paddington is the Founder and Director of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival which is over 10 years old. He says “At these festivals, regional filmmakers are networking with other filmmakers, attending training workshops and other industry events, making contacts for co-productions and marketing and distribution agents.”
Today, however, even the more experienced film systems, such as the one in Cuba are finding that partnerships are the way to go. While its film industry extends to the 1959 revolution, and its cadre of films is of the highest quality, Dr. Paddington says that Cuban filmmakers are “having more and more to rely on co-production partners from other countries.”
But regional cooperation is more than just a way for fledgling industries eek out content. As Marc says, the individual islands don't have the potential audience numbers to support Caribbean films. In other words, “Nigeria and African cinema could shout because their global expat population is huge”.
With a population of about 39 million, the entire Caribbean could make itself visible on the global stage by financing and enjoying it's own movies.
“I want people to understand that if we come together as a Caribbean workforce and Caribbean storytellers, not only will we widen our potential audience but we will also widen our potential pool of resources,” says Mandisa Pantin.
Extending their vision beyond their geographical borders, to embrace the wider Caribbean could be the solution to regional filmmaker's struggle to get their film in front of audiences. A regional film agency could possibly support the marketing of films across islands, in the many languages of the Caribbean.
But on Tuesday 19, 2017 the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival hosted a screening of the film adaptation of “Green Days by the River” the Michael Anthony book. This film has generated much interest in Trinidad, since the book was a secondary school literature mainstay. While the auditorium at the National Performing Arts Center was filled to capacity, with some people paying as much as US$30, for their tickets to the film, when the 85-years old author Michael Anthony walked on stage, he said, “I hope that you enjoy my little story.”
He's not alone in that wish. The region filmmakers join Anthony in the hope that not only can their films find favor with the regional viewers, but that Caribbean films can find a steady audience so that they could continue to make them.