6-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​C​C​N​.​6​-​2.9 | Simp­son | Solomon PDF


HYANCINTH SIMPSON | RYERSON UNIVERSITY

THE CARIBBEAN, ON SCREEN:
CONVERSATION WITH FRANCES-ANNE SOLOMON

For the past decade, Toron­to has played host to the annu­al Caribbean­Tales Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, an impor­tant mile­stone mark­ing the glob­al emer­gence of a rich and vibrant Caribbean film and tele­vi­sion indus­try. Each year the fes­ti­val brings some of the best Caribbean-focused fea­ture-length dra­mas, doc­u­men­taries, and shorts to audi­ences in Toron­to. Run­ning for approx­i­mate­ly 10 days in Sep­tem­ber, the film fes­ti­val is one of the more vis­i­ble under­tak­ings of the Caribbean­Tales brand.

Found­ed by the UK-born, Trinidad-raised, Cana­di­an film­mak­er Frances-Anne Solomon, Caribbean­Tales is com­prised of a group of com­pa­nies whose mis­sion is to cre­ate infra­struc­ture and build net­works to facil­i­tate the growth of a film and tele­vi­sion indus­try that bol­sters the Caribbean cul­tur­al­ly and eco­nom­i­cal­ly and cements fruit­ful con­nec­tions between region­al and dias­poric pop­u­la­tions. Caribbean­Tales’ three-pronged busi­ness model—production, mar­ket­ing, and distribution—is aimed at ensur­ing the industry’s sus­tain­abil­i­ty over the long term as well as its reach into inter­na­tion­al mar­kets.

Caribbean­Tales and Solomon’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with film com­mis­sions, broad­cast­ing com­pa­nies, gov­ern­ments, fund­ing bod­ies, and con­tent mak­ers across the region and the dias­po­ra pro­motes com­ple­men­tar­i­ty; these syn­er­gis­tic rela­tion­ships will go a long way in ensur­ing a strong and vital Caribbean-cen­tred indus­try that can hold its own along­side the Hol­ly­woods, Bol­ly­woods, and Nol­ly­woods in the years to come.

I sat down with Solomon in 2014 to talk about the Caribbean­Tales Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, the vision behind and the work being done under the Caribbean­Tales ban­ner, and her own work as a film­mak­er.


Web_FAS BBC 1990HS: You were telling me just now that you were born in the UK, grew up in Trinidad, and then first came to Cana­da when you were eigh­teen.

FAS: Yes, I attend­ed uni­ver­si­ty here. I stud­ied The­atre Arts at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. I went to Europe after I fin­ished my stud­ies. I want­ed to trav­el and, as I was a British cit­i­zen, I end­ed up in Eng­land where I got a job at the BBC. This was right after the riots in 1986.

HS: Brix­ton?

FAS: Yes, Brix­ton, Handsworth, Man­ches­ter, Sheffield, Leeds. Every­thing was in flames. Black peo­ple were burn­ing the place down, and in the after­math of that the BBC was look­ing for peo­ple of colour. That was maybe the one and only time. They’re not doing it now [laughs]. I was accept­ed into the two-year BBC pro­duc­tion trainee pro­gram. It gave me up to six months’ prac­ti­cal work expe­ri­ence in dif­fer­ent depart­ments: tele­vi­sion dra­ma, local radio, news, and doc­u­men­taries. I applied for and worked as a radio dra­ma pro­duc­er for three years, then moved back to tele­vi­sion where I worked as a script edi­tor in the Dra­ma Depart­ment, and lat­er as a pro­duc­er and an exec­u­tive pro­duc­er.

HS: So you were at the BBC for a num­ber of years?

FAS: Yes, 12 years. It was an extra­or­di­nary expe­ri­ence for me because at that time the envi­ron­ment was high­ly politi­cized. In the late eight­ies, a lot of inter­est­ing things were going on. There was the Black Work­shop Move­ment. John Akom­frah, with the Black Audio Film Col­lec­tive, was a con­tem­po­rary. There was also Sankofa—a group of young, black film­mak­ers that includ­ed Isaac Julian and Nadine Marsh-Edwards. There was anoth­er work­shop called Ced­do led by Imruh Bakari Cae­sar and Mene­lik Shabazz. They were all pro­duc­ing very inter­est­ing, exper­i­men­tal, and polit­i­cal work from a Black British per­spec­tive. Espe­cial­ly after the riots, there emerged an analy­sis around class, race, gen­der, and sex­u­al­i­ty in the late eight­ies that real­ly opened my mind. It was a very dif­fer­ent scene from what I had expe­ri­enced in Cana­da and Trinidad.

And then the BBC itself was an extra­or­di­nary insti­tu­tion because here you had a ver­ti­cal­ly inte­grat­ed orga­ni­za­tion that cre­at­ed, pro­duced, and broad­cast orig­i­nal con­tent for a rapt audi­ence. British audi­ences were then com­plete­ly involved in local tele­vi­sion. Every­one sat down to watch Coro­na­tion Street and Eas­t­en­ders. Every­one watched event dra­mas like Prime Sus­pect or the dete­ri­o­rat­ing rela­tion­ship between Prince Charles and Princess Diana. Every­one knew what was going on in the coun­try. They were involved in the pol­i­tics, in the place, in the events, and the per­son­al­i­ties. It was very much a com­mu­ni­ty, and tele­vi­sion tied the com­mu­ni­ty togeth­er. The BBC was part of that. Also, at that time every­thing was pro­duced in-house. There was a very direct rela­tion­ship between what the Cor­po­ra­tion pro­duced and its audi­ences. Peo­ple would call pro­duc­ers on the phone and write let­ters. They were involved. So you felt like you were doing some­thing inte­gral and worth­while, that you were part of some­thing. In Britain, pub­lic tele­vi­sion and radio, the BBC, is paid for by the audi­ence, by the view­ers. Every­one who owns a tele­vi­sion set pays a license fee and that mon­ey goes back into pro­gram pro­duc­tion. It’s an extra­or­di­nary mod­el, actu­al­ly. As far as I know, noth­ing quite like it exists else­where. Pub­lic tele­vi­sion in the States is very dif­fer­ent, for exam­ple. It’s depen­dent on dona­tions, where­as in Britain pub­lic tele­vi­sion is based on the prin­ci­ples of “Inform and Edu­cate.” It’s the people’s mon­ey. They’re engaged with it; they own it.

HS: So you honed your skills in those years at the BBC. Was that where you began work­ing on your own films, the ear­ly ones such as What My Moth­er Told Me and I Is A Long Mem­o­ried Woman?

FAS: As well as work­ing for the BBC at that time, I also had my own com­pa­ny, Leda Serene Films. Ini­tial­ly, there were three of us: Ingrid Lewis, Inge Black­man, and myself, all Black women who want­ed to devel­op work by Black women. I pro­duced sev­er­al films, like the ones you men­tioned. We also pro­duced a series of short films called Siren Spir­its that were writ­ten, direct­ed, and pro­duced by women of colour. They includ­ed short films by Ngozi Onwu­rah, Rahi­la Gup­ta, and Prat­i­b­ha Par­ma. Par­al­lel to that, at the BBC, I also ini­ti­at­ed and pro­duced a series of full-length dra­mas called Black Screen. These were 60-90 minute films writ­ten, direct­ed, and pro­duced by peo­ple of colour. Among these were Flight, writ­ten by Ben­gali writer Tani­ka Gup­ta, and Speak like a Child, direct­ed by the British-Ghana­ian John Akom­frah.

HS: What made you return to Cana­da?

FAS: I hit a glass ceil­ing and real­ly need­ed to be out of that envi­ron­ment. In the 1990s there was a huge push­back against diver­si­ty in Britain. Stephen Lawrence, a young Black man, was mur­dered around that time. Do you remem­ber that? From the way that the case was han­dled by author­i­ties and report­ed in the press, I real­ized that lit­tle had changed despite all our efforts. Racism was alive and unmove­able. Simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, all the diver­si­ty pro­grams were cut and the pro­gres­sion for­ward that we had achieved was reversed. There did not seem to be any future for the work I want­ed to do in Eng­land.

HS: The British were set in their ways?

FAS: It was more like spi­ralling back­wards, a sur­re­al and crazy-mak­ing expe­ri­ence. So I decid­ed to come to Cana­da. I had a roman­tic image of this coun­try based on my expe­ri­ence of study­ing the­atre here at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to. I imag­ined that Cana­da was a more inclu­sive place than Britain and that there would be more sup­port here for the diverse and inde­pen­dent work I aimed to do. My moth­er also lives here. So I decid­ed to come back and com­mit myself full-time to my life-long dream of being an inde­pen­dent, rather than work­ing from with­in the con­straints of an inevitably racist insti­tu­tion. I decid­ed to work full-time to build a body of work that reflect­ed my beliefs, my her­itage, my own back­ground, and sto­ries. It was rather naïve, I sup­pose.

Like I said, work­ing for the BBC was a great learn­ing expe­ri­ence for me because you had this orga­ni­za­tion that cre­at­ed, pro­duced, exhib­it­ed, and sold con­tent to a rapt audi­ence who paid for it. It’s a ver­ti­cal­ly inte­grat­ed mod­el and it is sus­tain­able. I felt that’s real­ly what we as Black peo­ple, as peo­ple of colour, as Caribbean peo­ple, need­ed to devel­op in terms of our own work. That’s what we don’t have.

At that time, the Inter­net was com­ing on stream. Mar­ket­ing was becom­ing eas­i­er because of the glob­al reach of the World Wide Web. Pro­duc­tion equip­ment was becom­ing afford­able as a result of dig­i­tal tech­nol­o­gy. All those things that usu­al­ly made it pro­hib­i­tive for peo­ple with­out access to the means of pro­duc­tion to reclaim their sto­ries were begin­ning to open up. I start­ed Caribbean­Tales with that vision in mind.

HS: This was around when?

FAS: Caribbean­Tales was incor­po­rat­ed in 2001. The vision for Caribbean­Tales from the very begin­ning was this: cre­at­ing a ver­ti­cal­ly inte­grat­ed and sus­tain­able pro­duc­tion, pro­mo­tion, and dis­tri­b­u­tion vehi­cle that uses the Inter­net, dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies, and new media to engage audi­ences. Right away we cre­at­ed an audio­vi­su­al Inter­net plat­form called Caribbean​Tales​.ca and we cre­at­ed projects like Lit­er­a­ture Alive.

HS: I remem­ber watch­ing the Lit­er­a­ture Alive pro­files of Caribbean-Cana­di­an writ­ers and artists when they aired on Cana­di­an tele­vi­sion back in the mid-2000s. You pro­duced a lot of con­tent for that series.

FAS: Yes, we made 20 of those short films as well as an inter­ac­tive web­site.

HS: You seem to have an inter­est in cre­at­ing con­tent for schools, in pro­vid­ing stu­dents and their instruc­tors with mate­r­i­al that wouldn’t nor­mal­ly be read­i­ly avail­able to them.

FAS: It’s a pet peeve of mine that when I was grow­ing up we didn’t have much access to Caribbean lit­er­a­ture, to Caribbean his­to­ry, or to sto­ries about our­selves. I had to dis­cov­er all that—who we are, where we came from—on my own. Since then, I have seen how espe­cial­ly young peo­ple can be trans­formed through dis­cov­er­ing and recon­nect­ing with their her­itage. I find that in Caribbean dias­poric cen­tres like Toron­to a lot of young peo­ple feel lost. They find them­selves mar­gin­al­ized by the larg­er soci­ety and they end up defin­ing them­selves by that exclu­sion rather than from a pos­i­tive sense that they come from some­where and that they are part of an impor­tant and rich her­itage. Through this under­stand­ing, they learn that, as Caribbean peo­ple, they are part of an incred­i­ble sto­ry that belongs to them, and that sto­ry goes way back to indige­nous cul­tures, to Africa, India, Chi­na, Lebanon—to all major civ­i­liza­tions.

HS: I’ve used some of the Lit­er­a­ture Alive films and audio mate­ri­als in the class­room with great suc­cess on occa­sions that I’ve taught Caribbean and Cana­di­an lit­er­a­ture at Ryer­son. Stu­dents of dif­fer­ent cul­tur­al back­grounds and eth­nic­i­ties relate very well to the inti­mate por­traits of Caribbean-Cana­di­an authors pro­vid­ed in the doc­u­men­taries. I’ve also found that my Cana­di­an stu­dents of Caribbean her­itage seem to find a sense of val­i­da­tion in these mate­ri­als. They find a sense of belong­ing.

FAS: That’s won­der­ful. Thank you. Belong­ing, com­mu­ni­ty, iden­ti­ty, con­fi­dence, role mod­els, yes. It’s huge­ly impor­tant. Col­o­niz­ers and slave mas­ters knew exact­ly what they were doing by tak­ing away our sto­ries, and even now our cul­ture, and try­ing to get us to be like them. Because by doing that, they take away a person’s and a community’s strength. We find it more dif­fi­cult to resist when we don’t know who we are. But once we start resist­ing, those in pow­er must nego­ti­ate Equal­i­ty and Dif­fer­ence. This is why I believe so strong­ly in the pow­er of sto­ry­telling. It is not a lux­u­ry. It is essen­tial to the sur­vival of human beings, of cul­tures, of races. We need to talk about the things that have hap­pened to us and tell our sto­ries, indi­vid­u­al­ly and as com­mu­ni­ties, of how we got through and how we sur­vived. We need to pass our sto­ries on from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion in order to con­tin­ue to evolve.

HS: Lit­er­a­ture Alive was an impor­tant ven­ture into con­tent pro­duc­tion for Caribbean­Tales and is a valu­able resource for many of us. Around that time weren’t you also pro­duc­ing con­tent through Leda Serene Films?

FAS: Yes, there was Lord Have Mer­cy! and A Win­ter Tale.

HS: I remem­ber when A Win­ter Tale first came out [in 2007]. It hit hard at the heart of the tense racial atmos­phere that’s always there bub­bling under the sur­face in Toron­to, some­times explod­ing into violence—with the atten­dant stig­ma­tiz­ing and pro­fil­ing of Black/Caribbean com­mu­ni­ties. As well, all 13 episodes of Lord Have Mer­cy! were so enjoy­able and affirm­ing to watch when they aired on Cana­di­an tele­vi­sion back in 2003. The series gen­er­at­ed quite a buzz among tele­vi­sion audi­ences at the time and it was great when the show was nom­i­nat­ed for two Gem­i­ni [Acad­e­my of Cana­di­an Cin­e­ma & Tele­vi­sion] awards. What’s the rela­tion between Caribbean­Tales and Leda Serene Films?

FAS: Well, Leda Serene was a com­pa­ny that I cre­at­ed in Eng­land to devel­op my own work and I have con­tin­ued to use it for that pur­pose in Cana­da. Caribbean­Tales was a larg­er vision with a wider ambi­tion and man­date than my per­son­al vision and sto­ries. The goal for Caribbean­Tales is to cre­ate a glob­al Caribbean dias­poric film indus­try using the Inter­net and dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies. In 2013 Caribbean­Tales became a char­i­ty and that cement­ed its pub­lic-ser­vice man­date.

HS: A very vis­i­ble part of Caribbean­Tales’ man­date is the annu­al Caribbean­Tales Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val (CTFF), held in Toron­to. How and when did CTFF begin?

FAS: In 2006 a friend of mine approached me and said: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a film fes­ti­val dur­ing Carib­ana [the annu­al Caribbean car­ni­val cel­e­bra­tions in Toron­to]? You have so much con­tent between Caribbean­Tales and Leda Serene. All we have to do is get a cin­e­ma and you could show all the films—all the won­der­ful sto­ries of authors like Ram­abai [Espinet] and Hon­or [Ford Smith] and many oth­ers.” So I said OK, and that week­end we were screen­ing films in the cin­e­ma at the Nation­al Film Board of Canada’s facil­i­ties on John Street in Toron­to. We had man­aged to get the cin­e­ma for free. I felt like, OK, is it real­ly this easy? You see, one of the biggest chal­lenges for us as so-called “niche” con­tent cre­ators is exhi­bi­tion. It’s get­ting peo­ple to see our work. It’s engag­ing audi­ences. It’s get­ting dis­trib­u­tors and film fes­ti­vals to take you on when they don’t rec­og­nize that there is even a voice. At the time we did not have a brand, a pres­ence. You know what I mean? For exam­ple, there’s no such thing at this time as Caribbean Film Stud­ies.

HS: I’ve heard that so many times.

FAS: It’s a big prob­lem. But once we cre­at­ed the fes­ti­val and saw the audi­ence response—saw that we could get our own the­atre and show our own films, and that peo­ple would come, and we could cre­ate a brand, we could build an audi­ence, and grow an appetite for our own sto­ries —then I became hooked on the idea of hav­ing an annu­al fes­ti­val to mar­ket, cre­ate a brand, and engage. The sec­ond year, in 2007, we part­nered with the new Trinidad and Toba­go Film Com­pa­ny which was, at that point, emerg­ing as well. The recent devel­op­ments in the indus­try in Trinidad have emerged par­al­lel to Caribbean­Tales. That sec­ond year we showed films from Trinidad and its diaspora—from Horace Ové, Inge Black­man, and oth­er film­mak­ers in Eng­land that I knew well.

HS: All of Trinida­di­an her­itage?

FAS: Yes, Trinida­di­an. Horace was the first Black film­mak­er to make a fea­ture film, ever. He’s from Trinidad. Inge, now Camp­bell X, is also from Trinidad. She’s an extra­or­di­nary and impor­tant queer film­mak­er of colour. There were also films from Cana­da, for exam­ple from the Chi­nese-Trinida­di­an film­mak­er Janine Fung, among oth­ers. It was very inter­est­ing to draw togeth­er all the dif­fer­ent voic­es from around the dias­po­ra and have them under one ban­ner as film­mak­ers of Trinida­di­an her­itage.

The next year the Jamaican Con­sulate invit­ed us to do the same thing for Jamaica. That was great because Jamaica has such a rec­og­niz­able brand. We got big­ger audi­ences that year than before just by pro­mot­ing, you know, Brand Jamaica.

HS: Was the film fes­ti­val still con­nect­ed to Carib­ana in those years? I recall that the ear­li­er film fes­ti­vals were all done in late July to ear­ly August, the same time peri­od for the Carib­ana fes­tiv­i­ties.

FAS: Yes, it was. Then in 2009 we part­nered with the Caribbean Stud­ies pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Toron­to and its then-direc­tor Alis­sa Trotz. The fes­ti­val was held at the Uni­ver­si­ty for a cou­ple of years.

2010 was a turn­ing point. I went to Bar­ba­dos that year. I had can­cer. I was offered a teach­ing job at the uni­ver­si­ty there and thought that would be a nice thing to do while I was recov­er­ing. I couldn’t work too much because I was under­go­ing chemo. I end­ed up hold­ing a film fes­ti­val there that year, and the Best of Caribbean­Tales Film Fes­ti­val ran in Bar­ba­dos for three years.

HS: You also held the film fes­ti­val at the Har­bourfront Cen­tre a cou­ple of times. That’s a prime Toron­to loca­tion for the best of cul­tur­al events.

FAS: We held the fes­ti­val there from 2011 to 2013, thanks to the kind sup­port of Melanie Fer­nan­dez.

HS: Did using such a well-known cul­tur­al hub give the film fes­ti­val greater vis­i­bil­i­ty?

FAS: Yes, and legit­i­ma­cy, I believe.

HS: Now [in 2014] the film fes­ti­val is at The Roy­al [a sec­ond-run indie/art movie the­atre cum post-pro­duc­tion stu­dio on Col­lege Street in Toron­to]. What response has the film fes­ti­val had from the Caribbean com­mu­ni­ty and the film-going pub­lic at large in Toron­to over the years? For exam­ple, did hold­ing CTFF at a high-pro­file venue like the Har­bourfront Cen­tre help bring in larg­er audi­ences?

FAS: Actu­al­ly, we had big­ger audi­ences this year than when we were at Har­bourfront. The Roy­al is more acces­si­ble to our audi­ences, more cen­tral. But Har­bourfront is a fan­tas­tic venue.

HS: We’ve talked so far about two of the media com­pa­nies under the Caribbean­Tales ban­ner: Caribbean​Tales​.ca and the Caribbean­Tales Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val. There is also Caribbean­Tales World­wide Dis­tri­b­u­tion (CTWD). When and how did CTWD come into being and what’s its pur­pose?

FAS: Being in Bar­ba­dos was an oppor­tune moment. I was for­tu­nate to come into con­tact with The Bar­ba­dos Busi­ness Enter­prise Trust, a com­pa­ny that was offer­ing small amounts of ven­ture cap­i­tal to entre­pre­neurs to devel­op inno­v­a­tive ideas aimed at diver­si­fy­ing the Bar­ba­di­an econ­o­my. There was talk about devel­op­ing the cul­tur­al indus­tries as an alter­na­tive to our tra­di­tion­al agri­cul­ture- and tourism-based mod­els. I part­nered with Dr. Kei­th Nurse, then Direc­tor of the Shri­dath Ram­phal Cen­tre for Inter­na­tion­al Trade Law, Pol­i­cy and Ser­vices in Bar­ba­dos; Dr. Ter­rence Far­rell, an econ­o­mist from Trinidad; Mary Wells, the Jamaican writer and direc­tor; and also Lisa Wick­ham, an estab­lished pro­duc­er from Trinidad. With­in the con­text of the film fes­ti­val we had in Bar­ba­dos, we felt that it was impor­tant not just to show films but also to begin a dis­cus­sion in the region about mak­ing our con­tent mar­ketable. In order to devel­op an indus­try for the Caribbean and not just a brand “in for­eign,” we felt we need­ed to con­ceive of, and con­struct an infra­struc­ture for, a sus­tain­able indus­try that allows for cre­at­ing jobs, build­ing com­ple­men­tary sec­tors, and devel­op­ing income streams to mon­e­tize and pro­fes­sion­al­ize the poten­tial of the audio­vi­su­al indus­tries to enhance the region and con­tribute to its eco­nom­ic growth.

As we began to talk in those terms, it became impor­tant that we engage the emerg­ing film­mak­ers in ques­tions like: Who is your audi­ence? Where is your mar­ket? How do you go from “Oh, I want to tell this sto­ry” as a hob­by to “I want to have a career and hire peo­ple and con­tribute to the econ­o­my and be part of the whole pic­ture?”

We began to talk about build­ing a Caribbean film indus­try. That was very impor­tant because the islands are insu­lar in their tastes and con­cerns. When you’re in Bar­ba­dos they’re talk­ing about Bar­ba­dos. In Trinidad they’re talk­ing about Trinidad. But you can­not build an indus­try from sep­a­rate audi­ences of tiny frag­ment­ed islands.

HS: Because it’s all the Caribbean.

FAS: From an inter­na­tion­al per­spec­tive, it’s all the Caribbean. In terms of build­ing an indus­try this becomes even more impor­tant. Trinidad can­not have an indus­try all by itself because it’s only one and a half mil­lion peo­ple. Bar­ba­dos is a quar­ter of a mil­lion peo­ple.

HS: And Jamaica is only, like what, a lit­tle over two and a half mil­lion?

FAS: Yes. These are not large enough audi­ences to sus­tain and recoup the costs of pro­duc­tion and turn a prof­it. There needs to be a wider region­al, dias­poric, and glob­al audi­ence base to sus­tain the indus­try.

It’s nec­es­sary to draw on all the pop­u­la­tions that might have an inter­est in these kinds of stories—our stories—and look at the poten­tial for audi­ences across lin­guis­tic lines and across bod­ies of water, and then draw in the immi­grant pop­u­la­tions in the dias­po­ra who have a hunger and nos­tal­gic need to be con­nect­ed to the Caribbean. There are huge pop­u­la­tions of Caribbean peo­ple in North Amer­i­ca and in Europe.

And it’s not just where peo­ple in the Caribbean have migrat­ed to, but also where they’ve come from. So you’re talk­ing, then, about the whole of the African dias­po­ra as well as South and Cen­tral Amer­i­ca who share with us, very fun­da­men­tal­ly, many aspects of our his­to­ry and cul­ture. There is also India and Chi­na, the Caribbean has pop­u­la­tions of Lebanese and Jew­ish immi­grants, as well as com­mu­ni­ties with many dif­fer­ent Euro­pean ances­tries (French, Span­ish, Dutch, Ger­man, and Por­tuguese). All these her­itage cul­tures are poten­tial audi­ences for our sto­ries.

We start­ed Caribbean­Tales World­wide Dis­tri­b­u­tion with this man­date right after the fes­ti­val in Bar­ba­dos in 2010 and we decid­ed to have an inter­na­tion­al launch for the com­pa­ny in Cana­da. Well, it didn’t make sense to launch a film-dis­tri­b­u­tion busi­ness dur­ing Carib­ana, so we decid­ed to do it dur­ing TIFF [the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val] in order to make the world know that we’re here. And since we were launch­ing our com­pa­ny dur­ing TIFF, what bet­ter way to do it than pair it with our film fes­ti­val? So we moved CTFF to Sep­tem­ber to run along­side TIFF.

HS: How do you go about ensur­ing that you have a steady stream of the qual­i­ty con­tent you talked about to show, mar­ket, and dis­trib­ute? Does the Caribbean­Tales Incu­ba­tor Pro­gram play a role in this?

FAS: The idea for the Incu­ba­tor came about because of our deci­sion to devel­op Caribbean film­mak­ing as a busi­ness through CTWD. We decid­ed to link CTWD’s man­date to a train­ing pro­gram that gives Caribbean dias­po­ra film­mak­ers the oppor­tu­ni­ty to expe­ri­ence an inter­na­tion­al mar­ket envi­ron­ment. Because in order to sell con­tent we need to have con­tent that is both mar­ketable and saleable. We need to train film­mak­ers about the require­ments for sell­ing con­tent inter­na­tion­al­ly. So that’s how the Incu­ba­tor start­ed. That first year we brought togeth­er 26 film­mak­ers and 15 stake­hold­ers from all over the Caribbean, and it was inter­est­ing because the impact was that they bond­ed and they got an edu­ca­tion. A lot of them had nev­er been to an inter­na­tion­al film fes­ti­val or mar­ket before. They were able to meet lots of indus­try peo­ple.

HS: Oth­er Caribbean film­mak­ers?

FAS: Oth­er Caribbean film­mak­ers, yes. But they also got a chance to see close-up the mon­ster that is the inter­na­tion­al film and tele­vi­sion indus­try. Their atti­tudes before­hand were along the lines of: “I’m a film­mak­er because I’m mak­ing a five-minute, no-bud­get film about my belly­but­ton, or my moth­er.” Or some­thing. Of course, I exag­ger­ate. How­ev­er, in real­i­ty, what they are up against is a 60-mil­lion dol­lar film by James Cameron, which has a 10-mil­lion dol­lar mar­ket­ing bud­get. As a film­mak­er you need to real­ly deal with that. Not just with James Cameron and his pow­er and his bud­get, but also with the machin­ery and mar­ket­ing pow­er of Hol­ly­wood. And you’re who? A what film­mak­er? From where? You have to deal with the real­i­ty of just how rough the busi­ness is in terms of mar­ket dom­i­na­tion. How dif­fi­cult it is to cre­ate not just a brand for your­self but for a whole region. It is for us as a region to say OK, this is not just one per­son mak­ing a film. We come from some­where. We have a voice and an iden­ti­ty. We are a move­ment. We are a brand. And because there were over 30 peo­ple here that year, we were able to make a small splash. One of our film­mak­ers put it well. She said, “There is more pow­er in more peo­ple.” Before we pro­duced the first Incu­ba­tor many peo­ple told me, “Don’t do it. Don’t even both­er to bring your lit­tle team of who­ev­er to TIFF. It’s not a good idea because first of all, the indus­try, and TIFF, aren’t into Black peo­ple.” And that’s the ele­phant in the room, right?

HS: Ha! And can Black peo­ple pro­duce any­thing of qual­i­ty any­way?

FAS: That’s right. We don’t cre­ate qual­i­ty. I was told: “We know this, and so it would be a waste of your time. It will be embar­rass­ing for you. Don’t do it.” But over 30 peo­ple were noticed. There was a sense that there’s a con­tin­gent here from the Caribbean. It made a dif­fer­ence. So, I thought, OK. Fine. Now we build on that.

HS: Let me see if I have this right. The Caribbean­Tales Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val was moved to Sep­tem­ber in 2010, the same year that Caribbean­Tales World­wide Dis­tri­b­u­tion was launched dur­ing the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val? And the inau­gur­al Caribbean­Tales Incu­ba­tor was also held, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val, that same year? And since then both CTFF and the Incu­ba­tor are held at the same time as TIFF?

FAS: Right.

HS: So, are the incu­ba­tees able to attend ses­sions along­side oth­er TIFF par­tic­i­pants and see how Warn­er Broth­ers and oth­er big­wigs man­age sales and dis­tri­b­u­tion? They get to see how deals are made, how to present their work to poten­tial buy­ers, and that sort of thing?

FAS: Exact­ly. They get an oppor­tu­ni­ty to see how the big guys “run tings.” We have a deal with TIFF where our incu­ba­tees get a spe­cial price on indus­try pass­es so they can par­tic­i­pate in TIFF while they are doing the Incu­ba­tor. We also pro­duce our own pitch­ing ses­sion at the end of each Incu­ba­tor. The pitch­ing ses­sion is becom­ing more and more pop­u­lar.

HS: How does the pitch­ing ses­sion work? Who attends?

FAS: The pitch­ing session—called The Big Pitch—takes the form of a Caribbean Break­fast and Pitch and takes place at the Light­box [the TIFF Bell Light­box Build­ing, head­quar­ters of the Toron­to Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val]. We are inside the TIFF build­ing. It’s very easy for indus­try del­e­gates, who are attend­ing TIFF from all around the world, to come to us. This year, there were six thou­sand peo­ple in Toron­to for TIFF and we had around 80 in atten­dance at our Big Pitch. We feel that it was a suc­cess.

HS: Are you tar­get­ing the behind-the-scenes peo­ple in the indus­try? The movers and the shak­ers?

FAS: That is the idea, yes. We care­ful­ly hand-select and invite from that inter­na­tion­al group those del­e­gates who might be inter­est­ed in our con­tent.

HS: Hol­ly­wood peo­ple too?

FAS: Hol­ly­wood is not our audi­ence, though. I think it’s been impor­tant for me to say this. We are build­ing our audi­ences. We’re not com­pet­ing for these so-called main­stream white audi­ences because they don’t do busi­ness with us, right? We are build­ing our own indus­try. We’re not inter­est­ed in being part of an indus­try that is not inter­est­ed in us. It’s like try­ing to have an affair with some­body who doesn’t want you, has no inter­est in you. At all. Why would you do that to your­self? It’s stu­pid. We’re doing some­thing com­plete­ly new and dif­fer­ent. We are build­ing our own audi­ences. Our tar­get audi­ences are glob­al.

For exam­ple, at our Incu­ba­tor last year a pro­duc­er stood up after­wards and said, “I thought all the pitch­es were fan­tas­tic. The sto­ries were amaz­ing. I think it’s won­der­ful! The only thing I won­dered about was why you guys didn’t talk about how any of this is rel­e­vant to Cana­di­an tele­vi­sion. This is Cana­da and you real­ly need to think about how you’re going to tar­get your con­tent for Cana­di­an audi­ences.” And our Facil­i­ta­tor replied, “Caribbean­Tales World­wide Dis­tri­b­u­tion is just that. We cre­ate con­tent from a Caribbean per­spec­tive for world­wide dis­tri­b­u­tion. We do not cater to nar­row niche audi­ences whether in Cana­da or else­where.” I was just so pleased with the way she said that we are the world. Our audi­ences are every­where, and we are not a minor­i­ty. If any­body is nar­row and in a minor­i­ty it’s per­haps Cana­di­an broad­cast­ers who have no clue about the glob­al con­text beyond the cou­ple hun­dred-thou­sand peo­ple who watch their local pro­gram­ming. Real­ly, I’m not inter­est­ed in them any longer. I’ve moved beyond that. We need to embrace the par­a­digm shift from try­ing to cater to what white, colo­nial (whether Amer­i­can or Euro­pean) buy­ers and audi­ences want to focus­ing instead on what we as peo­ple of colour work­ing in a glob­al con­text want to cre­ate; on what our audi­ences expect in terms of authen­tic, fresh, and orig­i­nal film and tele­vi­sion sto­ry­telling that reflects our diverse lives and expe­ri­ences now.

HS: And per­haps also rethink whether to con­tin­ue to strug­gle with work­ing with­in lim­it­ing insti­tu­tion­al struc­tures …

FAS: … when there is no space there for us. But now, because of the democ­ra­ti­za­tion of media, there’s an oppor­tu­ni­ty to reach audi­ences every­where through the Inter­net. There’s no need to go through the gate­keep­ers or have them fund you in order to reach your audi­ences. You can make your own con­tent and reach your own audi­ences and bypass that rub­bish. Notice that we’ve got the Caribbean, which is a huge and diverse region, and we’ve got the Caribbean dias­po­ra. We’ve got Africa, India, China—all of these cul­tur­al­ly rich and dif­fer­ent places that have fed our iden­ti­ties. We’ve got all the places that Caribbean peo­ple have come from his­tor­i­cal­ly and where they’ve migrat­ed to in recent times. And we have so many dif­fer­ent sto­ries, like [Richard Fung’s] Dal Puri Dias­po­ra. Or Hero, the fea­ture project that I’m doing now. More and more, peo­ple are see­ing it’s not a ques­tion of being a vic­tim or fight­ing against racism in a tiny lit­tle bub­ble, but about telling huge, epic, glob­al sto­ries about all the dif­fer­ent ways we are con­nect­ed and got to be where we are today. In Dal Puri Dias­po­ra, a Chi­nese-her­itage Caribbean per­son based in Toron­to tells the sto­ry of the Indi­an and African ori­gins of a Trinida­di­an dish called Roti. He trav­els the globe to tell that sto­ry. In Hero, we fol­low a char­ac­ter who was raised in the Caribbean, who fought in the Sec­ond World War, and who played an inte­gral role in the African lib­er­a­tion strug­gles. These are the sto­ries of the mod­ern Caribbean. They demon­strate just how colos­sal our reach is.

HS: As evi­denced in the siz­able turnout of film indus­try del­e­gates from the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty at this year’s Big Pitch.

FAS: And this year also the Incu­ba­tor has evolved. This is the fifth year we’re doing it. Each year, Caribbean-dias­po­ra con­tent-cre­ators bring their projects. We pick the best ones, which then get devel­oped through the Incu­ba­tor. This year, we decid­ed to con­cen­trate on long-run­ning series because it’s impor­tant for us to build sus­tain­abil­i­ty. You do one film and then it’s done. But with series you’re able to build audi­ences, get adver­tis­ers, and cre­ate audi­ence loy­al­ty over time. You’re build­ing capac­i­ty, sto­ry­lines, char­ac­ters, stars, inter­est, and spin-offs, all the while rais­ing mon­ey and employ­ing peo­ple. So we com­mit­ted to mak­ing long-run­ning series from this year, and the qual­i­ty of the projects was very promis­ing.

HS: Series for tele­vi­sion?

FAS: Tele­vi­sion and web. The Big Pitch win­ner was Defin­ing Moments, a Caribbean-wide doc­u­men­tary web series by Melis­sa Gomez [Antigua/New York]. The first run­ner-up was an ani­ma­tion series called Mag­nif­i­cent Mag­gie by Camille Selvon Abra­hams [Trinidad and Toba­go]. The sec­ond run­ner-up was a sci­ence-fic­tion series by Jelani Nias [Jamaica/Canada] about a young man try­ing to get out of a gang and he rein­vents him­self in a sci-fi world. Such diver­si­ty of sto­ry­telling, and all of it rel­e­vant.

HS: What’s being pitched?

FAS: The cre­ators are pitch­ing a pilot, but they’re pitch­ing the idea of a sus­tain­able, long-run­ning show.

HS: That will hope­ful­ly get picked up and then reach wide audi­ences. Speak­ing of which, I think it was at the 2011 CTFF that I first saw the Jamaican fea­ture film Ghett’a Life [direct­ed by Chris Browne]. I love that film. Then after­wards it was brought back to Cana­da for sev­er­al show­ings in var­i­ous cities across Ontario. I believe it out­per­formed Hol­ly­wood block­busters when it first showed in the­atres in Jamaica and became the high­est gross­ing film in the island that year. Wasn’t Ghett’a Life in one of the Incu­ba­tors?

FAS: It was in the sec­ond one.

HS: There was anoth­er film, Dou­bles with Slight Pep­per by Ian Harnar­ine, a first-time Cana­di­an film­mak­er of Trinida­di­an descent. Dou­bles was part of the first Incu­ba­tor. It got made the fol­low­ing year, end­ed up being screened dur­ing TIFF, and also won an award in that film fes­ti­val.

FAS: It won Best Cana­di­an Short Film at TIFF [in 2011] and the Genie [at the 32nd annu­al Acad­e­my of Cana­di­an Cin­e­ma and Tele­vi­sion Awards show in 2011] for Best Live Action Short film.

HS: So there are pos­si­ble crossovers?

FAS: Oh yes. We’ve had many suc­cess­es. One of our first incu­ba­tees, Rom­mel Hall [from Bar­ba­dos], came with a series con­cept called Keep­ing Up with the Jone­ses. He then went back to Bar­ba­dos and made the series there. He and his part­ners have now pro­duced three sea­sons of the show and have also made a Keep­ing Up with the Jone­ses Christ­mas spe­cial and fea­ture film. Hall is now mak­ing his sec­ond series: a class­room-based web series called Abi­o­la.

HS: That’s the idea, isn’t it? Because too many of us Caribbean peo­ple are still watch­ing Amer­i­can TV and oth­er non-Caribbean pro­duc­tions at the expense of our own. I met up with a cou­ple of friends of mine from high school and uni­ver­si­ty on Fri­day night to watch the screen­ing of the Jamaican film Kingston Par­adise, and after­wards we rem­i­nisced about grow­ing up with Jamaican tele­vi­sion series such as Lime Tree Lane and Roy­al Palm Estates. We had a good moment just remem­ber­ing. So it’s great to hear of sim­i­lar suc­cess­es for local­ly pro­duced tele­vi­sion, and now web series, in oth­er parts of the Caribbean; and of peo­ple watch­ing and sup­port­ing their own con­tent that reflects their lives. That’s the mar­ket.

FAS: Absolute­ly.

HS: We’ve been talk­ing a lot about what you are doing to help oth­ers cre­ate and pro­mote their work. But we haven’t talked much about your own film­mak­ing. Do you have any cur­rent projects?

FAS: Right now I’m mak­ing two films. I’m mak­ing Hero, which is the sto­ry of Ulric Cross. We shot in Trinidad, in Lon­don, and in Ghana. It’s being cut now. The film fol­lows Cross’ jour­ney. Cross was born into colo­nial times, was the most dec­o­rat­ed Caribbean ex-ser­vice­man in the Sec­ond World War, and then was part of the inde­pen­dence move­ments in Africa. He moved to Ghana in 1957 and worked with Kwame Nkrumah. Then he was the attor­ney gen­er­al in the Cameroon; and he was with Nyerere in Tan­za­nia for many years. The film takes on that whole sto­ry of the role that Caribbean intel­lec­tu­als played in cre­at­ing the con­cept of pan-African­ism, and the role that Caribbean peo­ple played in rebuild­ing Africa.

I find it such a mov­ing story—that we were tak­en from Africa and enslaved, and that 200 years lat­er chil­dren of that event would return and turn the tools of British edu­ca­tion to help with the rebuild­ing and lib­er­a­tion of Africa. There were lots of Caribbean peo­ple, pro­fes­sion­als as well as rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies and rad­i­cals, who went to Africa in the 1950s and 1960s to assist in this process and become part of the inde­pen­dence move­ments on the con­ti­nent. For exam­ple, the Trinida­di­an George Pad­more was Nkrumah’s men­tor. He trained Nkrumah’s mind based on his own train­ing under Trot­sky in Rus­sia as part of the Com­mu­nist Inter­na­tion­al. It’s real­ly impor­tant to under­stand that Caribbean peo­ple are not just the ridicu­lous stereo­types that we com­mon­ly hear about: thugs, and pimps, and beach bums. We’ve changed the course of his­to­ry. And we helped to redeem the crime that was com­mit­ted against Africa in the name of Euro­pean cap­i­tal­ism. We did that.

The oth­er film that I’m work­ing on is based on a sto­ry writ­ten by Oonya Kem­padoo about a young girl who runs away from a girls’ home and makes her way on the streets.

HS: When will these films be avail­able?

FAS: Next year. They’ve both been shot and they’re both com­ing out then.

HS: Going back to Caribbean­Tales—it has grown over the years into such a huge ven­ture. Or should I say ven­tures?

FAS: I’ll tell you how it breaks down. As I said in the begin­ning, the busi­ness mod­el is pro­duc­tion, mar­ket­ing, dis­tri­b­u­tion. Sus­tain­abil­i­ty is a cycle. Our pro­duc­tion arm now in terms of the con­glom­er­ate is Caribbean­Tales­Flix, and we’ve just pro­duced Kingston Par­adise [2013] by Mary Wells, the first Jamaican fea­ture film to be pro­duced and direct­ed by a woman. We have the film fes­ti­val, the film fes­ti­val group, which rep­re­sents mar­ket­ing. At one point in time we also had a fes­ti­val in Bar­ba­dos, a fes­ti­val in New York, and a fes­ti­val in Toron­to.

HS: Are those Caribbean­Tales film fes­ti­vals out­side of Toron­to ongo­ing?

FAS: I haven’t done the fes­ti­val in Bar­ba­dos for a cou­ple of years or the New York one either. We are con­cen­trat­ing on Toron­to. It would be nice, but it was too much. So we’ve decid­ed to con­sol­i­date our efforts. I con­tin­ue to have a base in Bar­ba­dos [where CTWD is based]. We would love to devel­op a base or roots in Africa. But the main mar­ket­ing event of our year is the film fes­ti­val in Toron­to. That’s why we decid­ed to re-brand it as the Caribbean­Tales Inter­na­tion­al Film Fes­ti­val.

HS: And that’s what peo­ple here in Toron­to, in the Caribbean, and inter­na­tion­al­ly will now rec­og­nize as the mar­ket­ing and fes­ti­val arm of Caribbean­Tales?

FAS: Yes. Hav­ing this plat­form in Toron­to dur­ing TIFF is unique. And the Incu­ba­tor has now real­ly defined itself and stands out as a high qual­i­ty train­ing ground. This year we got many com­mit­ments because of the qual­i­ty of the sto­ries and the film­mak­ers. The Incu­ba­tor has estab­lished itself as an impor­tant plat­form for film­mak­ers across the region and the dias­po­ra.

Web_FAS CT Barbados with Gina Belafonte

HS: I asked about the Caribbean­Tales film fes­ti­vals held out­side Toron­to because I’m think­ing of, for exam­ple, the vibrant film indus­try in Jamaica. Jamaican film­mak­ers have been pro­duc­ing fea­tures steadi­ly over the decades, and the films—such as Per­ry Henzell’s clas­sic The Hard­er They Come, Storm Saulter’s Bet­ter Mus’ Come, Chris Browne’s Ghett’a Life, and Mary Wells’ Kingston Par­adise—have played to enthu­si­as­tic audi­ences local­ly. How does Caribbean­Tales liaise with these and oth­er film­mak­ers and the var­i­ous pro­duc­tion out­lets and film com­mis­sions in the Caribbean to choose what gets exhib­it­ed dur­ing CTFF?

FAS: This year we got fund­ing from the Euro­pean Union [from the ACP­Cul­tures + Pro­gram] to build capac­i­ty and devel­op income streams for our work. So we are work­ing with the film com­mis­sions across the Caribbean to help devel­op mar­ket­ing and dis­tri­b­u­tion net­works for Caribbean film. What we’re doing is also being reflect­ed across the region. There is a lot of region­al activ­i­ty and invest­ment in terms of film devel­op­ment. It’s an excit­ing time; I mean, there still needs to be much more fund­ing and infra­struc­ture, but gen­er­al­ly it’s been very inter­est­ing in terms of what they’re able to do. As you’ve said, a film comes out of Jamaica from time to time. Trinidad is vibrant. There’s Guade­loupe that is able to ben­e­fit from fund­ing from France. Cuba is always inter­est­ing. The Domini­can Repub­lic has pro­duced sev­er­al films. There’s activ­i­ty com­ing out of Bar­ba­dos, even though they have no infra­struc­ture at all for film. There’s Rom­mel Hall as well as Shaki­rah Bourne and Sel­wyne Browne who are mak­ing their third fea­ture film in 18 months. There is some move­ment on the part of gov­ern­ments and film com­mis­sions, but there’s equal­ly lots of move­ment on the part of young peo­ple pick­ing up cam­eras and just doing it. And that’s real­ly excit­ing.

HS: On shoe­string bud­gets?

FAS: On noth­ing bud­gets. And telling their sto­ries. Films are get­ting made on smart phones. A qual­i­ty cam­era now is $1500. So young peo­ple are able to afford equip­ment they couldn’t before. And they’re just doing it.

HS: How do you find the films that get shown here at CTFF? Do you go to the Caribbean to seek them out? How do you vet them and decide what to show­case?

FAS: I’m a film­mak­er. So at this point, after a num­ber of years of work­ing in this indus­try, I do know a lot of the peo­ple who are in the indus­try. In terms of the selec­tion, we have a team of pro­gram­mers across the Caribbean who com­mu­ni­cate via Skype and view and select the films. This year, the pro­gram­mers includ­ed Christo­pher Pin­heiro, Man­disa Pan­tin, Mary Wells, Brid­get “Bee” Quam­mie, and a num­ber of oth­ers. Mary is based in Jamaica. Man­disa is in Trinidad. Christopher’s here in Toron­to. Bee is also here. The juries are also from all over. Because of the Inter­net we can get a glob­al response to the con­tent, both in terms of pro­gram­ming and judg­ing it. So that’s excit­ing. But the most sat­is­fy­ing part of all of this, for me, is build­ing healthy com­mu­ni­ties and shar­ing our sto­ries in a sus­tain­able way. I’m sure we’ve all felt at one point or anoth­er that we had no con­text for under­stand­ing who we were; we all felt odd and iso­lat­ed, and like we didn’t belong. The joy of the work that we do, that I do, is in see­ing peo­ple rec­og­nize them­selves on the screen and real­ize that their sto­ry is valid and won­der­ful. That peo­ple care and want to see and hear their sto­ry. That oth­ers are expe­ri­enc­ing some­thing sim­i­lar, and that they feel just as unique, and indi­vid­ual, and bizarre.

What defines us, in a way, as Caribbean peo­ple is dif­fer­ence, because of all the dif­fer­ent places we come from, and all of the dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ences we’ve had, and the silence around that. All the dif­fer­ent ways we went about con­struct­ing and remak­ing our exis­tences and the shar­ing of that is excit­ing and diverse and elec­tric and dynam­ic and con­nect­ing. It’s won­der­ful when you have Chi­nese peo­ple, and Indi­an peo­ple, old peo­ple, and young peo­ple, and mid­dling peo­ple, Ras­tas, and fem­i­nists, les­bians, and queer people—everybody. We’re all Caribbean. We can all feel that con­nec­tion because some­how we came from the same place or process of move­ment and migration—from colo­nial­ism.

HS: Speak­ing of dif­fer­ence, it was won­der­ful to see a film like Anti-Man [by Gavin Ramoutar of Guyana] at this year’s film fes­ti­val. It’s sen­si­tive, and real­is­tic, and heart­warm­ing, and heart-break­ing at the same time. The young lead’s act­ing was a bit stilt­ed, but that didn’t ruin the sto­ry, which is a beau­ti­ful explo­ration of friend­ship and betray­al and sex­u­al awak­en­ing and iden­ti­ty and how mas­culin­i­ty is defined in that spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al con­text. It seems to me that for the past three or four years a pro­gram­ming theme around Caribbean queer­ness has been emerg­ing in the festival—something like an attempt to open up space on cer­tain areas of Caribbean expe­ri­ence, and queer­ness is one such area of focus.

FAS: Well, I have to say that it’s been very dif­fi­cult to intro­duce that strand. For me it was impor­tant because one of the cen­tral things about my views of sto­ry­telling is dif­fer­ence. Because homo­sex­u­al­i­ty has been such a taboo in our soci­ety, it was impor­tant just to face it head-on and say that we stand for dif­fer­ence. We stand for equal­i­ty of human beings in every way. For human rights. I can­not tell you how dif­fi­cult it was. First of all, it was dif­fi­cult to stand in front of, for exam­ple, the Jamaican gov­ern­ment rep­re­sen­ta­tives and say we stand for queer Caribbean. And Black audi­ences, you know. The first year there was a deep silence when I announced our Queer Caribbean strand at the press con­fer­ence. Peo­ple just didn’t know what to make of that. And then, on the oth­er side of it, there was ini­tial resis­tance on the part of LGBT com­mu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate because they assumed …

HS: …that there’s going to be a hos­tile recep­tion?

FAS: I mean, just refusal on the part of a lot of peo­ple to par­tic­i­pate. This is the first year that we’ve man­aged to make it a smooth tran­si­tion. It was real­ly bumpy pri­or. I’m real­ly glad that we seem to have crossed some­thing and are part­ner­ing with a num­ber of queer orga­ni­za­tions. There is real excite­ment now about this pro­gram­ming.

HS: I haven’t seen any films direct­ly address­ing queer­ness as part of our sto­ry as Caribbean peo­ple come out of Jamaica yet. Or have I missed some­thing?

FAS: A num­ber of films have been made about homo­pho­bia. But you’re right. Not that you want to deny the vicious homo­pho­bia in our soci­eties, because they kill peo­ple, right? It’s dis­gust­ing. It’s hor­ren­dous. It’s a human rights tragedy—but what would be excit­ing, as you say, is to get the diverse sto­ries from the var­i­ous points-of-view, Queer as well as Trans­gen­der. And not only the com­ing-out sto­ry or the get-beat­en-up sto­ry, but all the dif­fer­ent kinds of artic­u­la­tions of those iden­ti­ties. I’m excit­ed by the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

HS: What you’ve just said remind­ed me of Shashi Baloo­ja [Trinidad/Antigua/Canada/US]. He par­tic­i­pat­ed in the Incu­ba­tor in 2013 with Ari­ana, a short film about a doc­tor and the man he was in a rela­tion­ship with and the prob­lems they had to deal with when the doctor’s grand­moth­er became ill. The film didn’t hold up the men’s rela­tion­ship for scruti­ny or com­ment. It was a sto­ry about fam­i­ly, just anoth­er of the many fam­i­ly sto­ries that we can tell. And that approach was a large part of the film’s pow­er and impact.

FAS: Yes, there are all kinds of pos­si­bil­i­ties that I am excit­ed to explore. Next year, we want to look at men­tal-health issues in the Caribbean. That, too, is a com­plete­ly taboo, elec­tri­fy­ing, and explo­sive sub­ject.

HS: We don’t talk about it. We hide them away, espe­cial­ly if they are in our fam­i­ly.

FAS: We put them into men­tal hos­pi­tals. They walk down the street naked. It’s a stereo­type, but we don’t engage with the human­i­ty of men­tal ill­ness, which is too obvi­ous­ly so preva­lent in a soci­ety trau­ma­tized by the kinds of his­tor­i­cal expe­ri­ences that we have been through. I think as a peo­ple we have all been wound­ed and dam­aged by the his­tor­i­cal cir­cum­stances of enslave­ment, by the traf­fick­ing of pop­u­la­tions, and the glob­al migra­tions that cre­at­ed our region. In order to address this in a wider con­text we have to take the top off the pres­sure cook­er and start deal­ing with the dam­age. There is so much trau­ma. It’s not like there’s one per­son that’s mad and walk­ing down the street. We’re talk­ing about a region cre­at­ed by trau­ma. It’s an impor­tant issue for us to start talk­ing about. I know many peo­ple who have killed them­selves. That is the silent norm. We need to open it up.

HS: I’ll def­i­nite­ly look out for those films next year. What are the plans to devel­op an infra­struc­ture to make Caribbean series and films, includ­ing some of those shown at CTFF, avail­able to wider audi­ences? I see that anoth­er com­pa­ny, Caribbean­Tales-TV, a VOD chan­nel described as “a Net­flix-style online film shop for Caribbean film buffs,” was launched in 2013.

FAS: Well, I think one of the dis­ad­van­tages of always start­ing some­thing where there was noth­ing before is that we have to prove our­selves.

HS: Everyone’s wait­ing to see whether you sink or swim.

FAS: Yes, whether we’ll sur­vive, whether we’ll make it, whether we are of val­ue. We want to make sure that our con­tent is avail­able wher­ev­er our audi­ences are, right? That means on every tele­vi­sion screen. In Africa. In the Caribbean. On the Inter­net. Every­where. Our job is to cre­ate infra­struc­ture so that peo­ple can have their Caribbean­Tales film app on their cell phone and online. That’s the aim. The fund­ing that we got from the Euro­pean Union this year will allow us to build infra­struc­ture as well as trav­el to inter­na­tion­al mar­kets, which is key. Last year, we went to a mar­ket in Africa called Dis­cop where African broad­cast­ers and pro­gram­mers go. We got a num­ber of sales out of that. This year we’re going to dif­fer­ent Euro­pean and US mar­kets as well. These are film and tele­vi­sion mar­kets where you meet with and sell con­tent to buy­ers. This is some­thing we haven’t been able to afford to do up until now. This will rep­re­sent a big turn­ing point for us. It will help build glob­al reach.

HS: Hope­ful­ly, the more you can show finan­cial viability—because it always comes back to the bot­tom line—the more the fund­ing will come in to sus­tain the work.

FAS: There were two things that hap­pened this year. One was that we got char­i­ta­ble sta­tus as a Cana­di­an com­pa­ny and there­fore for the film fes­ti­val, which will be trans­for­ma­tive because we will be able to access social-giv­ing fund­ing. So now we can get, I hope, a spon­sor that’ll float the fes­ti­val, make it viable. We’ve also got a great loca­tion now where we can sell tick­ets.

HS: You will keep CTFF at The Roy­al, then?

FAS: Yes. The fes­ti­val is at the point of going to anoth­er lev­el because of these things and now with the dis­tri­b­u­tion com­pa­ny we are poised, with the help of this year’s Euro­pean Union fund­ing, to devel­op our reach by trav­el­ling and tak­ing our con­tent to the world, which we weren’t able to afford before. I’m very excit­ed.

HS: You said ear­li­er that this year’s film fes­ti­val at The Roy­al has been the biggest in terms of pub­lic response and tick­et sales. Can you give a sense of how much growth you’ve seen over the years?

FAS: It’s been build­ing steadi­ly. It’s very, very dif­fi­cult pro­gram­ming a fes­ti­val against TIFF. For a lot of years there have been peo­ple say­ing that we’d prob­a­bly get more pub­lic­i­ty and bet­ter audi­ences if it weren’t dur­ing TIFF. But our rea­son, our jus­ti­fi­ca­tion, has been that our core audi­ence does not go to TIFF. And then, we do get spillover from TIFF for the Incu­ba­tor. Peo­ple care about us and come. If we can reach our audi­ences it real­ly doesn’t mat­ter what else is going on. And there are ben­e­fits too. The ben­e­fits that come from run­ning par­al­lel with TIFF out­weigh the dis­ad­van­tages. Even hold­ing it dur­ing Carib­ana brought up issues because peo­ple want­ed to be out­side jump­ing up in the street; they don’t want to be inside watch­ing films. The best time to have done it might have been Black His­to­ry Month. We did have a fes­ti­val at one point dur­ing Black His­to­ry Month. We had the Youth Film Fes­ti­val where we took the films to schools. But I believe in our posi­tion­ing right now, and this is the first time I’ve felt some trac­tion.

We had a great fes­ti­val and incu­ba­tor team in place this year. Spe­cial thanks to film­mak­er and pro­duc­er Nicole Brooks, our Incu­ba­tor Man­ag­er; and to Tim­mia Hearn who, as well as being the Incu­ba­tor Coor­di­na­tor, also han­dled com­mu­ni­ty out­reach for the fes­ti­val. We have first-class men­tors who con­tribute their time and tal­ents to help shape and guide projects that come through the Incu­ba­tor. We have, for exam­ple, Christo­pher Laird who has over 30 years’ expe­ri­ence as a film­mak­er and doc­u­men­tar­i­an. He found­ed and is CEO of Gayelle: The Chan­nel in Trinidad [the first 24-hour Caribbean-con­tent chan­nel in the Caribbean] and was Chair of the Trinidad and Toba­go Film Com­pa­ny for five years. Rita Shel­ton-Deverell, a vet­er­an Cana­di­an broad­cast­er and pro­duc­er, has had a tremen­dous role in grow­ing and shap­ing the Incu­ba­tor over the past four years. We now have a very strong steer­ing com­mit­tee and Board of Direc­tors that sup­port our oper­a­tional team in mak­ing deci­sions strate­gi­cal­ly. Among them are Den­ham Jol­ly, founder and for­mer CEO of Flow [the first Black-owned radio sta­tion in Cana­da], and Jean Augus­tine [a for­mer Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for the Cana­di­an Lib­er­al Par­ty]. The fes­ti­val has momen­tum now.

HS: Which also gives momen­tum to your over­all goal of pro­duc­ing and mar­ket­ing con­tent in a way that is sus­tain­able for Caribbean film­mak­ers and series cre­ators.

FAS: Yes, we have a larg­er mis­sion, which is about build­ing the Caribbean indus­try glob­al­ly. And it will work for us. You know, I am feel­ing the vision. It’s begin­ning to have teeth and find its legs.

HS: That is great news. Thank you for talk­ing with me, Frances-Anne. I know there are many oth­ers who, like me, are look­ing for­ward to CTFF in 2015, and to hear­ing more about the suc­cess­es of Caribbean­Tales in the com­ing years.


Copy­right Hyacinth Simp­son and Frances-Anne Solomon. This arti­cle is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.