To say that the Caribbean has historically functioned as the backdrop for some of our favourite Hollywood films would be an understatement.
From James Bond flicks to “Pirates of the Caribbean” to “How Stella Got Her Groove Back” and more, the Caribbean has played an indelible role, acting as a silent character of sorts.
But the region is also rich in its own stories and the artists to tell them. Those stories and creatives get a place to shine in Toronto at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, which runs Sept. 9 to Oct. 2.
Marking its 15th year, the festival has dedicated itself to celebrating “the talents of established and emerging filmmakers of Caribbean and African heritage who practise their art across the Caribbean Diaspora worldwide.”
It was founded by Frances-Anne Solomon, a noted filmmaker, writer and producer who was invited to join the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences last year (it took a lot of convincing, since she thought the initial congratulatory email from Ava DuVernay was a hoax).
“In its infancy, CTFF was about selling a brand new concept to a city that was used to a certain type of film festival with a lens focused squarely on Hollywood stories,” Solomon says. “Over the years, we’ve built a relationship with our audiences who return year after year with a hunger for authentic stories that nourish an appetite for Black and Caribbean culture. We gladly slake that hunger.”
CaribbeanTales presents a mix of films, both features and shorts, that touch on both the shared and diverse aspects of Caribbean diaspora culture.
“Our audiences love the tradition of having theme nights that spotlight an island’s film work or focuses on an issue that resonates with the Caribbean community,” says Diana Webley, the festival director.
This year, it kicks off with Trinidadian night, with Jian Hennings’ “Grace & Saleem,” which won the People’s Choice Award for Best Feature Film at the 2019 Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival. It tells the story of star-crossed lovers, one a socialite, the other a devout Muslim, that starts with an unexpected road trip. The opening night shorts are Dylan Quesnel’s “Regeneration” and “A Mural by the Sea” by Tony Hall, screened in tribute to Hall, a veteran playwright, screenwriter, actor and director who died in April.
Another popular night is Jamaica Night: Boomflik on Sept. 18. It will include Rhett Butler’s “Nefarious” — Jamaica’s first locally produced horror film — about the dark turn a couple’s relationship takes when a brother intervenes; and the short film “The Agency” by Rick Elgood, which tells the story of a former “momager” who opens her own agency for Jamaican entertainers.
Subsequent nights focus on comedy (like “Zeen?” directed by Calyx Passailaigue); music (with short “Released” by Richard B. Pierre, highlighting Afro-Surinamese creative expression); LGBTQ creators and stories (featuring Michelle Mohabeer’s “Queer Coolie-tudes,” exploring queer Indo-Caribbean and Black diasporas in Canada) and more.
The festival closes on Oct. 2 with a night called “The Human Condition,” featuring Stuart Napier’s short “Carnival,” about the relationship between a mother and daughter, and the feature “A People’s Art — The Genesis of Freedom” by Tony Oldham. Oldham’s film introduces audiences to a young mixed race girl named Ayesha, who learns about the history of the U.K.’s Notting Hill Carnival, and the rebellion and revolution therein.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the festival had to rethink its usual approach, especially challenging for a culture as community-focused as the Caribbean.
“The solution was right in our own CaribbeanTales Media Group family: CaribbeanTales-TV, our video-on-demand streaming platform,” says Solomon.
All films and special events will stream on the platform, allowing the festival to reach wider global audiences, despite missing the thrill of connecting with attendees in person (past guests included Trinidad’s Mighty Sparrow, the “Calypso King of the World”; St. Lucian actor Joseph Marcell of “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” fame, and Barbados’ Alison Hinds, the “Queen of Soca”).
“In spite of what’s happening in the world right now, we have continued to forge ahead, acknowledging our wins, and the positive moments and insights that life has offered,” says Solomon. “CaribbeanTales Film Festival is 15 years old and I couldn’t be prouder. Necessity truly is the mother of invention.”