The Timehri Film Festival

By Vidyaratha Kissoon

Vidyaratha Kissoon escaped from the yawning jaguar but wrote this column because so much of what was published about events in May 2016 was negative

(The  first Timehri Film Festival was held at Moray House Trust, in Georgetown from 18 to 20 May, 2016. Admission was free. )

20140120diasporaA grandmother in Martinique prepares for the departure of her grandson to France in the film Ti Coq. A grandmother in Guyana prepares for the departure of her grandson to USA in the Seawall. A 10 year old challenges his teacher and class about not wanting to be a vet or a doctor when he grows up. A Jamaican man serving time in prison cries after singing at a farewell function for a prison superintendent. Derek Walcott cries after reading a poem dedicated to his late mother. He laments the conversion of the Pitons to tourism resort properties and marvels at Ramleela.  These stories and more were told in documentaries and fiction films during the first Timehri Film Festival.

The Timehri Film Festival (TFF) was conceived by the Caribbean Film Academy (http://www.caribbeanfilm.org ) and the Rewind and Come Again (RACA) blog (http://http://rewindandcomeagain.com/ ). The organising team included Romola Lucas, Director and Justen Blaize from the Caribbean Film Academy, and Alysia Christiani who manages the Rewind and Come Again (RACA) blog.  The team members are part of the diaspora of Guyana and the Caribbean in the United States. There was support from SASOD in Guyana, and a US based humanitarian NGO – Blossoms of Guyana. They were able to use a crowdfunding campaign to raise the resources to host the festival.

The Caribbean Film Academy was established in 2012 by a group of film enthusiasts who wanted to promote Caribbean films and support Caribbean film making.

Still from Rebecca’s Story, by Witness Project, Guyana
Still from Rebecca’s Story, by Witness Project, Guyana

According to Romola Lucas, the Caribbean Film Academy learned about the different film festivals in the Caribbean and the work of many film makers. They saw the different kinds of promotional events  and realised that Guyana was not visible. They also learned that in Guyana, there was a high level of interest in film making and in seeing films from other Caribbean countries. They realised that there no consistent Caribbean film festivals and saw an opportunity.

The TFF does not have its own screening process. They selected films which were screened at other festivals and which they felt showed interesting themes.

The films were to serve several purposes – entertain those who love watching films, share the stories being told in other Caribbean countries, and provide inspiration to local filmmakers and encourage them to make their films and “not wait on anyone or anything.”

There were 32 films in the festival. These included 23 shorts, 8 features and 1 sneak preview. The  festival featured stories from Aruba, The Bahamas, Barbados, Curaçao, the Dominican Republic Guadelope, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Martinique , Puerto Rico, St Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago, and the USA.

The TFF included workshops. The workshops were designed to bring some technical know how to those interested in them.

The festival was packed over three days during the busy May 2016 jubilee events. There were screenings during the day and the evening. The attendance fluctuated. According to Romola Lucas,

“People enjoyed seeing the films and learning about what is going on in the wider Caribbean in terms of storytelling.  People marvelled at how connected they felt to the stories and characters they saw in the films.  They loved the variety and quality of the films.”

There was no intentional theme except to represent the Caribbean. There were films by film makers resident in the Caribbean which used Caribbean locations and stories. There were films which were made by film makers from one Caribbean country and whose films were set in another country.

The films labelled with country Guyana were all short films – ‘The Seawall’ by Mason Richards, ‘Antiman’ by Gavin Ramotar, ‘Rebecca’s Story’ from the Witness Project, ‘Standing’ by Kojo McPherson, the SASOD film about its film festival “Painting the Spectrum : A Commemorative Documentary’ and the film Love Below by Chelsea Odufu of Guyanese and Nigerian heritage.

There was a sneak preview of ‘A Bitter Lime’ which used Guyana as a location for the story – the man in the story was looking for a place where no one else had visited.

The films were poignant in how they dealt with Caribbean issues. There were common experiences across different countries. Migration stories were told in different ways. There was the quiet, emotional loss of family/break up in the stories about children and their grandmothers in Ti Coq and The Seawall. There was the brutality of the yolas, the boats between the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico in Yolanda. The stories in the documentary ‘My Father’s Land’ about Haitians in The Bahamas were reflected in the experiences of the young Guyanese woman surviving in Barbados in the fiction-almost-true ‘Diaries of an Immigrant’ .

A few of the films featured children as central characters.   Aurora is a film about a girl who is abandoned by her family and who finds another family. Rain is a film about a girl moving to live with her mother who is a drug addict. El Cast is about a boy who has to find a lost package.

The films also reflected Caribbean culture. Papa Machete lovingly tells the story of Avril Alfred, one of the masters of tire machèt, the martial art created by enslaved Haitians to fight Napoleon’s armies.  The soucoyant/ ol Higue is brought to life in The Skin. Martial arts are imagined in Sensei Redenshon.  Poetry is an Island shows poet, playwright, painter and Nobel prize winner Derek Walcott in St Lucia.

The TFF received generally positive feedback. There were recommendations to change the times of screening to after working hours. People suggested adding new venues, out of Georgetown, and including outdoor venues and schools. There were suggestions to screen Songs of Redemption in the prisons. Songs of Redemption is about a rehabilitation project in a Jamaican prison.  The organisers hope to add more Guyanese films as the films become available. They recognised that they have to do more work in publicising the festival – according to Romola Lucas “it seemed to distress a lot of people in attendance, that more people were not there to enjoy what they were enjoying”

Journalist Carinya Sharples wrote on her blog (https://hummingofthebird.wordpress.com/2016/05/22/highlights-of-the-first-timehri-film-festival/ ) that despite the imperfections, “…it’s a fantastic vision and a wonderful platform for Guyanese filmmakers, producers and other creatives. “

The TFF hopes to get financial support from a few local businesses in Guyana and media support, so they can to reach out to more  people.

Some of the films from the festival, and other films are available to watch on Studio Anansi TV at http://studioanansi.tv/

The Timehri Film Festival is going to be an interesting event in the annual calendar in Guyana.

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