It was out of the need to connect with Guyanese who were interested in seeing films by Guyanese and Caribbean filmmakers that the Timehri Film Festival was born three years ago, according to Romola Lucas, one of its founders.
And while the business community and the government have not fully bought in to the festival financially, Lucas is heartened by the response at the community level, in places such as the juvenile centres and the prison.
An attorney by profession, Lucas was fed up of looking at movies “made in Hollywood and tired of seeing movies with stories bearing no relation to my life experience.”
She took matters into her own hands and with the assistance of another first formed the Caribbean Film Academy (CaFA) and later the local film festival that not only showcases Guyanese films but those from other Caribbean countries.
“I’m Guyanese and I love film. I felt very sure there were other Guyanese who love film and wanted to see films by Guyanese and Caribbean filmmakers. I wanted to connect with those people, and watch films with them,” Lucas told Stabroek News in a recent interview.
She had also hoped that there were people in Guyana who wanted to become filmmakers, who would use the festival to explore their interest and be inspired by the work of other artists.
Apart from being involved with the festival since its inception, Lucas has been promoting Caribbean film for the past five years in New York and always wanted to bring films to Guyana in a meaningful way.
It was along with Justin Blaize that Lucas started to promote Caribbean films through CaFA, and she explained that through the academy they produce two screening series in Brooklyn, another film festival in Miami and a digital platform for Caribbean films, and co-produced Caribbean films.
The duo also run a blog which covers Caribbean films, filmmakers and festivals and so have an in-depth understanding of filmmaking in the region.
“It was out of this, that we fashioned the festival in Guyana – four days, 25 films: shorts, features, webseries, narratives and documentaries – showcasing Guyanese and Caribbean films in specific venues around Georgetown, as well as bringing the films to different communities, through our community screenings. The plan is to do this in other Caribbean countries, where access to Caribbean films is similarly limited,” Lucas shared of their future plans for the festival.
Even though it has only been three years and with little or no local financial support, Lucas said there have been positives from the festival. She pointed out that the community screenings by far and the impact on people being able to relate to characters and stories they see in the films have been among the positives.“We have had the privilege of screening at prisons, the juvenile detention centre and children’s drop-in centre, both in Sophia. The response of the children to films is heartwarming and seeing them experience being able to relate to characters onscreen has been transforming,” she told this newspaper.
As a result of the response, the festival has already planned twice the number of screenings with children this year.
Notably, last year’s festival screened at the Lusignan Prison what was described as a “touching film” titled Songs of Redemption, which was based on inmates in a Jamaican prison using music to help them do their time.
“Again, this was a transformative experience for the inmates (and us) many of whom alternated between crying and laughing during the film and totally seeing themselves and their lives reflected onscreen, and using the opportunity, or at least expressing the desire to use the opportunity, to make better choices for themselves,” Lucas said.
But like everything while there are positives there are also negatives, and Lucas said one of the “biggest challenges” is “getting buy-in and support from the business community and government in Guyana.”
She said while she met Minister of Social Cohesion Dr George Norton recently and he expressed a strong interest in the festival there is still no financial support.
As a result, the festival is, and has been self-funded but has enjoyed the support of other local non-profits, like the Witness Project and the Peace Corps – organizations with an understanding of the difficulties of doing this kind of work.
“Regardless, sharing art in this way is and has been impactful, and we will continue to provide this platform for filmmakers, and opportunities for audiences to enjoy our stories,” Lucas said.
Asked who is Romola Lucas, she responded: “A queer, Guyanese film enthusiast and attorney, engaging in community organising through film and visual storytelling.
“I remember being a child and listening to and sharing Anansi stories, `Stupidy Bill’ and `Sensible Bill’ stories, and I have a lot of love for our particular way of telling stories, our humour, and our folklore, and I wanted to see those stories on screen. So, we started simply, forming a meetup group for people who wanted to watch Caribbean films with us and we’ve taken it from there,” Lucas said.
Lucas is an accomplished attorney as well and according to her website she has a broad range of experience in transactional matters. Her areas of experience are estate planning, probate and administration, and non-profit law corporate law. Her clients include individuals, senior, small businesses, artists – filmmakers, dancers, writers – and members of the LGBTQ community.
As to what is next for the Timehri Film Festival, Lucas said they plan on expanding the screenings to more remote parts of the country, having more schools participate in the screenings, continuing to bring great Caribbean cinema to Guyanese audiences, and offering a full complement of filmmaking classes/workshops.
As to the motivation behind the name of the festival, Lucas said she never liked the fact that the name of the country’s main airport was changed from Timehri to the name of a person, (Dr Cheddi Jagan) even a former president.
“I liked the name and wanted to continue to honour the idea it represents – that of acknowledging the contributions of our indigenous peoples,” she explained.
Meantime, Lucas said she plans on continuing to work to make the arts, not just film, more accessible to children and more generally supported. She said she is already in the early stages of designing an arts-after-school programme, where children can engage in activities which would help them to process their feelings, understand and express themselves, and develop their creative problem-solving and critical-thinking skills.
This year, the Timehri Film Festival will be held from May 30 to June 3. Over the five days, daily film screenings and discussions will be held at various locations in Georgetown such as Moray House and the Dutch Bottle Café. It is expected that films about Guyana and by Guyanese will feature prominently along with short and feature length films from around the Caribbean and the diaspora. Most the screenings will be free and open to the public.
For the first time, the festival will offer a week-long filmmaking workshop, from Monday, May 28 to Saturday, June 2. It is expected that the workshop will be facilitated by an award-winning Caribbean director/producer (who has not yet been named) and will focus on the nuts and bolts of documentary filmmaking. Production and aesthetics, interviewing styles and storytelling will also feature during the workshop, which will provide information on key production techniques and industry best practices.