The founder of the inaugural Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival and his friend, director of programming, preview this week’s event.
Jeffers, a Barbados native, musician and former journalist who founded the festival and also serves as its artistic director, and London-based Trinidadian Ali, a veteran programmer who has worked at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival and Toronto, believe the time is right for Third Horizon and its particular focus.
The event, which boasts one of the most comprehensive Caribbean slants on the circuit, runs from September 29-October 2 and opens with Guetty Felin’s Ayiti Mon Amour (pictured). All screenings will take place at the O Cinema in Wynwood, Miami.
What’s the idea behind Third Horizon?
Jason Jeffers (from a note previously sent to Ali): Third Horizon came about from this sense, as a kid, that I had of the stories of the Caribbean and Third World being regarded as supplementary to those of the First World. We were bit players in world affairs and in the popular imagination. We could find ourselves in our own literature and our music, but to the world beyond our borders we barely registered. And as I got older, my urge to see that change strengthened, especially when I realised that the cultural processes that formed the Caribbean were in many ways prognostic for the rest of the world; our dance with ‘diversity,’ and all that entails, had been going on for centuries, and all we’d learned from it and become from it could prove insightful for the rest of the world.
In that sense, we were ahead of the pack, and as it is, the labour and resources of the so-called Third World already power the so-called First World. So where’s our equity on the world stage? Third Horizon represents that space and that moment where the sounds and stories of the Caribbean – and the rest of the so-called Third World of which it is the ultimate diaspora – find equity, find support, find funding, find distribution, find everything they need to reach the global audience that will recognise them as their own. It’s where things come even.
How did Third Horizon come about?
Jonathan Ali: Third Horizon was founded by Jason Jeffers, Robert Sawyer and Keisha Rae Witherspoon. Earlier this year, I started having conversations with Jason and Romola Lucas – a New York-based, Guyanese native who in 2012 founded the non-profit Caribbean Film Academy, CaFA, which holds regular screenings of Caribbean films in Brooklyn, and also has a VOD platform, Studio Anansi TV – and they invited me to join the Third Horizon team. My association with the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, where I was a programmer, and where I had been since its inception in 2006, had recently come to an end. It didn’t take much for me to tell Jason and Romola, ‘Yes.’
In addition to being a co-founder, Jason is Third Horizon’s artistic director. Romola is managing director. I am director of programming. I should note that I’ve recently relocated, for the next year, to the UK. So there’s the interesting dynamic of a Caribbean festival being held in Miami, with its three principals being a Miami-based Barbadian, a New York-based Guyanese, and me, a Trinidad and Tobago native based in London.
Who backs the festival?
JA: The festival initially began with a grant from the Knight Foundation, with Time Warner, telecommunications company Flow and Green Family Foundation on board as additional sponsors. Third Horizon is closely aligned with Borscht Corporation, a non-profit with the “simple mission to redefine cinema in Miami.”
What will set it apart from others?
JA: Third Horizon is quite possibly the only film festival in the US to focus primarily on Caribbean content. (The distinction should be made between Caribbean and black or Afro: while the majority of Caribbean people are of African descent, the region and its diaspora are made up of people representing a range of ethnicities and backgrounds, and the films reflect this.) As Jason noted, we’re looking both to bring together an audience (an underserved Caribbean community in Florida) and create an audience (cinephiles interested in seeing good cinema that happens to come from the Caribbean).
The festival screens content of all lengths by filmmakers from the Caribbean – which we define to mean the English-, Spanish-, French- and Dutch-speaking regions – and its diaspora. There is also, in this inaugural year, one African film, in recognition of the fact that the Caribbean is made up primarily of people whose ancestors came from other parts of the globe – Africa, certainly, but also Asia, and Europe as well.
Tell us about the programme (and is it competitive?)
JA: The programme, which is not competitive, is made up of nine fiction and documentary features (including a film screening as a work in progress) and 11 shorts, all making their US or Florida premieres. Quality is the keyword: what audiences will see represents a carefully curated selection of the best in new and recent work from the region and its diaspora, with excellent film festival pedigree.
As this is the first time Caribbean cinema is coming to Miami in this way, a number of the films are older selections having their Florida premiere, such as the acclaimed Trinidad and Tobago feature, God Loves The Fighter, directed by Damian Marcano, an IFFR selection in 2014. The majority, though, are 2016 selections. Our opening night film is Haitian-American filmmaker Guetty Felin’s neorealist fable Ayiti Mon Amour, which just had its international premiere at TIFF. We close with the documentary Memories Of A Penitent Heart, a Capturing The Friedmans-like AIDS memoir that bowed at Tribeca, directed by Puerto Rican-American filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo. (That film is being presented in association with our friends at the Miami International Film Festival.) So it’s a beguiling mixtape of new and not-so-new films, from Caribbean and diaspora filmmakers, from the region’s various language groups.
If someone only had one day, what should they see?
JA: The day I’d recommend in such a case would be Saturday (October 1). It begins with a package of shorts, a great primer for anyone seeking an entry into Caribbean cinema: five diverse films by filmmakers from across the region and the diaspora (including Doubles With Slight Pepper, directed by Canadian-Trinidadian Ian Harnarine, which won best short at TIFF a few years ago). That’s followed by the US premiere of the documentary Generation Revolution, a Sheffield Doc/Fest premiere this year, directed by Cassie Quarless and Usayd Younis. This film is a powerful look into the work of London-based black and brown activists who – inspired partly by the Black Lives Matter movement in the US – are engaged in the fight for justice in Great Britain. The day ends with the aforementioned God Loves The Fighter, a searing, refreshing take on the urban drama, set on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago’s capital, Port-of-Spain.
How would you describe the state of Caribbean filmmaking today?
JA: The Caribbean is such a diverse, often disparate region that it can be a challenge to encapsulate its filmmaking, to talk of a “Caribbean New Wave” or anything like that. What can be said is that the Caribbean is the last region of the globe whose films and filmmakers are yet to be – if I may use a contentious word – discovered. Yes there’s Cuba, and there have been individual filmmakers like Haiti’s Raoul Peck who have achieved international acclaim, but the region as a whole remains largely unknown.
That’s partly due to the fact that, for decades, there was really no industry: a lack of resources and institutional support conspired to keep potential filmmakers from making work. But with the digital revolution, and a concomitant (if inconsistent) show of support at a state level, the infrastructure has begun to be put in place for an industry to develop and hopefully thrive. And we’re seeing the results: filmmakers are beginning to emerge and get out there onto the international film festival circuit and beyond. Third Horizon, of course, is an ideal place to see some of this work.
Which countries are emerging that we should pay attention to?
JA: I wouldn’t phrase the question so much in terms of countries – again, for various reasons, it’s hard to talk of, say, a Jamaican New Wave as you would talk of the Romanian New Wave. I think it would be much more constructive to look at individual filmmakers. Jamaica’s Storm Saulter, whose debut feature, Better Mus’ Come, a sort of Battle Of Algiers set in 1970s Kingston, came out a few years ago, is a name to remember. He’s currently in post-production on Sprinter, a sports drama. Maria Govan of the Bahamas now has two acclaimed character-driven dramas to her name: Rain, which bowed at TIFF, and this year’s LGBT-themed Play The Devil, which premiered in competition at the LA Film Festival. Then there’s Trinidad and Tobago’s Damian Marcano, who I previously mentioned. These are all prodigiously talented filmmakers telling exciting, fresh, Caribbean stories. Keep watching this space.
Anything else we should keep in mind during Third Horizon?
JA: Speaking of talented filmmakers, we’re very pleased to be hosting – as part of a small industry offering – a screening of a work in progress by an exciting new voice, Vashti Anderson. She’s a New York-based Trinidadian-American and her Trinidad-set debut feature, Moko Jumbie, is something special – a gorgeous, otherworldly tale of displacement and desire. Hopefully Third Horizon can help give the film a leg up on its way out into the world.