by Travolta Cooper
“Money Monster,” stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts. Both are A-list Hollywood actors. Its other star is Jodie Foster, also an actor, but here, she’s the film’s director. “Money Monster,” is Hollywood moviemaking at its finest. In the intelligent hands of Jodie Foster, a woman whose career spans some over 40 years in Hollywood, it also emerges a thoughtful movie. This is an entertaining film, largely about, well, entertainment. It asks important questions about the world’s financial system, corruption and media manipulation. While it is a glittering Hollywood production, in a way it slyly pokes fun at Hollywood, too. I mean, the money monstrosity of Hollywood producing a thriller about the money monstrosity of Wall Street.
Thrillers, in fact, represent some of the some of the oldest of the American Hollywood genre film, which for the sake of this article and my time here, begs the question of the “genre film.” Genre and Hollywood – the two words can’t really be separated. This is also true of Nigeria’s Nollywood and India’s Bollywood. What is a genre? It means “distinct category,” basically. The genre film best describes the essence of storytelling from that place or region or ‘Wood’. For Nigeria, the genre film is a drama with biblical themes and characters. For India, it is the musical film with vibrant colors. These genres work and they sell.
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As a Bahamian filmmaker, critic, and theorist, I find myself asking is there a Caribbean genre film? Is there a Cariwood (so to speak)? “Money Monster,” is, by all accounts, an American/Hollywood a genre film. It tells the story of financial TV Host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and his Producer Patty (Julia Roberts) who are put in an extreme situation when an irate investor (Jack O’Connell) who has lost everything, forcefully takes over their studio, holding Lee at gun point, on live TV. During a tense standoff broadcast to millions around the world, Lee and Patty have to work against time to unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy at the heart of today’s fast paced high tech global markets. Clooney and Roberts do what they best in a genre film of this nature and British newcomer, Jack O’Connell, accepts the acting challenge meeting both these Hollywood pros at every step. “Money Monster,” is smart and thrillingly entertaining, and like most genre films, this movie is going to make money while stimulating audience minds as Jodie Foster, whom we never see in the film, is still its star in every way. Working from a taut and smart screenplay, she directs the film with precision and a healthy knowledge of the genre. We’ve seen Foster in these films before, like Silence Of The Lambs, The Accused, and Inside Man. And most of us know the name Jodie Foster. It’s a name synonymous with Hollywood genre storytelling. Jodie Foster will probably never make a movie outside the Hollywood Studio System, but this doesn’t prevent her from making the intelligent genre film. I mean, she’s not just a brilliant Hollywood actress, but also an accomplished mind. One that studied at Yale, no less. And hearing her speak today at the press conference, I didn’t want her to shut up. Her words and perspective on cinema and life, ooze intelligence. When asked about her performance in the film today at the press conference, Julia Roberts remarked, “I was just trying to impress Jodie Foster all the time.” I feel that way about this article/essay/ review. Should Jodie Foster ever read it (which I highly doubt she ever will), I would hope to impress her: to stimulate her mind as much as she does mind.
It’s a question I’ve asked before about the Caribbean and its genre film. In fact, I asked the same question last year at Cannes. I remember talking to Guyanese producer/director Roger Bobb on our show The Cinemas about the ‘Caribbean Film.’ He remarked, this presents a challenge because the Caribbean is not a country. And he’s right. We’re not a country. It’s a Region. And we’re not a region or continent like Europe or Africa. We’re island states largely separated by water. And lets be honest: we’re just divided psychologically. Period. Every country with it’s own way and agenda. This is tragic because only together do we have the numbers to make it possible. Together as a Region, we are forty million people strong. We are making efforts, but more can be done. Jamaica still has film/genre: as does the Bahamas. Trinidad. Barbados. Haiti. Everyone. And these genre cultivated are largely based on landscape and character. It’s the “Bahamian film” or the “Haitian film.” Why? Because in the words of Caribbean Film Academy (in New York) head, Romola Lucas, “our countries still self-identify in terms of their own culture.” At The Cinemas (our show that plays on Tempo), we’ve joyfully (and maybe even prematurely) touted the phrase “Cariwood.” We even used the hashtag #Cariwood. But it never caught on. Never trended. Perhaps it was seen as some effort of personal branding on our part. Maybe it was even seen as a “Bahamian thing”. No. Cariwood is an idea. One to encourage, incite, and unite industry. Industry. The term didn’t come from just me, or my team, but came together a period of months from several discussions with other Caribbean filmmakers. Cariwood doesn’t belong to The Cinemas or the Bahamas. It belongs to the region. In fact, Tempo (as a TV Network) experiences many of the same challenges: uniting the Region.
While I’ve yet to search the Cannes Pavillion for the Caribbean presence here (I will today), I did last year. It was then that I came across representatives from Trinidad and Tobago, Guadeloupe, Dominican Republic, and Martinique. Nneka Luke, who at the time worked for the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival spoke to me about the Caribbean Association on Film Festivals. Truth? I had no idea such an organization existed. When I asked if the Bahamas was apart of this organization, I was told that the Bahamas International Film Festival (BIFF) was not (even though they had reached out to BIFF several times) apart of it. And there was the irony. I was a Bahamian filmmaker talking to an association that the major film festival in Bahamas consciously decided not to work with. Divided. Distinct. Categorized. And here I was, a Bahamian Filmmaker, asking a question about our region coming together to figure out a genre of storytelling? But I want to ask the question again today. Is there a Cariwood? Is there a genre/brand of storytelling? Is there a genre to unite us, express us, and sells? Not so much a ‘Money Monster’ but a ‘moneymaker.’ A genre, like the best of Jodie Foster cinema, unites the commerce and the art. A ‘Cariwood’ to produce our own Caribbean movie stars like Clooney and Roberts. Is that possible? Yes, this is largely an experiment: one that requires the participation of not just the film festivals in the Region, but also its filmmakers, and more importantly, the Caribbean audience. It is an experiment, yes, but such a rewarding one at best. Is it possible?