As seen on LargeUp!
Caribbean filmmakers are making their mark in world cinema, telling stories which take viewers beyond the sun, sea and Carnival fun. Tapping into our rich story-telling heritage, from the likes of Br’er Anansi to Paul Keens-Douglas to the Mighty Sparrow, they are offering deeper, darker, more-nuanced stories about what island life is really like, and shaping their collective creative vision.
This year, we saw the global theatrical release of Bazodee, starring Machel Montano; the premiere of two locally-produced feature films at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival; and an Oscar-qualifying run for Haitian director Raoul Peck’s latest documentary. There was also the entrance of a third significant film festival dedicated specifically to Caribbean film, in Miami’s Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival.
Much still needs to be done. Greater accessibility to films for people living in the region, and more opportunities to see films made in other Caribbean countries, including the French, Spanish and Dutch Caribbean, would be welcomed. But we are looking forward to 2017, and the release of the many upcoming films we know are in the works.
Here are this year’s seven best films made by Caribbean filmmakers.
This documentary from Haitian filmmaker Raoul Peck is an instant classic, and one of the best films of 2016. The film is a journey through Black history in the U.S., through the eyes of James Baldwin, as he copes with the death of three of his friends – Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers. Peck ingeniously and seamlessly connects the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s to today’s Black Lives Matters movement. Making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won the audience award, and screening to sold-out audiences at the festivals it’s played in since then, I am Not Your Negro is currently in an Oscar-qualifying run. It will be released theatrically nationwide, in February 2017.
Set in Paramin, Trinidad, with Carnival as its backdrop, and prominently featuring the town’s famed Blue Devils, this film from Bahamian director Maria Govan is a coming of age story of a teenage boy who is the object of a wealthy, older man’s obsession. Premiering at the Los Angeles International Film Festival, the film was one of the winners of the Best Local Feature Film Award at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, as well as the Best Film as decided by a Youth Jury. It is in the midst of a packed film festival run.
Before the Rooster Crows is a coming-of-age story, about a young girl living with her grandmother, and suffering through puberty, when her formerly-incarcerated father shows up. The film made its premiere at the Curacao International Film Festival Rotterdam, winning the Yellow Robin Award. It then went on to win the Primera Mirada Award and the International Film Festival of Panama, and the award for Best Feature Film at the Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival.
This dramatic feature is a magical neo-realist tale of how a teenager, an old fisherman, and the lead character in a novel being written by a writer with writer’s block all deal with the struggles in their lives, in the wake of the 2010 Haiti earthquake. The film premiered in the U.S. at the Los Angeles Film Festival, and internationally in competition (Yellow Robin Competition) at the Curacao International Film Festival Rotterdam, and the Toronto International Film Festival.
Although not made by a Caribbean filmmaker, The House on Coco Road definitely belongs on any list of this year’s best Caribbean films. With its extensive archival footage of the Grenada Revolution, the film, a personal documentary about the filmmaker’s childhood experience of living in Grenada, is a revealing look at the connections between black activists in the U.S. and the Caribbean. Premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival, the film is now in the midst of a packed festival run, most recently winning an award at the Bahamas International Film Festival.
Trinidad & Tobago/2016
This highly-personal film tells the story of Cecilia’s uncle, Miguel, whose death was a closely-held family secret. She eventually finds his lover, who has since become a priest, and tries to get his side of the story, in an attempt to work through this family conflict. Premiering at the Tribeca Film Festival, Memories of a Penitent Heart is in the midst of a busy festival run.