In this post, we will review films we’ve seen or were released this year, which we think are representative of the best of what has come out of the Caribbean 2013. This is by no means a comprehensive list, since we have not seen nor heard of many wonderful films released by Caribbean filmmakers this year. However, we have made an effort to be as thorough as possible and even had to leave some of our favorite films off of the list for different reasons. Many of the films we chose were released this year, others were released last year but have out there so consistently this year, we included them in this review.
Better Mus’ Come
Directed by Storm Saulter
Synopsis: In Kingston, Jamaica, in the late 1970s, the two main political parties enlist the support of gangs to enforce their policies and advance their political agenda. Young Ricky is a community leader and father, whose gang is aligned to one party. One day he meets Kamala, who belongs to a community controlled by the other party, and the two instantly connect. Will their love triumph, or will bigger forces win the day? Based on true events.
Watch the trailer here:
First released in 2011, the multi award-winning film Better Mus’ Come, enjoyed a spectacular year. It had the honor of being the first film to be signed to the newly formed African-American film distribution company, Array. Array is the brainchild of filmmaker Ava Duvernay, who herself made history by being the first African-American female Best Director winner at Sundance, for her 2012 hit Middle of Nowhere. It is an affiliate of another organization she founded in 2011, The African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, a distribution collective of black arts organizations dedicated to quality black independent films. Other films released by AFFRM and Array include, the hits Big Words, Middle of Nowhere, Kinyarwanda, Restless City, and I Will Follow.
Better Mus’ Come started its run as the winner of the People’s Choice Award at the 2011 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, for Best Narrative. The film then went on to win the Audience Award for Best Narrative Feature at the 2011 Bahamas International Film Festival and received an honorable mention in the Spirit of Freedom category, which honors movies that explore the human condition and culture. Sheldon Shepherd, the film’s lead actor, won the Best Performance by an Actor Award at the 2012 American Black Film Festival.
Since it’s release by Array, Better Mus’ Come has been seen in movie theatres in cities all across the U.S. and is now available on Netflix. Since making the film, Storm has gone on to collaborate with St. Lucian filmmaker Michelle Serieux, to form the New Caribbean Cinema, a collective of filmmakers in Jamaica, who made their films using each other as their main resources. The culminating product of New Caribbean Cinema’s work, was the production of the feature length film Ring di Alarm, which debuted at BFI in London last summer. It is a collection of seven short films by six directors.
Stones in the Sun
Directed by Patricia Benoit
Synopsis: In the midst of increasing political violence in their homeland, the lives of three pairs of Haitian refugees intersect in 1980s New York City. A haunted young woman (a powerful Patricia Rhinvil) struggling to forget the atrocities she’s experienced, reunites with her husband in Brooklyn, where he barely scrapes by as a livery cab driver. A single mother striving for assimilation in a tiny Long Island suburb takes in her sister (Edwidge Danticat), a teacher and political activist who is unable to reconcile their violent youth with her sister’s seemingly banal lifestyle. And a newly married man (Thierry Saintine), the host of a popular anti-government radio show, finds his estranged father (a recently ousted military leader) on his doorstep, desperate for shelter. Now, they all must confront the disturbing truth of their pasts, as we slowly learn the history of their interlocked lives.
This amazing film made its debut at the 2012 Tribeca Film Festival, where the director, Patricia Benoit, won the award for Best New Narrative Director – Special Jury Mention. The film later went on to win the Best Narrative Film at the 2013 Pan-African Film Festival and the Best Diaspora Film at the 2013 African Academy Film Awards.
Watch the trailer here:
Children of the Wind
Directed by Daphne Schmon
Synopsis: The film focuses on brothers Tonky and Taty Frans, and their cousin Kiri, who come from a poor fishing family and began windsurfing in Bonaire before the age of ten, using whatever broken or discarded equipment they could scrounge, and who are now, twenty years later, global superstars. Tonky, Taty and Kiri burst onto the international scene in 2001 when, along with thirty or so other Bonaire sailors, they attended windsurfing’s North American Championship, in Florida. Given the island’s economic status, just getting to Florida was an achievement in itself. Once there, they caused a sensation, taking home twenty trophies between them. Given that Bonaire has a population of under 15,000 and had, at the time, no way to fund formal training facilities, provide equipment or pay for travel to events, this accomplishment was simply astonishing. The Frans brothers and Kiri are now among the top five freestyle windsurfers in the world and have become local heroes. More remarkable: Bonaire continues to produce young champions at every age category of the ProKids World Championship, which started on the island. Set against the backdrop of the 2011 Freestyle Windsurfing World Cup on Bonaire, ‘Children of the Wind’ is an exciting tale of kids who refused to be defined by the limits of their circumstance, and consequently transformed a sport.
A gem of a film, it has been awarded the Best Documentary by the 2012 International Film Festival of Antigua & Barbuda; the Audience Award at the 2012 Aruba International Film Festival; Best Original Documentary at the 2012 Mt. Hood Independent Film Festival; and the Best Documentary, Best Emerging Filmmaker, and Best Film Score Awards in the Action Sports Category at the 2013 X Dance Film Festival. The film is now available on iTunes and on DVD/Blu-Ray.
Watch the trailer here:
Doubles with Slight Pepper
Directed by Ian Harnarine
Trinidad & Tobago, 2011
Synopsis: In rural Trinidad, Dhani struggles to support himself and his mother by selling doubles (Trinidad’s quintessential street food). When his estranged father returns from Canada unexpectedly, Dhani must decide if he will help save his father’s life despite their strained relationship.
This was Ian’s thesis film for his MFA at New York University’s film program. Upon it’s release, the film won the award for Best Canadian Short Film at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and was recognized as one of Canada’s Top Ten Short Films for 2011. It then went on to win the Best Live Action Short Drama at the 2012 Genie Awards, the Canadian version of the Academy Awards; Best Film at the 2012 Mosaic International South Asian Film Festival; and the Best Short Film Award at the 2013 Bushwick Film Festival, among many others.
Written by Jennifer Holness and Sudz Sutherland
Synopsis: A searing drama in the vein of City of God, Home Again tells the story of three young people deported ‘home’ to Jamaica after being raised abroad since infancy. Once landed in Kingston and without a compass of any kind, each of the characters embarks on a journey that pushes their endurance beyond measure and forces them to discover who they truly are. On the most fundamental level, Home Again asks the question, “How would you survive?”
On its release last year, the film became the number-one Canadian film in box office, three weeks in a row, and also screened to sold-out audiences in Trinidad and Tobago. The film’s production was shrouded in a bit of controversy, since most of the “Jamaican” parts of the film were shot in Trinidad and Tobago, because Jamaica dragged its feet in negotiating a rebate for the producers. The film opened the 2012 Belize International Film Festival and won the Special Jury Award Mention for Best Feature Length Narrative Film.
The film is available on iTunes. Watch the trailer here:
Le Bonheur de Elza
Directed by Mariette Monpierre
Synopsis: Bernadette, a single mother in Paris, tries to provide her daughters with everything. She is thrilled when her eldest daughter, Elza, is the first in the family to graduate from college earning a master’s degree summa cum laude. But Elza breaks her mother’s heart by running away to their native Guadeloupe in search of a distant childhood memory: the father she barely remembers. This feature debut by writer/director Mariette Monpierre offers an unusual insider’s view of lush island culture as she captures the passion and contradictions of this family.
Although released in 2011, this film has been popular in the film festival circuit worldwide and was most recently screened at 2013 Algiers International Film Festival. A New York Times Critics’ Pick, the film is the winner of the 2012 Paul Robeson Award for Best Film of the Diaspora FESPACO, Ouaga; Best Narrative Feature at the 2012 Roxbury International Film Festival; Best First Feature Special Jury Recognition at the 2012 Pan African Film Festival, L.A.; BAFTA Festival Choice and Festival Programmers’ Awards at PAFF/L.A. The film was also the Runner up for Best International Feature at the 2012 San Francisco Black Film Festival, and nominated for Best Picture and Best Screenplay by the 2012 American Black Film Festival, Best Diaspora Feature at the 2012 Africa Movie Academy Awards (AMAA), and Best Picture by the French Afro-Caribbean Arts Awards.
Watch the trailer here:
Songs of Redemption
Directed by Miquel Galofré and Amanda Sans
Synopsis: Songs Of Redemption captures the moving story of redemption and rehabilitation of inmates of the General Penitentiary located in Kingston, Jamaica. The film features riveting interviews and powerful reggae music created, performed, and produced in a unique partnership by inmates and wardens. The movie exemplifies the unique transformation of an extremely violent environment into a new state of creative and healing artistic collaborations. Interviews by inmates reveal sincere regret for the actions that led to a life of incarceration. The critical turning point is ignited through a growing sense of self pride and identity, a channel to musically express remorse and the ability to warn the next youth from destructive behavior.
The film won the 2013 Best Feature Documentary and People’s Choice Awards at the T&T Film Festival; the People’s Choice Award at the 2013 CineDoc Tbilisi Film Festival; and Best Full Length Documentary at the African World Documentary Film Festival.
Watch the trailer here:
God Loves the Fighter
Directed by Damian Marcano
Trinidad & Tobago, 2012
Synopsis: King Curtis, a vagrant on the streets of Port of Spain, is constantly ignored by passersby. He speaks and if he has to – sometimes shouts the truth about the stories behind the newspaper headlines. As the conductor of our story, King Curtis introduces us to a young man named Charlie… Charlie, a resident east of the lighthouse, is trying his best to stay on the right path. However, with no job in sight, he is finding it hard to say no to other “opportunities”. A chance of redemption presents itself when Dinah, a professional streetwalker, crosses his path in need of help. As the story unfolds, King Curtis reveals the ripple effect created by a person’s decision making; leading to moments of triumph and moments of tragedy.
Winner of the People’s Choice and Special Jury Mention for Best Narrative Feature Awards and the Best Local Feature Award at the 2013 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival, we included this film mostly because of how well the producers promoted the film, it’s success at the T&T Film Festival, and the wicked sound track performed mostly by Freetown Collective. The film entered 2013 with a bang and will continue to wow audiences in 2014.
Watch the trailer here:
Outline: Award-winning Haitian born filmmaker Raoul Peck takes us on a two-year journey inside the challenging, contradictory, and colossal rebuilding efforts in post-earthquake Haiti. Through its provocative and radical point of view, Fatal Assistance, offers a devastating indictment of the international community’s post-disaster idealism. The film dives headlong into the complexity of the reconstruction process and the practice and impact of worldwide humanitarian and development aid, revealing the disturbing extent of a general failure. We learn that a major portion of the money pledged to Haiti was never disbursed, nor made it into the actual reconstruction. Fatal Assistance leads us to one clear conclusion: current aid policies and practices in Haiti need to stop immediately.
Winner of the World Competition Award at the 2013 Abu Dhabi Film Festival, and Best Documentary Feature at the T&T Film Festival, we included this film because of its widespread acclaim and appearances at numerous prestigious film festival around the world, where, even if it didn’t win a competition garnered significant critical acclaim.
Watch the trailer here:
Directed by Kareem Mortimer
Synopsis: Passage tells the story of a young woman and her brother fighting for survival while being smuggled into the US on a fishing vessel.
Winner of the Director’s Choice Award at the 2013 Portland Maine Film Festival, Best Short Film Award at the 2013 Trinidad & Tobago Film Festival and an Open Category winner at the 2013 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival Grand Bahama, Passage was one of five film proposals chosen by the Commonwealth Foundation’s Commonwealth Shorts, beating out thousands of applicants from around the Commonwealth in 2012.
The trailer/teaser for this film is one of the best we’ve seen this year – watch it here and see for yourself. This film will continue to wow audiences in 2014.
Hit us up with your thoughts.