Still rocking a rich brown tan from the recent Curacao International Film Festival Rotterdam, which took place April 5-9, I’ve got a special festival recap and snapshot of the exciting new wave of stories coming from the Caribbean islands you NEED IN YOUR LIFE!
For the past 4 years I’ve been the programmer of the Yellow Robin Award competition at CIFFR, now in its 6th edition, selecting five feature length films from the Caribbean. I like to think I’ve made it a discovery section and tapped into the beat of what’s happening in the region, premiering first features from Haiti, Aruba, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Trinidad, Colombia, Costa Rica and more. This year’s competition was comprised of El Hombre que cuida by Alejandro Andujar (DR), Melocotones by Hector M. Valdez (DR), Keyla by Viviana Gomez Echeverry (Colombia), Bad Lucky Goat by Samir Oliveros (Colombia), and Angelica by Marisol Gomez Moukad (Puerto Rico). The winner receives a cash prize and earns a screening the following year in Rotterdam’s Bright Future section, as well as a coveted slot in the Morelia International Film Festival in the fall.
This year, Director of International Film Festival Rotterdam Bero Beyer brought in Industry maven, Marit van den Elshout of IFFR/Cinemart to step up their industry activities at the festival. There were masterclasses and one-on-ones with mentors like Pierre Menham of MPM Film and Wendy Mitchell, member of the British Film Council and contributing editor to Screen International. The jury, composed of Beyer, Mitchell, and Curaçao local artist and filmmaker Felix De Rooy, bestowed the Yellow Robin Award to El Hombre que cuida from the Dominican Republic. Which brings me to:
WINNING! La Dominicana
Directed and written by Alejandro Andujar, El Hombre que cuida is a character driven story centering on Juan – a searing performance by Hector Anibal – and his paradoxical situation of living on a piece of paradise he serves. Its hard not to feel for the still strapping but aging introverted man, and when the friendly spoiled brat son of the house owner crashes with friends, a steady and uneasy tension crescendos centering on a local village girl whose trespassed her class, ultimately speaking modern day volumes without even saying it.
We had the privilidge of world premiering this film that has stellar chemistry and performances among its cast. It is being handled by sales agent veteran Alfredo Calvino’s Habanero Films. Hopefully it makes all the stops in between its future screenings of IFFR and Morelia.
Andujar is a screenwriter, making his directorial debut. He has collaborated as writer on many films – some he likes to mention and others not really. Among his favorites however is collaborating with Israel Cardenas and Laura Amelia Guzman, the mexican filmmaker duos of such internationally recognized films like Cochochi, Jean Gentil and Sand Dollars.
HECTOR VALDEZ – I just had to invite super young filmmaker Hector Valdez again with his wild and ambitious sci-fi romantic comedy, Melocotones. Its practically unheard of to find sci-fi genrein the Caribbean, and the film marks such a progression from his last feature, road trip movie, Al sur de la inocencia which was in the YRA in 2013. Like Andujar, Hector and his spanish producers partner straddle making commercial cinema in between personal passion projects. He is currently editing one of his personal buckets, Nobody Dies in Ambrosia, a story about pirates who discover the fountain of youth. With a sharp eye for a distinct retro-futuristic aesthetic and influenced by the fun of Back to the Future Melocotones is an unbridled, arousing and pulpy time travel trip that proves a do-over is not always the best way to fix your self and relationship.
Participating in CIFFR, outside the YRA competition was the immediate feels of documentary Jeffrey by Yanillys Perez which bowed last year at the Toronto international Film Festival. Perez, an actor who splits her time between Paris and Santo Domingo participated in Film Independent’s Project Involve’s program in 2016, and her upcoming project Candy Town is in participating in the prestigious talent-making co-production market, Atelier Cannes Festival Atelier. Jeffrey is an impossibly mature 12 year old windshield wiper gifted with some sick reggaeton moves and rhymes, and is basically irresistible. Like the Facebook page here.
An alumni of YRA, another talented Dominican docudrama filmmaker (btw – the only time I’ve played documentary in the YRA) is Natalia Cabral who studied film at the International Film School of San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba along with Alejandro Andujar. She directed Tú y Yo, winner at the Trinidad + Tobago Film Festival which also competed in the 2015 YRA. Her second feature, Sitio de los Sitios premiered at IDFA last fall. See trailer below and like the Facebook
Last year’s Dominican alumni, A Orillas del Mar by Bladimir Abud, born in Samana (not Santo Domingo like most of these filmmakers) competed in the YRA. I’m happy to hear he was awarded with the Best film prize by the Dominican Republic’s National Art Awards just this past March for the film about a boy who journeys to the city to find out what happened to his father.
And lets not forget about super simpatico JM Cabral who debuted CARPINTEROS at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and has been racking up awards all over the festival circuit. The young filmmaker who is now repped by APA and Circle of Confusion, recently made the Hollywood rounds and there is talk of serializing the prison-set romance between a Haitian and a Dominican.
Also on the map, Nelson Carlo dos Santos who did his MFA in Film at CalArts won Panama Film Festival’s work in progress section with his upcoming film Cocote. The film stars Judith Rodriguez Perez of Carpinteros and per the description is about a young ma who goes back to his town for his father’s funeral and is forced to participate in a litany of rites and traditions he doesn’t believe in. Nelson’s previous film, Santa y otras historias is a captivating avant garde film inspired by Roberto Bolaño’s 2666. Watch that trailer here
EL CARIBE COLOMBIANO
This is the year that I learned about an island called Providencia thanks to two filmakers, Viviana Gomez Echeverry and Samir Oliveros. Once the English colonizers discovered Providence, Rhode Island was an easier shot across the pond they abandoned it leaving it as Old Providence. This long overlooked island, together with San Andrés and Santa Catalina, lies midway between Costa Rica and Jamaica and forms part of Colombia. Quite serendipitously, these two young Bogota-based filmmakers decided to film their first features here. I just had to play both films in competition as they are two totally distinct stories that treat this creole speaking island as a character in their films. A sign of their impressive directing chops is that both directed non-professional cast to well balanced results. Also of note – both included the sweet music of Providencia’s very own Elkin Robinson
A dazzling first feature by cinematographer Viviana Gómez Echeverry, Keyla captures the pirate’s treasure lore and magic of the island in this coming of age starring a stubborn 18 year old whose father gets lost at sea. Recipient of Tribeca Film Insitute’s Latin American Fund, Viviana spent nearly eight years in the making of the film, including running a workshop teaching the islanders and cast how to film and act.
Bad Lucky Goat by Samir Oliveros world premiered at SXSW and garnered legit buzz, earning a couple buzz screenings and topping Indiewire film chief’s Eric Kohn’s best first feature list. The film is that rare family friendly film that’s also a delightful, quirky adventure around the island about a brother and sister having to work together to get out of a jam. Bad Lucky Goat subsequently landed a spot at the Panama Film Festival before its YRA competition slot at CIFFR. The film is in the good hands of sales agency Luxbox with Fiorella Moretti, previously of film company Mantaraya, the house that Carlos Reygadas built.
LETS TALK ABOUT PUERTO RICO
This year’s Puerto Rican entry was Angelica by Marisol Gomez Moukad who participated in Panama’s work in progress in 2015. The deeply feminist pov of a mixed race aspiring designer packed the house at all its screenings. It was truly special to watch how it connected with Curacao’s audiences.
Boricuas have represented in the YRA competition, winning back to back in 2015 and 2016. Alex Santiago’s Las vacas con gafas (2015) a dark comedy ‘romp’ about an artist/professor who is at once loquacious and a misanthrope, as he deals with his aging, failing eyesight. A delectable performance by Daniel Lugo who eats up the scene. Good news – it is now available on iTunes.
In 2016 we had the unbelievably good luck to host the world premiere of Antes que cante el gallo (2016) by Ari Manuel Cruz. Trailer below. Cruz who collaborates with actor/screenwriter Kisha Turkino Burgos showed a cut of his latest film, Quien eres tu? in Panama International Film Festival’s recent Primera Mirada (work in progress).
2015 Yellow Robin Award winner Damian Marcano crushed it with his first feature God Loves the Fighter. Must watch this hyper injection of real life through Marcano’s painterly palette. Available on iTunes here. His latest short film, Heart of a Monster – see below – is yet another shining example of this rasta’s vivid and kinetic filmmaking style. When not making music or branded content solo and with his producing partner Alexa Bailey, he is busy developing a few projects for a couple major hollywood studios. So if you don’t know yet you will know soon.
Play the Devil, by bahamas born Maria Govan beguiled audiences at the LA Film Festival last summer. This her second feature, which she shot in Paramin, Trinidad. The ‘devil’ mythology surrounds a traditional carnival dance which means paying the devil his/her due so that the devil leaves the village alone for the year. Govan interweaves this theme of allowing room for our devils to breathe with the story of a young gay man dealing with repression. Govan’s first feature, Rain premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2008.
Vashti Anderson’s Moko Jumbie is a total gem to watch out for. She is busy on the edit. Here’s a diary she did while in production for MovieMaker magazine and about the film which had a work in progress screening at the Third Horizons Festival.
Y CUBA, OBVIO
I couldn’t do a post about Caribbean cinema without including Cuba. I’ve been hearing about La Escuela de Cine en San Antonio de Los Baños the internationally renowned film school since forever and Cuba has a well documented film legacy. That said, there is an old guard who have gripped onto the spotlight for decades. Alejandro Burgues code switched it up when he burst onto the genre scene a few years ago with Juan of the Dead – avail on iTunes and these days is LA based and busy on a number of feature and tv projects. Currently, young filmmaker Carlos Lechuga possesses an incredibly assured hand in his first two films. His current film, the 1983 set Santa & Andres was pulled from Habana’s Film Fesstival and then when Havana NY FF tried slide it into an out of competition slot, Lechuga decided to bow out completely. Whats with the censuring? The LGBT and anti-fidel nature? Like I said old guard gripping. The film which is about a closely monitored gay novelist by a government watcher who finds more in common with him than she thought is thankfully making the festival rounds everywhere since its Toronto International Film Festival bow. Lechuga’s film is that rare period set film where characters feel so immediate and the subject so profound and fresh, and unfortunately more topical than ever.
Born at the same time as CIFFR and taking place just days before, the Panama International Film Festival has become another key platform in the region that has the clout to launch and expose talent within the region as well as abroad. Unlike CIFFR’s cozy, intimate and 30 something film lineup setting, IFFP is bigger in scope with 140 screenings in 5 different venues and a formalized industry program. The festival is led by filmmaker Pituka Ortega-Heilbron and Artistic Director and Toronto International Film Festival programmer Diana Sanchez.
Since 2006 the trinidad+tobago film festival has done a lot to cultivate interest in island films, specially non-Spanish language which is a big deal in the spanish dominant region, both at the festival and year round. The call for submission is now open for the twelfth edition which takes place from 19 – 26 September 2017.
Stateside, the Caribbean Film Academy headed by Romula Lucas offers a resourceful website with filmmaker interviews and U.S. screenings. They organize a Caribbean Film Series with BAMcinématek and collaborated on a new festival in Miami this past fall called Third Horizon led by Jason Fitzroy Jeffers.
Its rare to see these films get distribution in the states. I haven’t seen this much quality and freshness of Caribbean cinema since I started watching international film professionally 13 years ago. These filmmakers are young, driven and offer rarely seen windows and insight into a region that we’ve only now begun to see, and be represented. Show your interest by following and messaging their social media handles above and in hyperlinks!
And if you are a Caribbean filmmaker working on your film, let me know! Would love to support and watch.