Words by Tishanna Williams—
Today marks the official start of the 8th annual Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, or ttff/13. A venture of the Trinidad and Tobago Film Company, the event, known for offering the best films within the Caribbean Diaspora and contemporary world cinema, is the largest of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean. This year’s edition, which kicked off yesterday with TKTK, runs through Oct. 1 and includes over 120 films, with screenings held at locations ranging from large cinemas to amphitheatres and parks.
The festival has been a godsend for the T&T film industry, which had been crying out for proper financial and marketing assistance prior to its launch in 2006. Movies are shown at little to no cost for the public, providing invaluable local promotion for filmmakers, and an opportunity for directors from Trinidad and elsewhere in the Caribbean to have their featured works catch the eye of internationally invited guests.
Although tge film industry in Trinidad & Tobago has had its ups and downs, it is a highly appropriate forum for this cinematic venture. The twin island nation’s film history reaches as far back as the pre-Independence period: The first theater, The London Electric, opened in 1911, with the first local filmmaker, Louis Tucker, emerging a decade later in the 1920′s with a series of short films. By 1959, with the influx of US soldiers during World War II, the islands boasted as many as 40 cinemas between them.
It was was no surprise that T&T nationals soon began producing their own films. The first all-local, full length feature, Bim, written by Raoul Pantin, even gained international acclaim following its release in 1975. Raoul’s daughter, Mandisa Pantin, has continued his legacy and become a celebrated filmmaker, producer, screenwriter in her own right. With her deep roots and firm investment in the country’s cinematic legacy, it was a must that I catch up with the 2012 National Black Programming Consortium Best Emerging Director on the set of her latest project, Pan, to get her views on the local film scene.
“It is time for the audio-visual practitioners to take a hand in their own destiny, shape their own future and figure out a map for what they want for themselves,” Pantin said. “Currently we are climbing out of a serious slump but I think that the film company in terms of providing some funding, and the film festival in providing an avenue and building a film culture for local work is absolutely a fantastic first step.”
And a film culture it is indeed building. Public response to the festival has increased dramatically over the years. Not only has it made a stellar body of cinematic work more accessible to Trinibagonians, but it is also exposing the country and its local talent— and the world is taking notice.
This year saw the locally-shot, US-produced film Home Again, starring Tatyana Ali and Fefe Dobson, hit international cinemas abroad to favorable response. And Blue Cinnamon Group, an LA-based media production company with roots in Trinidad, has already caused quite a stir with their feature, God Loves The Fighter. Set for official release in 2014, the film, shot locally by director Damian Marcano with an all-local cast, will make its debut at the festival this Friday night (9/20). Already, film enthusiasts are clamoring to buy tickets for this ‘must-see’ pick. As of yesterday, updates with photos of purchased tickets were trending on Twitter and Facebook. Malene Joseph, an excited patron who’s attended the festival for years, had this to say as I caught her in line getting 10 tickets for the film:
“I am beyond excited to see the premiere of God Loves the Fighter- I am over the moon about having such quality, local content being produced.” Asked about her views on the festival itself she said, “The festival keeps moving in leaps and bounds. The best part of it is encountering gems of films….local, regional and diasporic. Also I love each year being able to pull in a few more people, like co-workers who many times would not know anything about these events until I talk about it.”
Other locally-produced movies generating talk ahead of their festival screenings include Robert MacFarlane’s Jab in the Dark; the short film Mystic Blue; and No Bois Man No Fraid, Christopher Laird’s documentary on the Trini stickfighting tradition known as Kalinda. (Read our feature on that here).
Over 120 films in 2 weeks! You better get started now. So, download your copy of the ttff/13 schedule, complete with film synopsis and venue directions here. Then grab your snacks, ticket and that friend that makes a day at the movies seem like the ultimate adventure, and head down to the indicated venue to watch your must see picks for the season. Happy Watching!