Caribana may have finished, but in Toronto, the celebration of Caribbean culture isn’t over. The city is home to CaribbeanTales, an organization devoted to sharing stories from people of the Caribbean diaspora. The CaribbeanTales International Film Festival begins in September, and runs from the 7th to the 17th of the month.
A few days ago I spoke with its founder, Frances-Anne Solomon. Ms. Solomon is an award-winning filmmaker of Caribbean heritage. A writer, producer and director in film, TV, Radio and New Media, her career includes a 13-year tenure in England with the BBC as a Television Drama Producer and Executive Producer. In 2000, she returned to Toronto where she continued to create her own projects, and in 2001 she successfully launch the first CaribbeanTales project.
Today, CaribbeanTales has grown into the CaribbeanTales Media Group — companies that produce, market and sell Caribbean-themed audio-visual content across the globe.
Frances-Anne Solomon and John Reid of Flow, CaribbeanTales’ leading partner.
Frances-Anne Solomon’s passion for telling Caribbean people’s stories is palpable. Listen to her speech from the launch of this year’s Festival.
Ms. Solomon’s words left me feeling energized, and eager to preserve my cultural roots.
Our chat began with her revealing what sparked her interest in film, as well as the story of CaribbeanTales.
When I was growing up in Trinidad there were no stories about me anywhere. We learned about the kings and queens of England and history, and we learned about Shakespeare and Jane Eyre…I had to become an adult before I learned about slavery. It was only much later that I realized that we resisted slavery—that we had this incredible journey as Caribbean people coming from all over the world, and it really transformed my life.
I remember learning this from a therapist: If you see yourself as a victim or you don’t have a sense of the beginning of the story, then that determines the ending. Whether there’s a happy ending or a tragic ending has a lot to do with how the narrative is perceived.
I became passionately interested in storytelling and I was drawn to film. Then I worked at the BBC for many years. I got to see how the developed world could have an organization that created, produced, marketed, and sold to a rapt audience its own stories about themselves. I saw how that created national pride and individual pride—a concept of empire and power. I really felt that we in the Caribbean needed to have those sort of narratives, and mechanisms for the transmission of those narratives folded into our culture.
In 2001 after I left the BBC I started CaribbeanTales with that goal of creating an organization that would create, produce, market, and sell Caribbean stories, of Caribbean people—Caribbean narratives of all kind.
Originally we were making programs, and in 2006 we started the festival because programs we were making were not getting seen.
In 2010 we started CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution. I realized it wasn’t enough to make films and show films, it was also necessary to be able to sell them, so that we as filmmakers and storytellers could have sustainable careers.
Then in 2013, we started our online platform: CaribbeanTales TV. We also have an incubator program which is a hub of development and production.
Now the whole project has is beginning to take off, and that’s very exciting.
Twenty-sixteen marks the festival’s 11th year. How has your vision for CaribbeanTales evolved?
My journey has been very much one of an individual—from being a story-teller, and a filmmaker to being someone who is interested in creating and changing the world—to provide a kind of essential service for people in our region, so that our stories would have a way to be made, distributed, seen, exchanged, and monetized, in a sustainable way. That has been an evolution for me from being an artist—somebody who has a passion to tell and see stories that touch me.
I think being part of a global movement, our stories matter. And that is not just personal—it’s political, it’s economic, it’s logistic. And it’s ultimately transformational.
What’s on its horizon for Caribbean tales?
I think the global climate has changed, with the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s very inspiring to see young people taking up the torch that our ancestors in the Black Power movement from the 60s and 70s and the Civil Rights movement have carried—picking that up and kind of saying “Enough now, we need equal rights. This is a human rights issue…”
That has changed the narrative.
Also, #OscarsSoWhite has really thrown a light on the lack of representation of women and people of colour in the global landscape. That has a resonance in terms of us telling stories in the third world so that the narrative is different. There are opportunities now that I feel are ripe for the picking; we’re very excited for the future.
I understand that this year’s theme is Caribbean Love. Could you please share some of your thoughts on the subject and the ways it’s explored throughout the CaribbeanTales Festival?
This year, we felt that a lot of our history as Caribbean people and people of colour internationally, has been one of brutality, violence, and exploitation. It’s really important for us to acknowledge that at the end of the day it is love that has allowed us to survive and continue to connect with each other. Love, in a way, is the answer. We need to remind each other constantly that through love it is possible to heal, grow, and build.
Under the CaribbeanLove banner, our opening night gala, Diary of a Badman, focuses on women of colour creators.
We always do a focus on Trinidad and Tobago; I come from Trinidad and there’s a lot of amazing work coming out of there now. This year’s evening is called Trinibego to the Bone, about Carnival and different cultural events.
In Migrant Tales, we look at diasporic stories of Caribbean people—those of us who come from the Caribbean and live abroad permanently. A lot of people people call it “immigration” and “migration”, but I like to use the word, “expat”. We do come from somewhere, and that identity is important.
Then we have Love Thy Neighbour, which is a night when we look at a lot of dark history: we look at drug trafficking, abusive behaviour, different mental disorders, even possession—a lot of darker themes. The overall theme of this night is, “How do we look past this? What is the way to show sympathy to the darker elements of society?”
Then we have LGBT Love. It’s been our commitment every year for the past 5 years to throw a light on voices from the LGBT community across the Caribbean. For us, queer rights are human rights.
And then, Revolutionary Love showcases five short films about Black Canadian activists.
We have a strand called #BlackLoveMatters, which is a twist on #BlackLivesMatter, focusing on the power of love to heal Black people. Its focus is on Black love within families, specifically fathers and sons, mothers and children—those love relationships and what they mean to our community.
Animated Love is our animation night. We have a whole feature which is about struggles for emancipation.
Our closing night is Walk Good, which is focusing on a number of Jamaican films and celebrating Jamaican culture—both music and religion.
CineFAM, a word from Haitian creole meaning “films by women”, is an initiative designed to support women of colour creators.
In addition to the material from your opening night, you’ve also launched CineFAM. Could you share some of your thoughts on the importance of women as creators within the Black community?
As a woman of colour creator myself, that’s the area that has been the most difficult to get support and build a career because women’s work is invisible, and women, due to sexism are excluded from being creative leaders. We’re not allowed to do that. We can be supportive. We can be the power behind the man, but we cannot stand up and say “I am a woman creator.”
I think fundamentally it has to do with sexism. We don’t get support as creators—women of colour. And it’s that point, where racism and sexism meet, that has totally destroyed our ability to be seen as the incredible creators that we are. Meanwhile, quite often if you look at the work that women are doing in terms of creating community and creating business and creating the world, it’s unbelievable. Women are powerful.
We have some great examples in our community of women who are able to break through, like Ava DuVernay and Amma Asante. There are also women in other areas as well. Incredible role models for us.
I wanted to, first, create awareness of the power of women creators—the extraordinary talent of women of colour creators, and also create a network for women of colour creators. I feel this area is the one place where we don’t get support.
If someone could only see one film at the CaribbeanTales festival, what would it be, and why?
I think I’d say 50 years of Black Activism, because it features 5 incredible stories of people in the Canadian landscape who have really made a difference. They’re completely unknown to the wider community, but they’re amazing people. Each one of these films is written and directed by a Black woman, and the executive producer is a Black woman, and the originator of the project—Akua Benjamin, who is an incredible leader—is also a Black woman.
Just on its own, that project stands as a testimony to the power of women as creators, leaders—powerhouses in documenting, in acknowledging, in creating, in producing, in breaking ground, and changing the narrative.
How would you like your audience to feel after their experience at the festival?
Inspired, powerful, and connected: Our life, our love, our festival.
For further information on the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, including its scheduled screenings, be sure to visit their web site.