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T&T Film Festival Presents 100+ Films
Amy (a passionate UK documentary about the life of soul queen Amy Winehouse), Gone With the River (a Venezuelan drama about a Warao woman’s dilemma), and Gueros (an offbeat, lively Mexican comedy about a teenage troublemaker—film critic Godfrey Cheshire called it a “sly, insouciant masterpiece”) are just a hint of the movie feast to start this month.
The T&T Film Festival (TTFF) celebrates its tenth anniversary this year from September 15-29 with two weeks of non-stop activity, helped by presenting sponsors Flow and leading sponsors BPTT and the T&T Film Company (FilmTT). Its programme of films, industry events, parties and limes include a line-up of more than 100 films spanning narrative, documentary and experimental genres.
Politics, human rights and a nuanced view of issues affecting the region feature strongly among this year’s offerings, as do entertaining films such as Bazodee which stars our very own soca king Machel Montano in a steamy interracial love story; the movie has its world premiere on September 23 at the Globe Cinema in Port of Spain.
The opening night gala will take place at Queen’s Hall on September 15 with a screening of Sweet Micky for President, a Haitian film about an unlikely presidential campaign.
The Film Festival was launched at a press conference on Wednesday at the downtown Hyatt hotel, where the T&T Guardian talked with some key people involved with the festival.
Annabelle Alcazar, TTFF editorial director, has been with the festival almost since it began; she joined the organising team in its second year. “I’ve been here for nine years,” she said. “The growth I have seen is phenomenal, both in terms of the number of films we now show—it’s grown from 30 the first year to over 100 this year—and in the quality of the local films particularly.”
“Generally, we can see that the professional workshops we’ve run have really paid off,” she said. “We can see the quality growing, which is what our goal is: to grow the indigenous industry.
“It’s not just about showing films. We want to do more than that; we want to up the skill set of all the local filmmakers, and also help them see the kinds of films that we’re showing, because you learn how to make a film from seeing other films as well. It’s like if you’re a writer, you’ve got to read books.”
“Our tag line this year is: ‘It starts here.’
“We didn’t want to feel too self-satisfied at ten years, so now we’re on to phase two. But I’m thrilled with where we’re at.”
Alcazar gave an example of where she’s seen filmmakers’ skills blossom.
“One place where I’ve really seen the difference is in the films that come out of the UWI BA and film programme. That programme is also almost ten years old, as is the Film Company; everything started in 2006. So when I first came on in 2007, there was a limited number of films coming out of the UWI programme, and they were all literally about drugs, violence, guns, and the quality wasn’t great; but we still showed them, to encourage (filmmaking). Now this year, the subject matter is so diverse, it’s just amazing; everything from a portrait of a cuatro singer to problems of Laventille, to environmental themes. That, to me, is really encouraging.”
Behind the scenes
Jonathan Ali, TTFF editorial director, spoke to the T&T Guardian about the challenges in running a film festival. A main one every year, he said, is the need to screen oodles of films in order to select the best possible programme.
“We try to get a balance and variety in the types of films, and of course we look for quality films. There’s a six-member screening committee,” he explained, which screens films from March to July. The committee solicits films in two ways, he said: one is research by TTFF members, who attend film festivals, do research online, and form relationships with filmmakers and producers from whom they find out about good films. The other way is through an open call for submissions of Caribbean film from March to May each year. “We start watching films once they start coming in,” said Ali.
After selection comes the task of scheduling the programme, which may involve pairing short films with longer features, and looking at themes. Every year the TTFF invites guests from the local film scene as well as some regional and foreign filmmakers. “All that’s a great juggling act. It’s a lot of work, but it’s fun,” he commented: “We watch feature-length and short films. I watch several hundred a year.”
“A number of the films in competition this year, especially some TT films, were submitted by young filmmakers I’d never heard of before. Some were at school abroad. That was nice to see—Trinidadians who live here, but who are at school abroad, and submitting films here.”
What about members of the public who may want to see Caribbean and regional films year-round, outside of the festival schedule? “This is the big problem, because we only get the rights to screen the films at the festival,” said Annabelle Alcazar, adding: “Some of the films we do show during our community screenings, which we do year-round, but that’s limited. So that is a challenge: how do you get it year-round? I don’t know what the answer is, to be quite honest.”
Jonathan Ali, TTFF editorial director, said the TTFF certainly has the will and the enthusiasm to show films year-round, but does not have the resources. “In other countries you have cinematheques,” he said. Cinematheques are typically small film theatres that specialise in important, experimental or art-house films; the buildings are often part of a private or university archive. “Cinematheques show independent films year-round,” he said.
What did Ali think of the idea to have a film lending resource, perhaps as part of the national library system? He said: “Then you actually have to get those films. Many of them are available, on DVD or pay-per-view or online. Hopefully with the launch of the film database, that will be a resource where people can start looking at film.”
He noted: “It’s early days yet, and people are now starting to realise there is all this content, but where do you see it outside of the festival? For a number of years, once the festival has ended, Flow has put films on their pay-per-view channel, so you can view some of the films there. But what we really need is something like a cinematheque. Britain has the British Film Institute, for example; France has the Cinematheque Francaise, where there’s a library where you can research films, and there’s also a cinema attached to that, where you can view them, and they have programmes such as retrospectives of filmmakers, or themed films – like women filmmakers, for instance. But it’s all about accessing the funding to do these things.”
“We were very pleased with the funding we got to do the film database. We certainly have ideas and plans for the next ten years, as we look long-term,” he said.
“Hopefully one day, we’ll have a TTFF cinema of our own, where we can show films year-round, and invite filmmakers to come and present,” he added. “These days, you can watch a film on your phone, when and where you choose. But there’s nothing that can beat the experience of coming to a cinema and watching a film with an audience on a big screen, and having the person who made that film, present that film to you, which is the essence of the film festival experience. The experience of seeing non-Hollywood films, and films about our own stories, is often one you can only get at a film festival. Film festivals are where movies start; they have their premieres there, and then they get distributed, picked up by cinemas, and hopefully get a commercially successful and viable run after that.”
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