Three Jamaican short films are on the agenda of the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, which opens in Toronto on September 5. The two I have reviewed below will be screened on September 19, along with The Incursion (which I will review separately) and Kaneal Gayle’s film Dancehall’s Asian Ambassadors, a short documentary which you will find reviewed elsewhere.
If you are looking for an upbeat film about city life in Jamaica, this is not it. This is an unremittingly joyless short film. In the opening minutes, we look through the eyes of Kinto, a fourteen-year-old windscreen wiper working on the unforgiving streets of Kingston. His eyes reflect unease, hunger, fear. He takes short breaths with the effort of squeezing his plastic bottle of soapy water, reaching up with his wiper to press it across the windscreen, sweeping first one side and then the next.
Since there is virtually no dialogue, the sound is particularly powerful in this film. The overwhelming rush of uptown traffic. Thunder growls, and rain rattles on styrofoam containers in a garbage heap. Kinto’s plastic flip-flops slap on the sidewalk and shuffle through wet gravel and dirt. The thumping and muffled cries of Kinto, when he is beaten up by a group of young men in a downtown alley. The buzzing of flies on the pile of garbage, where Kinto tries to find food. There are snatches of voices and dancehall music. Then, for most of the last few minutes, there are the searing cries of a small baby in distress. It is late at night, on a residential street uptown, and the tree frogs sing gently.
There can be no backstory in a film that is only fifteen minutes long, but I could not help but ask: What was special about Kinto? What about his family – his mother? Is he simply a typical young homeless boy?
There is no real hope at the end of the film. A glimpse of love and caring, perhaps. However, what particularly touched me was Kinto’s loneliness. After all, no one looks at homeless people – or if they do, they never make eye contact.
This film is dedicated to a friend of members of the team, videographer Kemar James, who died suddenly, at age twenty-two, last year. Director, writer, and producer Joshua Paul said in an interview that he found it hard to complete the film without him. One does not know whether, or how the film will be taken further (I believe there is a slightly longer version). We shall see.
Meanwhile, kudos to young Sekai Smart-Macaulay, who bravely tackled this challenging role.
Abeeku and the Maroons
Animation is a growing creative field in Jamaica, as we all know. Courses are available at places like Tyrone Wilson’s iCreate Institute. We are seeing more examples of indigenous work – that is, animated films and series with a distinctly Jamaican flavor, and not that unfamiliar “foreign” look.
Abeeku and the Maroons is an animated series with the aim of bringing Jamaican history and culture to life through vivid storytelling. In this respect, there are so many possibilities; Jamaican history is nothing, if not filled with drama and conflict. I understand the goal is for this series, targeting a young audience, to be released on a digital platform over three seasons. A runaway slave, Abeeku, seeks the help of the Maroons to find his pregnant sister. In this three-minute introduction, we see two slaves dashing through the bush, with the young woman clutching her large belly as she runs, and eventually stopping to catch her breath. We hear the dogs behind them.
The series premiered just one year ago at the Caribbean Institute of Media and Communication (CARIMAC) at the University of the West Indies. Chevonnese Whyte is Managing, Creative and Marketing Director; Adrian Whyte is in charge of the graphics, animation and game development, and Kevin Jackson is Director of the production. It is vibrant and energetic, and indeed this genre has the potential to be a very useful storytelling tool, especially for historical episodes that cannot be told easily through simple dramatizations.