By Liz Philbert (Sept 2015 issue)
A. We are noticing a new surge of Black females in big mainstream productions, in television shows like “Grey’s Anatomy” and on the screen like “Selma”. After decades of your working in the film industry as a producer, director etc. what is your take on this surge of recognition and opportunities and does it have any effect as yet on your Caribbean films?
Q. Ava Duvernay, the director of the movie “Selma” and the TV executive, Shonda Rhimes, who produces “Grey’s Anatomy” are two
Black American women who have risen within the media mainstream.
Before them, several powerful and talented women had led the way. Black women like Julie Dash in America and Euzhan Palcy from Martinique.
I guess it does seem like our time has come and as women of color, we are ready to take centre stage with the power of our work. We have great and moving stories to tell. People are beginning to realise that women are naturally highly skilled as film Directors — and women of color are no exception.
I tend to think it is relatively easy for a woman to have a big vision, to assume responsibility for realizing her dream and to multi-task to make it happen. We have always created and managed large enterprises, like our families and our homes. We are quietly accustomed to succeeding in what we undertake and being fabulous for those we love. So it is about time for us to be more widely seen and to receive accolades.
We all know that movies are inherently about human emotions, and so female emotional literacy is perfect for making good films. In terms of Caribbean film making, there are some awesome female directors, many of them at the helm of our current programming CTFF 2015. They include: Mary Wells and Karen Mafundikwa (both from Jamaica) and Stacey Buchanan (Canada),
Q. Can you remember the first movie you saw which piqued your interest enough and which started your journey and career in the film industry?
A. Two films: Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull” and Jane Campion’s “The Piano”, both powerful character driven narratives that go for the jugular emotionally and have an epic sweep in terms of resonance. I loved the visceral emotional violence of “Raging Bull” and the great visual canvas of “The Piano” that seemed to me like a moving painting. These two films inspired me to pour my soul and vision into movie story-telling.
Q. Why have you focused on this niche market of the Caribbean diaspora?
A. For me, the Caribbean is not a niche market. It is who I am, and it represents the central reality of populations and cultures within which I grew up and where I belong. It presents a large demographic that is racially diverse, geographically scattered around the globe, culturally literate and fiercely dynamic. Caribbean people are natural storytellers as witnessed in our strong literary tradition. Now access to technology and the internet has led to an exciting explosion of talent in filmmaking that I am proud to be part of and to help nurture, harness and drive.
Q. Are there differences in the way that audiences in the UK, the Caribbean and North America respond to your work?
A. Not really. You must understand that worldwide, there are populations of Caribbean people – living in London, in New York and in other major North American cities. Caribbean people have always moved around the world a whole lot. Their heritage countries are very diverse, they include Africa, Europe, China, Lebanon and India. Their sons and daughters have migrated to North America, Great Britain and many have even returned to their heritage countries. So that across the world there is growing interest in our emerging film industry, because the stories we tell are universal and compelling. Remember that Caribbean film has been preceded by our fantastic music!
Q. Expand on the various aspects of the companies you have formed to market Caribbean films.
A. First, there is CaribbeanTales Inc. This is a Toronto-based charity whose vision is to connect people through film. Our mandate is to promote racial equality through the production, exhibition and distribution of Caribbean-themed films, television programs and multimedia products. Current activities include the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival, now in its tenth year; the CaribbeanTales Incubator Program that develops sustainable content for the global market, and CaribbeanTales-TV that is our online platform.
Then, there is CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution – founded in 2010 and based in Barbados. It is the first and only company dedicated to the marketing and sale of Caribbean-themed film and television content. We currently have over 300 films in our Catalogue.
And most recently, there is CaribbeanTales Flix – based in Trinidad. This is our production arm. Our recent productions are “Kingston Paradise” directed by Mary Wells, as well as “Hero: the Film and Online Project” inspired by the life of Ulric Cross.
Caribbean Film Festival is celebrating its 10th anniversary. What has contributed to its growing success?
Without a doubt, it is the strength of community support – local, regional and around the Caribbean Diaspora.
Of course there is the power and diversity of the films being made, and the way that they are able to attract audiences — not simply from the Caribbean but beyond and outside our communities. Regardless of where they are, our audiences all have one thing in common – they are hungry to see themselves represented on screen.
Q. You had a bout with a benign tumor in your stomach, what helped you through that period of sickness and treatment?
A. Two things really sustained and helped me: my work, because it gave me a positive focus that took my mind away from my illness. And I discovered self-care, and the value of healthy eating.
Frances-Anne Solomon was born 28 June 1966 in England of Trinidadian parents, she was raised and educated in the Caribbean and Canada before moving to Great Britain where she built a successful career with the BBC as a TV Drama Producer and Executive Producer. She’s the granddaughter of one of the key political architects, Dr Patrick Solomon of Trinidad & Tobago’s independence.
Her directing credits include feature film A Winter Tale (2007), Peggy Sui (BBC Films, 1997); What My Mother Told Me (Channel 4 1995); and Bideshi (British Film Institute 1994); documentaries, Literature Alive (Bravo/OMNI, 2006), Reunion (BBC,1993), I Is A Long Memoried Woman (Arts Council of England 1991) and the sitcom, Lord Have Mercy!