Women take lead in filmmaking regionally
Perry Henzell is often called upon as one of Jamaica's more strident and pioneering feature filmmakers since the release of the sensational The Harder They Come. Lennie Little-White, Franklyn St Juste, Paul Campbell, 'Sonny T', and even Britain-born Menelik Shabazz have offered and continuously offer their hands and eyes to the advancement of Caribbean film content.
These days, however, the voices in the perennial discussion about the advancement of the local film industry are predominantly female.
Earlier this year, president of The Jamaica Film and Television Association Gabrielle Blackwood told The Sunday Gleaner that the British Council reached out to the association, suggesting a scriptwriter's workshop.
More pervasive is JAFTA's collaboration with JAMPRO and The Chase Fund for the development of the PROPELLA! initiative, which is currently in the middle of its second cycle. From script development programmes to short-film funding, JAFTA members boast having enjoyed numerous benefits and opportunities since becoming part of the association under the leadership of Blackwood.
Jamaica's Film Commissioner, RenÈe Robinson, remains an active force in strategically educating participants of the film industry through organising workshops. The most recent workshop invited former film buyer Sydney Levine to discuss marketing, sales and distribution in the international film business.
Echoing these more familiar voices of the film industry are other women, who are their own film content, who place females at the centrepiece of their work.
Regardless of whether her short film, This City of Mine, is selected for screening, aspiring filmmaker Danielle Russell will attend the leading Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival in France later this year. Russell will also show her short film at the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (TTFF).
Losing Patience, a (very) miniseries, was written by Teeqs in 2015. In 2017, she went behind the camera and managed to premiere her directorial debut on TVJ this summer.
"'Losing Patience engages the idea of being quick-witted in the moment and doing what your instinct tells you to do - which can be quietly satisfying. The idea came from this experience that someone I was working with at the time was having with an archive house here in Jamaica. It's about the little things that happen on a daily basis that you can't respond to or don't know how to respond to because the response may be detrimental to you, so you just have to let it slide," Teeqs explained.
Losing Patience attracted the support of local veteran film producer Justine Henzell, daughter of the famed Perry Henzell. Teeqs expressed gratefulness for the opportunity to work with Henzell, who took up emcee duties at the premiere event of the series at Chilitos Jamexican Restaurant earlier this summer.
"Thankfully, people were interested. I think that's because it's artistes' content, not a commercial or a music video. People in the (film) industry crave the opportunity to tell a story," the director said.
Teeqs told The Sunday Gleaner that the production team for the series was especially committed to giving Jamaican women a voice, "in particular, Jamaican millennial women".
"There's a lot happening in our present social and economic climate that hasn't really been addressed in the film and television space, but they most definitely deserve to be reflected. Our presence on screen, both here and abroad, is typically relegated to a kind of supporting or background role, where the character's agency is muted. With this project, we'd like to shake that up a bit by focusing on a young, black woman who is doing her best to make her way in the world. We think it's a really ripe landscape for material that, sadly, hasn't been explored to its fullest capacity," said Teeqs.
One of two highlights of TTFF, coming up this September 19-26, will be 'The Power Women in Film' presentation. UN Women, the Institute for Gender and Development Studies (IGDS), UWI, and the TTFF will present a day of panels and presentations on 'The Power of Women in Film' on Friday, September 22. Speakers from across the region will explore depictions of women and girls and how filmmakers can, and do, address issues of gender inequality and female empowerment through film.
Annabelle Alcazar, programme director at the TTFF, said: "Women filmmakers are crucial participants in the social forces that shape our culture. Their portrayal of women as three-dimensional, complex human beings defies the demeaning and pervasive stereotypes perpetuated by the mainstream."
'The Power of Women in Film' will be followed by Feminist Cinema, three days of screenings of films by or about women that present stories from a female point of view, highlighting political, economic, or cultural discourse about the lives of women and critiquing the power structures holding gender inequality in place. The free screenings will take place from September 22 - 24 and will be followed by facilitated discussions. The films to be screened originate in Venezuela, France, Turkey, Panama, Colombia, The Bahamas, and Guatemala.
"More female-driven content in film and on TV breaks stigmas and conveys modern female responsibility and power ... it opens the door to social change and leads to greater respect for women. In light of recent events and a global subculture laden with misogyny and misconception, it's important to bring more humanity back to women and more visibility to women in film," added Dr Gabrielle Hosein, head of IGDS (St Augustine).