Film-maker takes deep dive into visual anthropology
Clish Gittens is a visual anthropologist. That means he applies his skills and education in fine arts to communicate his passion for people, culture and environment. The young film-maker from Barbados has taken a deep dive into advocacy for the Caribbean’s blue, green and orange economies, and will bring the action to GATFFEST Film Festival, where he will première the documentary Island Strong.
This year, the festival’s main theme is about climate change and consciousness, and Gittens is fully on board.
“When people think of an environmentalist, they think of a hippie kind of person – going out with placards, where they are protesting against eating animals. I’m slightly different. I’m not that radical. I use different media to express or communicate with audiences how the ‘lived’ experience is being altered in the Caribbean. I’m a visual anthropologist,” Gittens told The Gleaner.
But Gittens is an artist first. Before venturing to attain an MPhil in natural resource management, he earned his undergraduate degree from The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill campus, a bachelors in fine art. For this programme, Gittens tackled subject matter like film and theatre.
“Through class projects, I would have started to make short films, class assignments. Through that, I started to develop a passion for storytelling. So I was no longer telling stories via poetry or being cast on stage in a theatre performance, it was now a case of - I could actually write a script or be involved in terms of cinematic expressions. I basically submerged myself in it. I eat, sleep and breathe it.”
In 2014, Gittens and another classmate attended a Caribbean Agriculture Competition, an event that changed his life forever. The competition asked participants to look around their island and find a sustainable food source for the Caribbean in the 21st century. “I made a film called Farm, my first environmental film, entered the competition and went to Trinidad and Tobago to screen it. It was there that it really changed the outlook on the direction I wanted to go in my storytelling.”
Gittens and his colleague were in a room where they were the only two artists.
“Everyone who seemed to participate in the competition (at that time) were either environmentalists, members of NGOs, researchers or agriculturalists. In that space, I realised there there is a need to communicate environmental/natural resources science. I realised that I can help researchers by helping them communicate their message in a palatable way – and connect with audiences,” he told The Gleaner.
“I always like to say, myself and the people around me who make up the films, we always have a mandate that we want to tell Caribbean stories through Caribbean lenses. We’re not gonna wait for the NatGeos or the Netflix, the History Channels to come to the Caribbean and tell our stories for us. Our stories, told by our people, speaking in our own accents on the cinema screen.”
He continued, “Literary writers like Derek Walcott, Kemar Brathwaite, Bob Marley with reggae music, they have told the story of the Caribbean to the world – through their art. That’s one of my goals in life, to tell the Caribbean story,” Gittens said.
In 2015, Gittens directed H2O, a Caribbean-eco film based on an actual project called Water Access that focused on water culture and scarcity in the Caribbean. The film featured case studies in Antigua, Bermuda, Grenada, Carriacou (a small island off the coast of Grenada), St Lucia, Suriname and Haiti.
“To date, that is my most successful. It has won the Ministry of Environment Award in Barbados, a silver medal at the Handle Climate Change Film Festival in China; screened up to this calendar year in Asia,” he revealed.
It was screened at the first-ever Caribbean film festival in Beijing and in other locations like North America, South America, Canada and Europe, as well as screenings within the region in countries like Trinidad and Tobago, St Lucia and the Cayman Islands.
Between 2016 and 2018, Gittens worked on a series called Climate Change; Here, Now, as three stand-alone films, Di Fisheries, One Storm Away and Island Strong. All three episodes will be screened as a complete film at GATFFEST. The series was made with the support of an NGO Gittens is now part of called the Blue Green Initiative, comprising researchers, economists, coastal engineers and hydrologists.
“Island Strong looks at themes of migration, energy, hydrology, our culture, coastline protection in terms of coral reefs, what can we do, and how fast we can bounce back. One thing I want an audience to take away from Island Strong is that this is not the end. We have to be prepared, to know that these things will happen,” he said.