My Caribbean – Canadian film Odyssey  

Three of the best of “Caribbean – Canadian” films in three different venues on three different days

 By Stephen Weir

Cast of Brother at the festival

Why does it just happen in September? Now that all the critics and movie people have seen the best new film festival flicks how do we, the common people, get a chance to buy bags of popcorn, sit back in a darkened theatres and watch a trio of amazing movies about the community’s history, its living heroes and of course Carnival.

We are talking about a suite of films that have just gotten the red carpet treatment at three different events and venues – the Caribbean Tales Film Festival launch, a Harbourfront star studded 85th birthday party / film premier, and a drama about growing up in Malvern which debuted earlier this month at TIFF and shows again at a TIFF; repeat showing next week.

These three titles, with one reservation are keepers not just for now but forever.

Film 1

Toronto Caribbean Carnival: Fun and Free is an hour-long documentary about the annual Caribana festival.  It was a smallish College Cinema crowd who showed up at the Opening Night of the annual Caribbean Tales International Film Festival (CTFF). By the time the credits rolled, this Canadian movie brought the audience to their feet and a hanky to the eyes of Dr. Rita Cox, one of the original participants of the first Caribana back in 1967, and an integral face that appears throughout the movie commenting on Toronto Carnival Arts.

 The thing about Carnival in Toronto is that it isn’t just a parade, it’s a series of different events lasting for months and involves more than just the Festival Management Committee. This movie shows it all, including the Underground Railroad Emancipation Midnight Ride, The Ontario Science Centre judging the best made King and Queen Costumes, to the volunteer-driven Children’s Parade. And let’s not forget the Malvern church service that blesses the annual festival and all of the revelers.

Truth be told, although made painstakingly over three-years by director/writer Irina Volkova (who married into a Caribbean family), isn’t an honest picture of what Carnival is. No, it is better.  At this parade there aren’t rainstorms nor high winds and the sun shines brightly overhead. The hundreds of thousands of fans stay on their side of the fences and the stands are filled.  There are no gaps along the parade route and all the Mas leaders get along.  In this movie everything starts on time and no one gets hurt. The costumes are all works of art and when the revellers race to the judging stands they are Olympic runners who are reaching for gold.

Horrors, there is a lot of skin being shown in the movie, so much so that one movie review has already warned parents about the contents.

“What is the big fuss all about – so they put on some feathers and beads and they jump in the street? The thing is it (wearing super skimpy costumes) is just the foil, like balloons you put up at somebody’s birthday party!” explained Dr Cox in the film. “But this party is about somebody’s life. If this (festival) were to end there would be a revolution!”

“Yes it is a nice party” chimed in Denise Herrera Jackson, former head of the Festival Management Committee and a film festival director.  “But this is tied up with our history. It is tied up with economics, it is tied up with creativity. This is why we do what we do.”

Will the movie ever be seen by the Carnival community here in Canada, in the US and the Caribbean?  Director/writer Volkova says her goal is to have the film broadcast on national TV and doesn’t rule out being shown on TV in the US.

Film 2

Jean Augustine’s STEADFAST

A few nights later the CTFF took its act to a larger venue, Toronto’s Harbour Front theatre and party room, to unveil Steadfast – The Messenger and the Message; filmmaker Fahim Hamid Ali’s uplifting story of the Honourable Dr. Jean Augustine. Cheers, tears and champagne for the standing room only event, held on her 85th birthday.

“It is an immigrant story,” director Ali tells CBC news announcer Dwight Drummond in a talk-back held on stage after the showing.

“I think that everything is possible,” said Jean Augustine, the star of the show.

“The Happy Vale Catholic school in Grenada. Sitting on the ground (as a young child) little did I imagine I would be in a country called Canada.  But I had big dreams and I was surrounded by friends who had big dreams for me.”

The former politician and now community activist is the first Black Canadian woman to serve as a Federal Minister of the Crown and Member of Parliament.  Standing at the podium she told the large audience that things are better now than when she arrived in Canada in 1960s, but warned them there is still a long road ahead.

Drummond said there must be a Part Two.  As though the film, with its inclusion of interviews of people who know her personally including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau; former Prime Minister of Grenada, Dr. Keith Mitchell; the first black Miss World, Jennifer Hosten; British actor, Joseph Marcell; Grammy-nominee singer, Freddy Will, and several political leaders in Canada hadn’t round up enough!

The director in turn promised that he would make a Part Two if people would take the time to tell him what he should put it in.

Film 3

Jean Augustine STEADFAST and CTFF’s Frances-Anne Solomon

Earlier in September the Toronto International Film Festival, following it’s premier screening, movie insiders, except those from Trinidad, raved about Brother. The movie based on Trinidadian Canadian author David Chariandy’s award winning book of the same name finally brings Scarborough to the big screen.

The Caribbean Camera has one major reservation about this film. While many Canadians might not recognize the difference between Trinidad and Tobago and Jamaica, the film’s director Jamaican Canadian Clement Virgo obviously doesn’t think it is a big deal.

David Chariandy’s book came out in 2017 and was instantly successful winning the Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and the Toronto Book Award. The novel is a devastating story about the love between a Trinidadian mother and her sons, the impact of race, masculinity, and the senseless loss of young lives in Malvern, in the violent summer of 1991.

In the movie adaption starring Aaron Pierre (“The Underground Railroad”) and Lamar Johnson (“The Hate U Give”). They play two Jamaican-Canadian brothers living in Scarborough.

Small difference?  We don’t think so.  However, this is an important story based on Chariandy’s life history, that should be seen. It has only been a little more than a week since it was premiered at Tiff and the few reviews published so far are stellar.

From Brothers

“Brother” is the kind of film that I hope gets a major distributor, but worry will get stuck in the fest circuit and never go wider,” wrote Brian Talleric under the Roger Ebert banner.  “It’s too good to let that happen. This movie deserves your attention.”

“Clement Virgo’s staggering adaptation of David Chariandy’s novel, the story of two Jamaican Canadian brothers whose dreams are dashed by violent reality in 1990s Scarborough, is sure to be received as one of the most powerful films of the year,” wrote the TIFF international film programmer.