By: Laura ‘Simply Leah’ McNeil
The CaribbeanTales Film Festival is back - celebrating its 14th year! This year 12 filmmakers from the African diaspora were selected to participate in the Incubator program and prepare for their ‘Big Pitch’. This program includes 6-8 weeks of online training and one week of intense training, right here in Toronto. The Red Hot Mixer is the perfect way for participants to let their hair down a bit after all of that hard work. They alsoAlso they get the opportunity to mix and mingle with top filmmaking talent and stars of the African and Caribbean communities.
The Mixer was very lively for a morning event, with lots of smiles and handshakes that lead to warm embraces. Frances-Ann Solomon took a moment to sit with me and break a few things down about CTFF saying:“Basically CaribbeanTales is a production company, a film festival, an incubator program (10 years), and a distribution company video on demand platform.” We talked about the theme for this year’s festival -– “A Nnew Dday” - the need to tell stories through film that people from the African and the Caribbean can relate to, and it’s progress. This proved to be the main inspiration behind choosing the theme. Frances-Ann said: “A lot has been done, there is an openness now, and so we call it a new day.”
Jimmy Jean Louis, the Haitian-French actor/model best known for his role as ‘the Hatian’ on TV series Heroes, talked to me about his experience with the Incubator program. He said that he believes in programs like this as they areit is important to a filmmaker’s growth. He said while working with the participants he noticed that, they “they are progressing without even knowing it.” We went on to discuss African and Caribbean stories being shared on the big screen and he said: “We have to be careful with that, cause if we don’t preserve our own culture via media, via movies then we’re going tonna get to a point where everything’s going to nna be lost.” This tied into a sentiment that Frances-Ann Solomon shared with me while talking about what the experience of making her film ‘Hero’ taught her, stating:“It really has also shown me how important stories are. The whole basis of our connections with each other are based on stories.” She went on to say: “The sharing of stories empowers us.”
Tonya Williams best known for her role as Dr. Olivia Barber on Young and the Restless also weighed in on the conversation. Tonya talked about how important programs like the Incubator are for people wanting to shape a career around the film industry. She said it’s a lot more than taking a program in college or university; it’s years of work. It’s about really expanding your network, gaining knowledge, and staying the course. Tonya talked a little bit about her film festival called the Reel World, which focuses strictly on filmmakers from Canada. Tonya went on to say that the amount of opportunities for those looking for a career in film has grown significantly in Canada since her start, 40 years ago. Tonya Williams wants people to walk away from this knowing that opportunities aren’t going to fall in your lap, you have to get out there and look for them. When I asked actor C.C.H Pounder what she would like the overall take away from the CaribbeanTales Film Festival to be, she said: “I don’t care how long it takes but we are going to get there, where cinema is for everyone, and it’s important that we tell our stories.”
CTFF 19’s Red Hot Mixer proved to be an inspiring experience with a lot of people eager to share experiences and advice. With this being its 14th year in existence, it goes to show how necessary the film festival is to its community. It was great hearing how passionate Jimmy Jean Louis, Tonya William, and C.C.H. Pounder are about the vision.