By Nelie Diverlus
PROMESA: a US-enacted bill created to maintain fiscal control over Puerto Rico’s debt restructuring. Upon its launch, the people of this nation have been finding themselves enraged by the government’s inaction in assisting communities, as well as combatting the detrimental effects of climate change affecting the country. Through Drills of Liberation, we begin to unpack what it means to use our voice to claim autonomy, and how community adequately supports in doing so
© Simulacros de Liberación Youtube
This story takes us through the streets of Rio. The revolutionary spirit of the story is felt almost immediately, guided by voice-over, astounding visuals, and a moving soundtrack. The culture of the story is also immensely felt; not only through language, but also supported by the stunning shots of landscape and setting. The energy of the film is magnetic – the viewer can find themselves drawn to the sounds and visuals of revolution, as the people have taken to the streets to demand change and action.
As stated, director Juan C. Dávila exquisitely guides us through narration and movement. Community is a great theme within this story, as the people of Puerto Rico are finding resistance through collective voices and strength. Dávila’s distinct choice to show his face during interviews also adds another layer of connection that is intensified; in this sense, there are little to no barriers between the subjects and the interviewer, and this supports the “unification in resistance” narrative that is projected constantly throughout this film.
The various landscape shots brilliantly provide adequate insight into their living situations. The abandoned maintenance of the city’s homes and streets reinforce the message of the film, regarding the government’s negligence of the nation’s inhabitants. Seeing homes flooded with individuals and families with nowhere to turn to has potential to fill the viewers with rage – knowing that the administration would rather see its people grasp for survival than to refute a controlling bill. One notable element is the lighting; there were a few moments during the interviews where there were shadows cast on the subjects, causing us to lose their face within the surroundings. This could have been prevented by ensuring a fill light is used to eliminate the excessive shadows.
Additionally, the music composition adequately assists in displaying the culture of Puerto Rico. While the music serves the moving tone of the story as a whole, the soundtrack also gives us a good reminder of the setting – the soft guitar launches us into the Caribbean atmosphere of the story. The music also effectively remains subtle, which is rather crucial to assist in projecting the story’s profound message. Because it does not overpower the visuals and statements being said, the film’s bed track purely acts as support – which is, strangely, a concept that has been lost within different films.
“While the music serves the moving tone of the story as a whole, the soundtrack also gives us a good reminder of the setting – the soft guitar launches us into the Caribbean atmosphere of the story.”
Ultimately, this film terrifically calls our attention to a pressing matter that has been debilitating the people of Puerto Rico. Statements from the film’s subjects also teach us the value of community; there truly is strength found in numbers, and this film rings this message loud and clear.
Editor’s note: Drills of Liberation screened at CTFF ’21, as part of the Political Environment programme.
“CTFF ’21: New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery: a story of unlearning and centering the voiceless
By Nelie Diverlus
New Light - The Rijksmuseum and Slavery, directed by Ida Docs premiered at the 16th annual CaribbeanTales Film Festival ‘21 . Harsh truths and artifacts are uncovered about slavery within this film, and this story works to give the viewers a new viewpoint in regard to our perception of the colonial era.
Centered in the Netherlands, this film revolves around the Rijksmuseum and its devotion to centering the voices of those that were enslaved. By opening a slave exhibition at this site, the characters dive into unpacking and de-platforming the oppressors, but rather elevating those that were silenced. Revelations are made within their discovery to uncover the buried truth, allowing the viewer to gain insight into the horrors of the colonial era – a reality that remains unfathomable for us today.
Director Ida Does boasts her stunning vision through various elements: sound, lighting, and symbols. Sound carries the film to new dimensions – the classical music played throughout, especially when mirrored against various shots of artwork, adds an eerie and unsettling approach to the story. The discomforting composition almost resembles a horror film, leaving the viewer unnerved. The narrative told of this artwork is incredibly significant; the violence ensued by these glorified figures is indeed unsettling, and this film sheds light on this. This film also has incredible sound recording, as each subject speaking is heard clearly and distinctly.
Similarly, lighting also drives this story forward. The use of soft lighting adds warmth to the story, as well as illuminates the characters to resemble an angelic glow around the subjects of the film. Additionally, the choice of using blues and yellows as the primary hues was masterful – the appearance of this colouring on Black skin was magnificent.
Symbolism is very profound within this film. The motif of beads signifies both bondage and freedom, as well as the preservation of history. Preserving artifacts is the main bulk of the film, seen within different narratives within the story. Visions of water and sunlight bring an ethereal sense to the film – symbolizing hope and looking beyond a horizon.
“Visions of water and sunlight bring an ethereal sense to the film – symbolizing hope and looking beyond a horizon.”
It is rather important to mention the nature of the content and the lens in which it is told. At various points in the film, it appears to be seen through the white gaze, making the content all the more unsettling. White guilt guides portions of the film, at times removing away from the true essence of the message, and rather catering to white observers. This has great potential to whitewash the narrative – gratefully, the prominent Black characters reclaim the narrative to return the message back to its rightful place.
Ultimately, New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery combines impressive visuals with a compelling message. Uncovering the many layers of slavery will always prove to be more complex than imagined. Through poetic imagery, this film uncovers, both figuratively and literally, the harsh realities endured by those with wishes for a better life.
Editor’s Note: New Light – The Rijksmuseum and Slavery screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival ’21, as part of the A Different World programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
Haitian film Madan Sara premieres in Canada at the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival and centres around the economy in Haiti, informally upheld by Haitian women and their determination to provide for their families and communities. In this story, viewers can see various levels of frustration, disaster, and mistreatment that encompasses carrying the economy. This is a tale of outreach and revolution, ultimately teaching us what “all power to the people” truly defines.
The film is mostly situated outside, taking the viewer on a trek through the streets of Haiti – guided by the sounds of its natural environment. Sounds of motor vehicles, people walking, and various conversations help bring the culture and nature of the film to life. The restless lifestyle is effectively portrayed through this immersive soundscape.
While the soundtrack and soundscapes are captivating, it is rather important to mention the suboptimal sound mixing and recording. Various sounds of microphone shuffling can be heard, and the background music occasionally overpowers the voices of the subjects. At numerous points, cuts between music and voices within the interview is dissonant – the faulty blending of sounds takes away from the harmony of the story. Additionally, the music practically did not feel infused into the film – it is almost as if it was used as a placeholder, considering there were extended periods of time where there was no soundtrack accompanying the story, leaving it appearing slightly empty.
As mentioned, the majority of the film is situated outdoors, allowing for the mise-en-scene to be filled with an abundance of greenery, flowy traditional dresses, and a large deal of natural lighting. As a result, at a few select points, we lose some subjects of the film to their surroundings. It was rather unfortunate to see at the rise of tension in the film, the subjects’ faces (those that are speaking, of course) are lost within the commotion of the streets.
In addition to this, at times, the interviews conducted indoors have slight misplacement. While necessary to hear from these subjects, the tonal shift between the high energy of the streets of Haiti, to an office, feels slightly jarring. Allowing for smoother transitions between both settings would definitely maintain flow and consistency, as pattern is a distinct editing style within this story.
“While necessary to hear from these subjects, the tonal shift between the high energy of the streets of Haiti, to an office, feels slightly jarring.”
Madan Sara also plays on all four elements of matter – water, earth, air, and fire. The extinguishing of the fire ensued on the markets, in juxtaposition of the rubble left for the people to gather, illustrates the crushing of both dreams and realities. It is almost, quite literally, adding to the crushed spirits of those left behind to deal with the disastrous aftermath. The fire also symbolizes the blazing spirit of the Madan Sara; the demand for liberation and justice is a flame that does not die within this story.
“The extinguishing of the fire ensued on the markets, in juxtaposition of the rubble left for the people to gather, illustrates the crushing of both dreams and realities.”
An aspect that stood out greatly was an error in subtitling – most specifically when the subjects were speaking on the amount of money they lost. This simple error removes the honesty and raw truth that this story encapsulates. Perhaps this is a simple oversight to some, but an inaccuracy such as this has great potential to distort the narrative.
With a story as disheartening as this, director Etant Dupain effectively constructs the building of prosperous futures, most specifically with the constant reiteration of these women working tirelessly to provide for their families, and for their children to create a fulfilling life for themselves. Concepts of dreams and aspirations is beautifully depicted within this feature, with a burning passion that will never die – similarly to the fiery spirits of the Madan Sara.
Editor’s Note: Madan Sara screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival ’21, as part of the Bienvenue – Haitian Night programme.
By Nelie Diverlus
A moving story of family, connection and community – the 16th annual CaribbeanTales opening night documentary Becoming A Queen teaches us about wins and losses, and the pressure that ensues with both concepts. The bright colours, rich textures, and an incredibly upbeat soundtrack are three distinct elements that bring the culture of the film to life. With its dive into rich history, along with the profound “passing the torch” narrative that is constantly proclaimed throughout, Becoming a Queen pays a magical, colourful homage to the ones who came before us.
“Becoming a Queen pays a magical, colourful homage to the ones who came before us.”
The story dives into Joella Chrichton, a woman striving to receive the title of Queen of Caribbean Carnival for the tenth and final time. Working with a creative team comprised of family certainly does not sound easy – and this film is proof. Differences of creative visions, deadlines and increasing insurmountable pressure placed on Joella to win continuously raises the stakes and tension that this documentary works to resolve. The viewer can share the feeling of adrenaline throughout the entirety of the film; the competition adds a level of stakes - often only attributed with fictional storytelling.
"The competition adds a level of stakes that is often only attributed with fictional storytelling.”
As far as technical elements go, Becoming a Queen sets the bar. Through meticulous detail, three of our senses are satisfied during the duration of the film: the texture draws us into the story by allowing us to almost feel the wardrobe; the glitter, gemstones and crystals all contribute to the compelling visual element of the film, and the incredible and catchy soundtrack keeps us engaged and alive. The life and invigoration of this film cannot be missed; the vibrant colours brighten the entire film, as well as effectively bring us into the world of carnival.
Director Chris Strike’s decision to tie in history into this film is simply brilliant. The lineage of carnival is foreign to most, and by informing the viewers of it, the significance of this film is further projected, as the importance of upholding the tradition of carnival is now on us to remember. Perhaps unknowingly, this was another clever way of incorporating ourselves into the film. Freedom and expressionism are greatly portrayed with glimpses of history, whether through Joella’s family or not, as well as with various footage of people dancing with bright smiles and immense, contagious joy.
The fiery spirit of carnival told through the lens of a seemingly soft protagonist is even more profound than we think. The choice of story told is a masterful portrayal of triumphs and defeats, and the raw human emotion that emerges from it. The authenticity that comes from telling a story surrounding a family deriving from an underrepresented island, living in an underrepresented district, is unmatched. Even if the rest of us haven’t competed in a Caribbean Carnival Competition, the film still speaks to us about what it means to work towards what we desire - not only despite where we come from, but also because of where we come from.
It is safe to say that this film extends beyond our preconceived notions of Carnival. Seeing Black individuals living a free and authentic life of joy and expression is often torn away from us, and it was truly valuable to see us laughing, crying, frustrated, and joyful - genuinely, and wholeheartedly. With a bittersweet completion, Becoming a Queen shows us the importance of community, family, and passion in the midst of triumphs and defeats.
*Editor’s note: Becoming a Queen is the Opening Night title for Caribbean Tales Film Festival ‘21.