While Toronto will be abuzz with the excitement of this month’s Toronto International Film Festival, there’s another September festival in town that is worth your attention. Founded in 2006 to promote emerging filmmakers from the Caribbean and the diaspora, the CaribbeanTales Film Festival celebrates its 14th edition under the theme “A New Day.” Playing from September 4-20, the CTFF will feature 8 themed nights of programming, with eight feature-length films complimented by an array of short films.
On September 4, the festival opens with a shot of adrenaline courtesy of “Rattlesnakes,” the new film from Julius Amedume. Starring Haitian actor Jimmy Jean-Louis, it tells a twisty tale of a man who is held hostage by three strangers who have accused him of sleeping with their wives. As he pleads his innocence under threat of violence, this nail-biting thriller keeps you on the edge of your seat. Meanwhile, the racial dynamics of its premise – a successful black man under assault by an angry mob of white men – adds a deeper layer of symbolic resonance.
Storylines surrounding sex and sexuality can also be found elsewhere in the slate. Continuing the promising trend set by films such as South Africa’s “The Wound” and Trinidad and Tobago’s “Play the Devil,” the Kenyan film “Rafiki” delivers another acclaimed LGBT-themed story from the Caribbean and the diaspora. Following a history-making Cannes premiere in 2018, Wanuri Kahiu’s moving drama of forbidden love between two young women has deservedly earned accolades along the festival circuit. Playing the star-crossed lovers, Sheila Munyiva and Samantha Mugatsia‘s terrific, heartrending performances are not to be missed.
On a lighter note, female sexuality is also the topic of “Sacred Water,” directed by Olivier Jourdain. This fascinating documentary explores the female orgasm through the Rwandan tradition of Kunyaza, a technique used for ejaculation. As the film investigates the varying gendered, generational and perspectives on the practice, “Sacred Water” offers a vital, sex-positive affirmation of female sexuality, contrary to the prevalent horror stories of female genital mutilation commonly associated with East Africa.
“Sacred Water” is just one of several strong documentaries in the CTFF lineup this year. In “Paradise Undiscovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islander,” a journalist returns to his homeland to reveal how the people of the US Virgin Islands persevered through back-to-back Category 5 hurricanes in 2017. Though it may not be the most polished piece of filmmaking, “Paradise Undiscovered: The Unbreakable Virgin Islander” is an intimate encapsulation of the faith and resilience of Virgin Islanders and by extension, West Indians at large.
An even more affecting homecoming is captured in “Galsen – The Language of Souls.” In this poetic documentary, Sergio Aparicio Olivas travels from New York to Senegal to reconnect with his heritage. As he encounters the music, cuisine and people of the region, the film beams with heartwarming African pride.
And finally, Amanda Sans Pantling’s “Last Street” takes viewers into Jamaica’s notorious Denham Town, where the influence of gangs have wreaked havoc on the community. In the aftermath of the extradition of a top drug lord, Pantling turns an empathetic gaze towards the residents, shedding light on an epidemic of toxic masculinity and its intricate relationship to recurring gun violence. While gangster dramas have long been a staple of Jamaican cinema, “Last Street” foregoes the gunfire for a more sensitive perspective. The documentary may not offer any easy solutions, but its approach reflects the progressive strides being made in contemporary Caribbean cinema. As is evident in the diverse storytelling on display at the 2019 CaribbeanTales Film Festival, it’s a new day, indeed, for Caribbean and African filmmakers.