Theater / Film
Third Horizon Film Festival offers ‘biggest lineup yet’
“Stateless” is one of the works featured in this year’s Third Horizon Film Festival. (Photo courtesy of Third Horizon Film Festival)
The Third Horizon Film Festival is shining a spotlight on the islands in celebration of Caribbean History Month.
This year’s seven-day event, hosted in collaboration with Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Caribbean Cultural Institute, is offering what event cofounder Jason Jeffers called its “biggest lineup yet.”
That’s because of its hybrid format, showcasing films in-person and online – as well as parties and panel discussions – through July 1, 2021,
“Going virtual has afforded us the opportunity to screen so many more films than we ordinarily would,” Jeffers said.
Though the hybrid format has its advantages, it also presented some challenges to the fundamental goals of the festival.
“Going online was difficult because it meant sacrificing that intimacy that is at the core of what we do,” Jeffers said. “We really prize getting together in smaller spaces to watch films and to talk about them in an honest, unflinching way. But we think that we’ve struck a good balance between in-person events and the way we’re choosing to screen online.”
Jeffers hopes the films serve as an opportunity to spark conversations and as a vehicle to reshape perceptions about those from the region.
“I think these are stories that the world needs to hear,” Jeffers said. “The Caribbean has so often been framed as merely a tourist destination, as a paradise, and little more than a place for people from the so-called first world to escape and frolic and forget about their busy lives to be waited on hand and foot by the smiling locals. So the work that we do is about confronting that perspective. It’s about reframing the Caribbean as it exists in the popular imagination.”
Jeffers also hopes the festival will ultimately be seen as a stepping-stone toward uniting on common ground.
“We think it’s really important to showcase global solidarity, and to understand that somebody from another country on the other side of the world, their people, their ancestors, may have been faced with the same predicament,” Jeffers said. “We’re just a film festival, but we hope by sharing our stories with each other, that we can forge some connections, and some insights in a way where they’re most needed.”
The following is a small sample of this year’s featured films. Check out the festival website for the full schedule.
One man’s journey led to an onscreen examination of crime in Trinidad & Tobago – and the bold tactics used by colorful TV host Ian Alleyne, who is putting his life on the line to stop it.
Film director Ian Harnarine said his grandfather was murdered in Trinidad more than 10 years ago and no one was ever caught.
“After that, I started to really pay attention to crime in Trinidad, and that’s when I discovered Ian Alleyne, the subject of the documentary and his program,” Harnarine said.
At one point, Harnarine realized that he may have been in over his head.
“We were following this television host as he tries to catch criminals. We were so concerned about the actual production that, in hindsight, when we were looking at the footage, I thought, ‘Wow, we’re in a really bad situation. Everyone’s wearing a bulletproof vest, except for us.’ Maybe I should have thought that through a little bit more,” he said, with a laugh.
Getting residents to speak about crime despite an overall atmosphere of fear was another challenging aspect.
“We tried countless times,” Harnarine said. “People were interested, but the minute we turned on the camera they would say no. No one trusted the police, for fear of being found out. And that’s where Ian Alleyne came in. He was somebody willing to take the criminals on. He didn’t care so much about what other people [thought]. He’s very fearless in that respect.”
Michele Stephenson’s “Stateless” takes a look at Rosa Iris’ campaign to spotlight the often-brutal treatment of Haitians in the Dominican Republic.
“If you’re someone who doesn’t know anything about the island, you’re going to learn a lot,” said Stephenson, who directed the film. “We’re highlighting the never-ending resistance that Black women have been a part of since our ancestors set foot on the hemisphere.”
“Stateless” provides historical context to some of the issues that Iris contends with, including the 1937 genocide of Haitians by the Trujillo government and the 2013 revoking of citizenship of Dominican-born children of Haitian descent.
While making the film was a challenge, Stephenson said that her skin color allowed her to gain unfettered access to those who may have otherwise been reluctant to talk.
“For me, my privilege of being a light-skinned Haitian, as a woman of Haitian descent, was quite obvious when I was in the Dominican Republic,” she said.
Those advantages, however, came with a cost.
“That was probably the most emotionally difficult time for me,” said Stephenson. “They didn’t know that I was Haitian, and I intentionally hid that to provide the space for a transparent conversation. But it also meant that I had to hide a part of who I am. It took a big toll on me. I’d spend half a day in my hotel room crying and trying to detox from the hatred that was in my presence, and not speaking out because I wanted … to capture the depth of the hatred that the Haitian community faces.
“So that was really very difficult, but it doesn’t compare to what [they] have to deal with on a daily basis in the Dominican Republic.”
Artist and filmmaker Ashanti Harris offers a peek into the fascinating life of Doll Thomas, a former slave who shakes off her shackles to become a wealthy entrepreneur.
“I want people to know that this person existed,” Harris said. “And I want people to have some kind of understanding of not just how complex this person’s life is, but also her contribution to Black history.”
Known for her shrewd business sense, the influential socialite didn’t hesitate to buck trends to achieve what she wanted. “She had this really crazy personality,” said Harris.
The film also explores the connection between Scotland and Guyana, which many people may not realize exists.
“If you walk down streets in Scotland, they’re named after different places in the Caribbean. If you walk down streets in Guyana, they’re named after different places in Scotland,” Harris said. “But it’s still not something that’s actively recognized and considered, especially in relation to people’s present-day experiences of both Guyana and Scotland. So, I just wanted to make this kind of invisible history visible in some way.”
‘Studio 17: The Lost Reggae Tapes’
If you’re a reggae fan, then you’re in for a treat.
Producer Reshma B pulls back the curtains and reveals how pioneers of this genre pushed a locally produced sound and launched it front row and center onto the world stage.
“In my normal day-to-day job of being a music journalist, a lot of what I do is cover up-to-date music, so this was a privilege for me to work on the film,” said the reggae and dancehall curator for TIDAL. “It’s really taught me about the roots of reggae and how it originated.”
The film also explores the role of the Chin family and how their humble studio evolved into VP Records, helping to propel the careers of reggae megastars along the way, including Bob Marley and The Wailers, Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs.
“If you are into Jamaican music, you know how studios play a really big part in Jamaica,” Reshma B said. “That’s where all the local music was made. Talented producers were making different sounds and there was no name for it.
“Eventually, there was ska and then ska went to rocksteady, and rocksteady turned to reggae and then we have the reggae songs of today. And, of course, now you can’t go to Jamaica without thinking about reggae music.”
Rhythmic styles and sounds continued to evolve into what is now known as the dancehall subgenre. Joel Chin, head of artists and repertoire at VP Records, helped steer the careers of a cadre of well-known musicians including Beenie Man, Sean Paul, Wayne Wonder, Sizzla and Beres Hammond. When he was murdered in 2011, it rocked the reggae community to its core. Despondent, his father, Clive, turned to the one thing that helped: music.
At the urging of his son’s oft-repeated requests, he decided to finally take on the task of digitizing original unreleased studio recordings from their studio archives.
“He wanted to do something in honor of Joel,” Reshma B said. “That’s when I met Clive. He was in the process of all this. “
She was amazed at what the archives contained: “How do you have a Dennis Brown song just lying around?” I [thought], ‘Are you kidding?’ My mind was blown as a music journalist.”
As she produced the film, she realized how important it was for reggae fans to bear witness to this crucial part of music history.
“We didn’t accept any funding from places like record labels because I wanted to tell the real story,” she explained. “In the film, there’s a lot of sensitive things that come up … but by not accepting funding, we had the freedom to tell the story as it unveiled, and we didn’t have to edit out anything that was true.
“And that was important to me. Having integrity in telling the story.”
WHAT: Third Horizon Film Festival, in collaboration with Pérez Art Museum Miami’s Caribbean Cultural Institute
WHEN: Through July 1, 2021
WHERE: In-person events are taking place at two Miami locations: Nite-Owl Drive-In, 1400 NE First Ave., and Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd.; online screenings are available on the website or via the festival’s app on Roku, Amazon Fire TV Stick or Apple TV
COST: Varies; virtual tickets start at $5