Now in its 19th year, the Caribbean Filmfest returns to the AFI Silver Theater in celebration of Caribbean Heritage Month, observed throughout June, with a marathon of films from throughout the Caribbean.
This year, the themes of the festival are music, a given for the musically rich Caribbean traditions and innovations; and female directors telling stories of Caribbean women’s lives.
Stories of the African Diaspora from the islands find voice in the week-long festival that kicks off on June 6 with “HERO-Inspired by the Extraordinary Life & Times of Mr. Ulric Cross,” a Trinidadian national who was instrumental in the nascent days of Pan-Africanism.
The musical films — ranging from Cuba’s “Eliades Ochoa: From Cuba to the World,” a biopic on the Buena Vista Social Club star, to “Bruk Out: A Dancehall Queen Documentary” — cover the diversity of Caribbean music, interspersed with diasporic tales like “Babylon,” Franco Rosso’s raw 1980s film about Jamaican sound systems in London, starring singer Brinsley Forde of the British reggae group Aswad.
“Rudeboy: The Story of the Making of Trojan Records” takes a historical glance back at the legendary London-based ska and reggae label that sustained Jamaican immigrants when they first arrived in Great Britain, a topic particularly pertinent in the wake of the Windrush political scandal, in which many West Indian migrants were wrongly deported from Britain.
Other documentaries examining Caribbean history and putting it into world context are “1950: The Nationalist Uprising” telling the story of 10 days in October in Puerto Rico. “Massacre River” examines the sad plight of Haitian descendants living in the neighboring Dominican Republic and that country’s efforts to marginalize and deport those residents, most who were born in the DR.
“The Reggae Boyz” tells the story of Jamaica’s renowned national soccer team. Musician/actor Sheldon Shepherd of the band No-Maddz, which is featured in the film, will engage the audience in a Q&A session following the June 9 screening.
“Hall” tells the story of a murder in Barbados in 1984 and the amazing events that followed after two of the suspects escaped from prison. “Being Blacker,” is the resulting film when musician Blacker Dred from Jamaica invited filmmaker Molly Dineen to film his mother’s funeral and his tragic story that came from his loss and 40 years of living in Great Britain.
The lighter side of island life is also well-represented in “The Extraordinary Life of Celeste Garcia,” from Cuba. This directorial debut film from Arturo Infante is a humorous fantasy about aliens from outer space and the doldrums of middle-aged life, and “Sprinter” by Jamaican director Storm Saulter, a triumphant film about a young Jamaican track runner. Both are feel-good stories about dealing with life’s lemons and overcoming obstacles.
One highlight of the generous cinematic offerings is “Douvan Jou Ka Leve,” a documentary film by Haitian director Gessica Généus about the island’s religious landscape and schism between Haitian Vodou and Christianity. Tickets for this film, screening on June 9 at noon have a special price of $5.
The Caribbean Filmfest runs June 6-12 at the AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center (8633 Colesville Rd, Silver Spring, Md.). The festival is presented annually and is co-sponsored by the Caribbean Association of the World Bank, Caribbean Professionals Network, the Institute for Caribbean Studies and the Africa Now Project. Go to www.afi.com/silver for a complete schedule, ticket prices and showtimes.