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Talent on Tap – Frances-Anne Solomon Presents – The Caribbean Tales International Film Festival

The film industry was very one-sided for a good many decades… until the people spoke up. A concerted effort began that would see diversity in film and television change to multi-cultural and a much more female friendly, BIPOC friendly and globally friendly one. The same people that drive profits can also crush them and many of the studio people that sit in those offices with a view from the top floor… actually listened. Films are a form of escapism, when you can be drawn into the characters and environment… but the movies and TV really don’t tell it like it is and it doesn’t reflect society’s backyard. The film industry has returned to the chalkboard, the play book and the science lab to try and get it right, when all along, they just had to pay attention to ‘who wasn’t’ at the table. 

 

It appears the effort has been put into motion and the ball is rolling forward on level ground – with the BIPOC and other marginalized groups pushing it to every movie theatre and every television. Like any great relationship though, it has to be maintained and monitored for cracks because the band aid approach doesn’t work. Reconstruction, rejuvenation and a rebirth of our perception of films is required and film guru/advocate Frances-Anne Solomon has had a hand in that change for over decades.

 

Multi-Award-winning Frances-Anne Solomon was frustrated with the lack of representation of Black people in film, so she created The Caribbean Tales International Film Festival which is about to begin it‘s 16th year. Be sure to mark your calendars for Sept. 8 – 24 and pick out your best pajamas, your favourite cocktail and your favourite snack… because it’s going virtual once again! Despite what this horrible, terrible, malicious virus wants to dictate to society, in entertainment – the show must go on and Frances-Anne is rounding her troops. Behind the scenes, a mecca of information is being shared, films are being viewed, monologues are being written and the list goes on and on. Have you ever wanted to run a film festival, because I don’t believe the line up is very long. Frances-Anne does have an amazing team to manage most priorities but it is still a daunting task – that comes with a Niagara of rewards.

 

If you chose not to raise your hand then not only did you miss out on the hardest work in your life, you also missed out on that feeling of elation that everyone showed up, the films were outstanding, breathtaking, jaw-dropping, mind blowing, heart wrenching and gut splitting! A film festival is like Disneyland for filmmakers because they cater to all the artists’ needs, primarily because they are designed and produced by filmmakers. Guests, stars, directors and writers are at their very best and ready to mingle. Although it‘s virtual, it promises to be an experience like no other and you can personalize and customize your pass. This is surely to be our last year of virtual events, so let’s put our support behind this bar raising, ceiling shattering virtual film festival. It will remain a page in our history books for decades to come.  At the helm is  Frances-Anne Solomon  and she’s not your average filmmaker/Film festival producer.  In addition to being an award-winning filmmaker, sitting jury member for the Oscars, and member of the Directors’ Guild of Canada, Frances-Anne Solomon founded the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival.

 

Frances-Anne Solomon is best known for her films, Winter Tale, Lord Have Mercy, Peggy Sue, What My Mother Told Me, Heartbeat and most recently – Hero, Inspired by the extraordinary life and times of Mr. Ulric Cross (May 21st on Amazon Prime in the U.K. and the US as well as the Cineplex platform). When you love what you do, you do it well and she is a model for consistency and fortitude. She created the festivals out of frustration due to the lack of opportunity for Black people and it has grown exponentially, it has given BIPOC people voices, it has allowed creative expression to be released to the masses and the crowds keep growing every year.

 

The Caribbean Tales International Film Festival (CTFF), www.caribbeantales.org. is celebrating its sixteenth anniversary this year, CTFF continues its focus on promoting outstanding filmmakers who practice their craft across the Caribbean Diaspora including Canada, the Caribbean, Europe, the Americas, Africa, China, India and the Middle East. Join our hosts, special guests and filmmakers for live screenings, panel discussions and talkbacks with the filmmakers.  CTFF 2021 programming includes 50% Caribbean-Canadian content. CTFF 2021 is proudly supported by Telefilm Canada and The Government of Canada. Key Dates: Opening Night – September 8th, Closing Night – September 24th 

 

As a Black-owned and Black-led global company, CT denounces all forms of racism and discrimination, in particular anti-Black and anti-Indigenous racism.

 

“We offer our sympathies to the families of #GeorgeFloyd. We grieve with them, haunted by flashbacks of similar killings of Black, Indigenous and racialized members of our communities by instruments of racist systems. As we watch the spectacle that has been unfolding across social media and other media platforms, together we rise yet again and stand in solidarity with global calls for an end to systemic racism and assert #BlackLivesMatter.”

 

Caribbean Tales is a registered Canadian charity that creates, markets, and distributes educational programs and films intended to promote racial equality and healthy community in Canada.

 

I had the time of my life talking to this trailblazer and advocate for everything good. She has an incredibly warm smile, and an experienced laugh. I was honoured for the opportunity.’  

 

HNMAG “This is the 16th year of The Caribbean Tales International Film Festival that you founded.  It was a very different time 16 years ago. Can you tell me what prompted the decision to create the festival?”

FRANCES-ANNE “My background consists of being a producer for the BBC in the 90’s but there weren’t a lot of films made or that talked about the lives of people like me. When I left the British Broadcasting Company, I wanted to create a platform that was like the BBC that represented the lives of people like me, people of colour and BIPOC people. I started Caribbean Tales initially as a platform where we could create, produce, market and sell from the Caribbean to the white diaspora, people of colour and BIPOC people of our stories. The film festival was one of the first initiatives we started in 2006. We also started a distribution company, Caribbean Tales were acquired in 2010, The Incubator Program for Creators of Colour was also in 2010, our VOD platform in 2013, CineFAM to support the voices of women of colour, Filmmakers in 2015 and 1 year ago, we started the Windrush Caribbean Film Festival in the U.K.”

 

HNMAG “Considering it does keep evolving and expanding, does it tell you that more diverse filmmakers are coming to the forefront?”

FRANCES-ANNE “Definitely, and I believe this is the time when the voices of BIPOC creators are being heard and given a platform. That’s very exciting for us – we’re no longer marginalized or left out of the conversation. I feel like we’re being heard now and there’s lots and lots of young filmmakers, and older ones that are ready to create content and tell their stories, so it’s very exciting. The population of Canada is 33% BIPOC and across the Greater Toronto Area the BIPOC population is 60%”

HNMAG “Do you feel like the world is waking up to allow change to happen?”

FRANCES-ANNE “I do think that since the murder of George Floyd, a lot has changed. Our Canadian film industry has undergone a real reckoning, where a lot of the institutions have woken up to the fact that there are huge populations of voices that weren’t previously given access. I feel really positive about the work that’s being done in Canada in terms of representation of the actual voices of this country rather than a small slice. At the same time, there’s also pushback, that you see in the US where you see white nationalism as the biggest significant terrorist threat. I’m sure those influences exist here as well but they’re just not as vocal. We have to be vigilant because the population is changing. What used to be called minorities are no longer minorities in some areas. They estimate, by 2036, 40% of the population across Canada will be non-Caucasian. In Toronto, if you go to areas like Markham, 90% of the population is non-white. It’s important to take on the fact that, through immigration, through changing birth rates – there’s actually a change in who makes up the population in the west. It’s a good thing because it means that all of us get to me more human.”

 

HNMAG “Is this the first time these festivals have been virtual?”

FRANCES-ANNE “No, we were virtual last year. We have 3 festivals as well as other events, such as the Windrush Festival, which will kick off on June 1st – August 30th. We then have the Caribbean Tales International Festival, which launches in July and takes place in September, then we have the CineFAM Festival that will be launched in Oct. and we also have the Incubator Training Program for Creators in September. In addition to that I also host The Directors Chair once a month, where I talk to directors about the industry and their experiences. Last year was quite a pivot. The world locked down in March and we were ready to launch in May, as we are this year. We produced about 70 individual film festivals last year and we’re better prepared this year. We’re all learning as we go and everyone around the planet is learning a new way to communicate. It means that there are no longer any geographical boundaries in the world and that you can have conversations with anyone in the world as long as there’s an internet connection. It has made the world a lot smaller and accessible place that we wouldn’t have had before, had we been living in the domain of strictly live events. It’s also opened up the possibilities of running a broadcast station on the internet. Many people are doing that now, where it used to be the only people with money could do that. It really opens up the audience’s reach to smaller organizations and many more people, so it’s exciting. It definitely has its pluses.”

 

HNMAG “What would be some of the bigger challenges of trying to organize this online?”

FRANCES-ANNE “Definitely monetization because people expect to get things for free, so its very difficult to charge. Before, we were selling tickets to live events and now we’re selling tickets for online… and they don’t have to come. It’s much more unpredictable in terms of how many people you’re actually going to have. When we were doing live events before, we could sell 400 tickets and only 200 will show up, depending on the price of the ticket. If they’re cheaper, more people will purchase. When it’s online, the people that buy the tickets and the ones that show up are 1 in 6, so monetization is definitely a challenge as well as understanding how marketing works online. For example, if you’re marketing a live event, you have to start 4 months in advance but if you’re marketing an online event, you can’t start marketing until a week in advance. People get distracted and the window is much smaller for the ‘buzz’ of the festival. It’s a very different kind of world and things happen so quickly online, the interaction is so fast. There really is no substitute for being in a space with 400 people and feeling like you’re part of something. It’s a group buzz that’s difficult to replace but we really try. We have a welcoming committee that welcomes you as you enter the virtual space, as well as people that create conversation throughout the screening. It’s a challenge but I’m still excited for the opportunity.”        

 

 

HNMAG “Do you get to watch a lot of these films yourself or are you too busy working behind the scenes?”

FRANCES-ANNE “I love watching the films and attending the events, but I do have a team that is responsible for the execution of the event and programming, a festival director and programmers for each festival. We also have an implementation team that includes a live stream producer and a technical director that takes care of that department. Nothing makes me happier than bringing people together to watch movies and go on these journeys together.”

 

HNMAG “Apart from the festivals and events that you produce and promote, you are also a very established and award-winning filmmaker yourself. A Winter Tale, Lord Have Mercy, Peggy Sue, What My Mother Told Me, just to name a few. What is the last film that you made?”

FRANCES-ANNE “My last film was called HERO and I made it in 2019. It was inspired by the extraordinary life and times of Mr. Ulric Cross. It was released on Showtime in the US last June and on May 21st, it will be released on Amazon Prime in the U.K. and the US as well as the Cineplex platform. It’s very exciting for us.”

 

HNMAG “You have your hands in so many different projects, therefore you must be very good at managing your time. Would you consider that one of your biggest strengths?”

FRANCES-ANNE “At this point, I have a lot of support. I don’t think I could do it without my wonderful team. I don’t feel like I’m good at organizing myself (laughing), I always feel like I’m chasing one thing or another – but people do say that I’m well organized. I think if you love what you’re doing, you find a way to get it done.”

 

HNMAG “Have you always worked with the same team throughout the years?”

FRANCES-ANNE “There’s been a couple people that have been with me a long time. When we first started and for many years, we had very little money. We had a lot of volunteers and people that worked for very little money that stuck with us for a long time but at the end of the day, they have to make a living. We do have a great team and the core team has been there for 5-6 years and then we have some people that have been there for 15-16 years. Every season, we welcome new young people into our company that will learn everything, then they get another job that they’re passionate about and pays them a lot of money. Sometimes they come back and remain part of the Caribbean Tales family, so that’s always wonderful.”

 

HNMAG “Is the city of Toronto quite warm and supportive of the events?” 

FRANCES-ANNE “I think Toronto is the place to be and is the most diverse city in Canada. I believe that the last 8-10 months has provided the biggest amount of support for our work and that’s exciting because previously it was pretty difficult. There’s a recognition, we’re here, we have a right to make a living and our voices are important.”

 

HNMAG “Considering that you started the Caribbean Tales International Film Festival 16 years ago, it must’ve been much more difficult back then to get the festival off the ground. Would it be much easier in today’s world?”

FRANCES-ANNE “I think what we’ve done is pretty unique and anytime we would have started it would have been difficult. Running a film festival is very difficult (laughing), it’s really tough… and if I had the chance to do it again, I’m not sure if I would, so it is what it is. This has been my life and I’m very proud of what I’ve done and I’m happy to continue – but I certainly don’t want to start over (laughing) and I wouldn’t recommend it to others. People often ask me, what is my advice to other young people that want to do what I’ve done. I say… Don’t (laughing), don’t do it!” 

 

By the way, Frances-Anne Solomon has the most enchanting laugh. It is infectious and enduring. 

 

HNMAG “You also sit on the Jury for the Oscars. Can you tell me how that opportunity happened?”

FRANCES-ANNE “About 5 years ago, there was this huge uproar about the lack of diversity and then the hashtag ‘Oscars So White’. I believe 96% of the voting body was white and 86% were males with a huge portion over the age of 65. It was a very skewed demographic and a very small slice of the world’s voice. This is the most important awards platform on the planet. When somebody wins an Oscar, it will determine whether or not their film will get into the cinemas and make money, strengthen an actors career and the directors, as well as setting trends for storytelling. It was very important to say that there needed to be more representation. They made some pretty radical changes and they actually hired BIPOC to lead the organization in nominating a Black woman as CEO. There are now people of colour in all levels of the organization, which is quite impressive. They really engage in the process of change. Because the voting membership is about 10,000 members with a membership for life, they couldn’t get rid of anyone, so they invited more people in that would be more representative. It’s still very hard to get in – you have to had set-directed 2 feature films, be nominated by 2 members of the board of directors as well as 2 members of your category – which in turn has to be ratified by the board of directors. It’s quite a rigorous process of selection. Every year 800-900 people are invited since 2015 and 50-60% are people of colour, women or international. They’ve begun to dilute that pool but I don’t know what those numbers are now. I was approached and invited and completely blown away. It’s not what you grow up expecting when you’re a Brown girl from Trinidad (laughing). It’s a fantastic opportunity and I think it’s very important to have a voice at the table.”

 

Incidentally, Frances-Anne explained to me what the Windrush Festival really celebrates – the contributions of the Windrush generation – the people that came to rebuild England after the war. 

 

Frances-Anne elaborates, “they were Jamaicans, Trinidadians and people from The Caribbean. They’re a generation that hasn’t been recognized. They’ve made contributions to music, to culture and a lot of people that went to England, later left (laughing). I was one because my parents were part of the Windrush generation but like many others that came to England, they wanted to try a life in Canada, the US or go back home to The Caribbean. We wanted to celebrate that generation and the impact it had on world culture. This year we’ll be celebrating Carnival because Carnival started in Trinidad, then went to England, then Canada and the US. It’s become one of the biggest street festivals in the world and they all have the same type of features; steel band, costumes, masks and many different elements.”       

 

HNMAG “Do you mind if we switch it up a bit and I ask you a couple of fun questions? What’s your favourite sport to watch or participate in?”

FRANCES-ANNE “Tennis.”

 

HNMAG “What’s your favourite food?”

FRANCES-ANNE “It would be Caribbean food – a roti, where you put meat and vegetables inside a wrap. We have lots of amazing Caribbean food from Trinidad. I also enjoy chicken pelau, a rice dish with pigeon peas and chicken cooked down. Swordfish is another dish that we’ll salt and then boil down and add lots of spices and fry some bake (flower and water). It’s just amazing.”

 

HNMAG “What’s your favourite destination?”

FRANCES-ANNE “Barbados or Ghana.”     

 

Again, I had an incredible talk with Frances-Anne Solomon and I gained an education from her wisdom. Please attend this virtual film festival and support marginalized filmmakers that, for many – are spreading their wings for the first time. Keep reaching for the stars! 

 

“Our mandate is to foster and encourage intercultural understanding and citizen participation through the creation and distribution of educational films, videos, theatre as well as new media programs, products and resource materials that reflect the diversity and creativity of Caribbean-Canadian heritage culture. We are also committed to building a global community among Canadians and with like-minded artists, cultural entrepreneurs and community builders throughout the Diaspora.”

 

Frances-Anne Solomon

 

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