Slow and steady wins the race. That’s the approach Frances-Anne Solomon, left, has taken in building Caribbean Tales Inc. into a multi-faceted organization dedicated to the creation, production and distribution of filmed stories from the Caribbean and African Diaspora. Solomon presides over the Caribbean Tales Youth Film Festival this weekend at the TIFF Bell Lightbox where Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter’s Better Mus Come premiers in conjunction with an awards gala honouring Canadian broadcasting pioneer Denham Jolly and young filmmaker Ian Harnarine. Harnarine’s short, Doubles With Slight Pepper, was produced with the help of the Caribbean Tales Market Incubator Program and went on to win TIFF’s 2011 Award for Best Canadian Short Film, a prize worth $10,000.
This weekend’s events – the awards gala brunch and screening at noon on Saturday followed by a public screening of Better Mus Come Sunday at 3:45 pm – marks the first time Caribbean Tales has partnered with TIFF and Solomon is happy to borrow some of the Lightbox’s prestige. The collaboration represents a win for TIFF, too, which is kicking off a Black History Month screening series entitled Music, Magic, Clash: New Voices in the African Diaspora.
When I met Solomon at her home last week to talk about Caribbean Tales she seemed a little weary – pleased to be making inroads but still frustrated at how much work remains to be done. Born in England and raised in Trinidad, she moved to Toronto at age 18 and studied theatre at UofT, an experience that was so satisfying she chose to move back here after 15 years in the UK working with the BBC.
“I grew up in a country where the president was black, the government was black, and that’s a very different way of seeing the world, as opposed to growing up in a place like Canada where despite a very multi-ethnic population . . . well, let’s just say that our government does not reflect the diversity of our population.”
“The youth film festival started two years ago because we wanted to show young people something different, films about people of African descent from around the world and also Caribbean people. Our goal is to stimulate a different kind of dialogue about diversity. I think it’s important for young people to know where they come from and to get a sense of the strength of the cultures that inform where they come from. When people grow up in places like Canada where they’re in a minority, where sometimes they are marginalized by the so-called dominant culture, it leaves them with a microscopic view of their own possibilities.”
Her time at the BBC left a lasting impression on Solomon: “It was an amazing experience,” she recalls, “because it was a vertically integrated organization which created, produced and distributed original content to an audience that was hungry for it.”
And that’s exactly what she has endeavoured to create with Caribbean Tales. The organization was born in Canada and now has bases in Toronto, Trinidad, Barbados and New York. Solomon started with little more than a dream: “Of course there was no money and no infrastructure,” she remembers, “but once the internet came online it became an opportunity.”
“The digital revolution has meant that equipment is cheaper and now we can create, produce and distribute in a different way. Things have changed even in the decade since I started Caribbean Tales, the landscape is completely different today. We started initially as a platform for the distribution and we’ve grown to encompass creation, production and education.”
“I have to say that it’s been much harder than I imagined it would be,” she adds. “I think there’s still a lot of obstacles to really representing all of Canada’s multicultural communities. There are serious blocks to that in the media. What has been useful has been having a base here and building beyond that. It’s also really useful to have a base in the Caribbean and in the States and Europe. To be international is the goal and it’s much more possible as a result of the internet and with travel being relatively easy.”
Yes, there are battles still to fight, but no one who has met Solomon would ever underestimate her steely determination. If anyone deserves a Caribbean Tales recognition award it is surely the founder herself.