Patrice Robinson, curator of the ‘Snapshots: Caribbean Cinema Up Close’ season at Barbican Cinema, sits opposite me. Her warm and charismatic demeanour reflects the lively buzz that filled the auditorium at the conclusion of ‘Currents’, a programme of seven shorts depicting the diverse experiences of Caribbean people, told from their perspective.
“I think when people think of the Caribbean they think of waves”, she says, “and I said to myself, I want the films to wash over the audience just like a wave… and when the tide goes back out, you’re like, ‘wow!’ Like a baptism.”
Robinson claims that she wanted to showcase the “fantastic works” of Caribbean filmmakers that are not readily available to Western audiences. “As a Caribbean person myself it is something I never understood. There’s a large Caribbean community here in the UK, especially in London, so actually going to the festival revealed so much to me.”
The festival that inspired Robinson was the 17th Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival, which she attended on a placement last year. She felt so passionate about what she saw that she had to share it with a wider audience. The result was ‘Snapshots: Caribbean Cinema Up Close’, a season in which she could “showcase current Caribbean filmmakers and what the new legacy will be and could be.” She wanted to create an “entry point” for people, she says, one that would ignite curiosity and discussion among the UK audience.
‘Currents’, she says, “reflects the number of different countries, nations, languages and cultures” in the Caribbean, but simultaneously portrays “issues that have been discussed universally, whether across the region or globally. It’s not just Western countries that experience these issues,” she points out, “so why are we not hearing them?”
The vision of diversity of Caribbean life is reflected throughout all seven films. ‘My Wound is a Portal’ portrays the simplicity of life when connected to nature. The inner peace and serenity radiated by the individuals in the film reminded me of the disconnected way we live in a consumerist, Western world.
‘My Maxi’ engages with questions of sexuality and coming out; an overbearing reality for many young people today (the struggle to express sexuality to your parents). This film took a light-hearted and comedic approach to a rather more serious topic by portraying a father who seems far more excited by the news of his son’s sexuality than anticipated when we see him begin to plan a celebratory party and wear colourful clothing, whilst the mother doesn’t seem to care. The reaction of his father shows that, despite a difference in age and social values, love wins. This piece showed that sometimes in order to achieve happiness we must learn to go out of our comfort zone and show courage to achieve what we want.
‘Sugarcake’ portrays the significance of food as an integral part of Caribbean life. It follows two strangers—a taxi driver and a prostitute—in the middle of the night. Despite both being at low points, struggling to make ends meet, they bring out joy in one another through the magic of sharing food.
‘The Inner View’ puts us in the unsettling position of a naïve young man dealing with the torment of discrimination in the job industry, being forced to lie in order to get the job he desires. He battles with conflicting opinions from both his loved ones and himself; his family and friends believe he must lie about his home and background, but his conscience tells him otherwise.
“It shows how difficult it can be in life, to fully be yourself,” Robinson says, “things that many people have to reconcile with, but some people never have to think about.”
Finally, ‘Twa Fey’, “a poignant expression of the realities and current situation of women’s rights in Haiti.” Robinson also wanted to portray sexism and sexual assault from a Caribbean perspective, as she claimed: “Carribean voices aren’t ever considered.”
Throughout all the films, there is music: the continuous beat echoing the resilience of Caribbean people, with a happiness and courage that is reflected within the films.
“With a history that is so complex and difficult,” Robinson says, “we still continue to move forward.” It is, she admits, a complex picture. “There’s so much vibrancy within the culture as well as difficult parts,” she says. “There’s just light and darkness essentially.”
But cinema and programmes such as Currents have a part to play. “We are all so siloed,” she says. “This is what cinemas are for, they are community spaces… to feel this immediate familiarity is not often present for certain communities, so it was nice to be able to create that.”
'Snapshots: Caribbean Cinema Up Close' ran at the Barbican Cinema from 17th-31st May. For more information about what's on at the Barbican Centre, including upcoming cinema seasons, head to their website.
Edited by Oisín McGilloway, Co-Film & TV Editor