As Toronto prepares for the glitz and glamour of the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), another cinematic celebration is getting ready to mark its 10th anniversary.
If TIFF is Goliath, the CaribbeanTales International Film Festival (CTFF) is a mighty David, simultaneously competing against and working with its formidable counterpart nearly every year for the past decade.
CTFF is one arm of the CaribbeanTales umbrella, which also consists of a film distribution company and an online film streaming service. Aimed at supporting the creation, marketing, and distribution of film and new media, CaribbeanTales has worked hard to elevate the Caribbean film industry.
“Our culture is strong, we are great storytellers, and our experiences as Caribbean peoples are very diverse.”
“We are building a film industry. Not just making or even showing films, but developing the infrastructure for a world class industry that will produce programming content on par with any produced internationally,” states CaribbeanTales founder and executive director Frances-Anne Solomon.
“Our culture is strong, we are great storytellers, and our experiences as Caribbean peoples are very diverse. These strengths will shortly translate into a vibrant and dynamic film, television and media industry.”
Running from September 9-19 at Toronto’s Royal Cinema, this year’s CTFF will showcase featured nights like Queer Caribbean, highlighting LGBTQ stories; #AllBlackLivesMatter, showcasing stories of diverse Black existences; and Shifting Perspectives, covering topics around mental illness and fatherhood.
Sixteen features and 30 short films will be competing for CTFF Jury and Audience Awards, which will be announced during the closing night events.
“In just 10 years, a very short period of time, our film stories have matured to become stunningly assured, explosive, transgressive, probing, beautiful and urgent,” says Solomon. “And this is what we see represented on screen in this year’s selections.”
Running alongside TIFF
Many have wondered about CTFF’s timing – what is the strategy behind running alongside a world-famous festival like TIFF? Solomon’s response is clear.
“Our aim is to raise the profile of the emerging Caribbean industry – not just in Canada but in the international industry. We run an incubator program during our festival that allows Caribbean filmmakers to promote their work to international delegates, and for that reason it makes sense to hold the event during TIFF.”
“Caribbean people in Canada – don’t get to see themselves reflected in TIFF’s programming.”
The CTFF incubator program, now in its sixth year, allows filmmakers from the Caribbean and across the diaspora to hone their pitching and marketing skills, and gives them the opportunity to rub shoulders with gatekeepers who may be able to take their careers to the next level.
Incubator events are often held at the TIFF Bell Lightbox, showcasing another aspect of the symbiotic partnership between the two film festivals.
“Another reason (for running alongside TIFF) is that our core audience – Caribbean people in Canada – don’t get to see themselves reflected in TIFF’s programming, and it (CTFF) gives them some great alternative programming.”
An alternative to Hollywood
Diversity in film is not a new conversation, by any means.
For a city as multicultural as Toronto, its own international film festival rarely exhibits the diversity that homegrown audiences crave.
In self-sustaining fashion, CTFF has carved a space in the hustle and bustle of Toronto’s film festival season to provide an alternative for filmgoers who seek something more familiar, or something that diverts from the usual fare TIFF is known for.
“I try to attend at least one screening each year,” says CTFF attendee Adrianna Hamilton.
“I also try to bring non-Caribbean friends who complain about being bored by Hollywood.”
“I’m always looking for good quality films that entertain me and include my heritage,” Hamilton continues. “But I also try to bring non-Caribbean friends who complain about being bored by Hollywood. They usually love seeing something different and learning something new, and they always ask me the next year if I can grab them tickets.”
Through 10 years of showcasing bold and versatile filmmaking, CTFF has become a gateway for artists and audiences alike who want to create and consume the best of Caribbean film.
Partnering strategically with TIFF, CTFF has been able to leverage connections while maintaining a unique platform known throughout Canada and internationally.
“CaribbeanTales continues to have its finger on the pulse of a dynamic movement of evolving film expression across the region and its diaspora,” says Solomon.