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Apr 3, 2002

The Caribbean Film festival

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On April 2, the 2002 St. Barths Caribbean Film Festival hosted its traditional opening cocktail party among familiar faces this year, though the setting was the spacious new town hall building in Gustavia Pointe. Ellen Lampert-Greaux and Josh Harrison, festival coordinators, were on hand to welcome guests, thank sponsors, and introduce this year films and filmmakers.
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For those of you unfamiliar with the film festival, it is a "by the people, for the people" event tailored to the small island of St. Barths and its infrastructure. Featured films are strictly from the region and are shown in their original language with French, not English, subtitles. The films are projected al fresco, on a tennis court backboard. After paying a small entry fee (the 6-film cinema lovers card costs under $25 US, a bargain in any country), the audience files in and then walks over to the pile of plastic chairs, takes one and sets it up somewhere on the court. When it rains, filmgoers stand up, put the chairs over their heads for cover, and wait for the cloud to pass. When it does, they sit back down and return to the business at hand. The festival is in every way intimate, casual, homespun, and authentically Caribbean, which is what makes it so special.
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The idea for the Caribbean festival was born in a coffee shop in Greenwich Village one decade after the trio who dreamed it into being first met. In the 80's, Ellen was in France, working as administrative director for the French-American Film Workshop. It was in Avignon that she met Joshua Harrison and Jerry Carlson, both film producers, and both members of the festival' s jury panel.
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In the early 90's, Ellen met and married a St. Barths native, Rosemond Greaux, and began dividing her time between her professional headquarters in Manhattan and her home and husband in St. Barths. After preliminary discussions got serious, Ellen and Josh went on to create the festival. Jerry serves the festival committee in an advisory capacity.
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Josh explains "At that time, we decided that we could either commit to a film festival that was specifically about the Caribbean and focused on the people that lived in the region, or we could make a more traditional festival that drew on the tourist industry. We felt that there was a great need for this kind of festival because the region covers a large area. While there is a common culture, it is strongly separated, at least in the film industry, by language barriers that arose as a result of how the Caribbean islands were occupied and by which colonial powers. While music travels, film does not, and we thought that this festival would provide a unique opportunity to cross cultural and artistic frontiers."
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The festival has two components that further confirm its uniqueness. From its inception, there has been a strong commitment to promoting public exchanges on all levels. Every year, festival coordinators go to the island's schools and introduce local students to filmmakers and the craft of filmmaking. The Saturday afternoon round-table, a forum discussion between filmmakers and the public provides another excellent opportunity for the exchange of ideas on all the various topics that are treated in the films: politics, slavery, history, the Caribbean experience, insularity, music, exile, myth, and more.
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The 2002 festival features six full-length films. Three of them (Before Night Falls, Who the Hell is Juliette, and Vampires in Havana) focus on what might best be called the Cuban experience’, each from its own perspective. Also featured this year is Calle 54, a Latin jazz documentary on thirteen of Latin America's most celebrated musicians, like Tito Puente, Gato Barbieri, and Chico O'Farrill.
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Though most films remain on the industry fringe, a few, like the Mexican film, Y Tu Ma Mama Tambien, make it to mainstream audiences and critics. Director Alfonso Cuaron will make a public appearance and speak about his film on Thursday, April 4.
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As for the festival's artistic choice, Ellen says, "When considering which regional films to show at the festival, the real challenge is to select top-notch, provoking films that open people's minds." Do those films exist? Pull up a plastic chair and decide for yourself.

Yves Bourel

Yves Bourel


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