Caribbean Beat Magazine

Word of Mouth

Dispatches from our correspondents around the Caribbean and further afield

  • Vive La Rose. Photograph courtesy St Lucia Tourism Authority
  • Cameras roll. Photograph courtesy Trinidad+Tobago Film Festival

Cameras roll

Philip Sander previews the 2012 trinidad+tobago film festival

There is, of course, a red carpet. The opening gala features a cast of actors, directors, musicians, models, and assorted celebrities, glittering as appropriate. The parties and after-parties (and after-after-parties?) are some of the hottest tickets in town. Glam factor: high. So it’s no surprise that the trinidad+tobago film festival — running this year from 19 September to 2 October — is a highlight of the Caribbean’s annual cinema circuit. When you get down to it, though, it’s really about the films: 120 of them in the 2012 programme, features and shorts, from the Caribbean and its diaspora, Latin America, India, and Africa.

Launched in 2006, the ttff has become a major springboard for Trinidad and Tobago’s and the Caribbean’s filmmaking talent. Half the films in this year’s programme are produced locally, and most will have their world premiere at ttff/12. More than fifty directors, actors, and others will participate at public events — introducing their films, joining discussion panels and workshops — with major networking going on behind the scenes. The festival jury awards TT$150,000 in prizes — for best local films, best Caribbean films, and best Caribbean film by an international filmmaker — and this year the ttff will host its second annual filmmakers’ immersion programme, supported by RBC Royal Bank, an intense four-day creative lab for documentary filmmakers. The best project pitch wins a TT$20,000 award.

Why else should cinephiles book their plane tickets to Port of Spain? A tribute to Trinidadian director Horace Ové, including screenings of his classic films Reggae (1971) and Pressure (1976). A special exhibition to mark the fiftieth anniversary of Independence, looking at the film history of Trinidad and Tobago from 1927 to the end of the century, and a ceremony to honour local film pioneers. A programme of avant garde film and video art, pushing the boundaries of the medium. And the chance to see the region’s hottest new films — the ones we’ll be talking about for years to come? — all in the space of two weeks. The action centres on the Movietowne cineplexes in Port of Spain and Tobago and the historic Little Carib Theatre, with other screening venues around the country. Clear your schedule, pack your bags — and remember to bring your red carpet outfit.

For more info: visit


Bookish in brooklyn

Johnny Temple on the Caribbean element in the Brooklyn Book Festival

Brooklyn is many things: the most populated of New York City’s five boroughs, home to more published authors than almost any other place on the planet. Is Brooklyn also an outpost of the Caribbean?

When Borough President Marty Markowitz launched the annual Brooklyn Book Festival in 2006, it was evident from the start that Caribbean authors would feature prominently. The programming for the first year included Caribbean-born writers Colin Channer, Roger Bonair-Agard, Elizabeth Nunez, and Nelly Rosario. In 2009, the festival presented its annual Best of Brooklyn Book Award to Edwidge Danticat, who was born in Haiti, moved to Brooklyn in her youth, and now lives in Miami. Over the years the festival stages have hosted best-selling writers from around the world, with Caribbean authors never absent.

The seventh Brooklyn Book Festival takes place in and around Borough Hall Plaza on Sunday 23 September, from 10 am to 6 pm, with “Bookend” events around New York City in the preceding days. It features over two hundred authors appearing in free programmes — panel discussions, readings, performances — on more than ten different stages. Last year’s festival drew over thirty-five thousand people, and this year’s crowds will likely swell further.

And with 2012 marking the fiftieth anniversary of Independence for the nations of Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago, this year’s festival will have a special focus on the West Indies. Caribbean-born authors will appear in various events throughout the day, with two special bonus events. The unparalleled Calabash International Literary Festival will celebrate Jamaica’s independence and literary largesse with a special programme of its own in Brooklyn. Calabash, based in Jamaica and a dozen years strong, was launched in 2001 by authors Colin Channer and Kwame Dawes, along with miracle-worker Justine Henzell, a Jamaican filmmaker. Dawes will be in Brooklyn to host the event, including readings by Jamaica-born authors Jacqueline Bishop, Ishion Hutchinson, and Christopher John Farley.

A second marquee programme will be hosted by the NGC Bocas Lit Fest. Based in Trinidad, Bocas recently completed its remarkable second year, and shows no sign of slowing down. Award-winning literary lion Earl Lovelace will commute from Port of Spain to grace a Brooklyn stage, joined by Trini authors  Victoria Brown and Anton Nimblett, based in New York. NGC Bocas Lit Fest founder Marina Salandy-Brown and programme director Nicholas Laughlin will host the event.

Over the past seven years, the Brooklyn Book Festival has emerged as New York City’s premier can’t-miss literary event. With an increasingly international focus and a majestic array of free public events, Brooklyn is giving the people what they want.

For more info: visit


Vive la rose

John Robert Lee on the debate over the future of St Lucia’s flower festivals

Every 30 August and 17 October, St Lucian streets are taken over by costumed processions, led by kings, queens, princes, princesses, and a “number of pseudo-legal, military and professional personnel, including judges, policemen, soldiers, and nurses.” With the parades come Creole songs, thrown in picong style among the masqueraders. This isn’t Carnival (celebrated in St Lucia earlier in the year, in May). These are the unique flower festivals: La Rose, on the feast day of St Rose of Lima in August, and La Marguerite, devoted to St Margaret Mary Alacoque of France.

The earliest reference to the flower festivals dates from 1769. Historians believe St Lucia’s flower societies started during the slavery period, as mutual support networks among enslaved Africans, borrowing elements from Roman Catholic ritual as well as Freemasonry. It is thought that at one time most of the population of St Lucia was affiliated to one or other of the rival groups, and H.H. Breen, writing in 1844, suggested there were flower societies in Dominica and Trinidad also. They have long died out on those islands, and even in St Lucia — despite a revival in the 1970s — they seem to be in decline. Only nine La Rose groups and four La Marguerite groups now exist.

There are many reasons for that decline. Catholics who join evangelical churches leave the festivals, older leaders and founders pass away, and it’s now difficult to find musicians to accompany the parades. Then there are the negative effects of today’s total dependence on Government financial support. In May 2012, St Lucia’s Cultural Development Foundation hosted a one-day national consultation “to chart the way forward” for the flower festivals. Monsignor Dr Patrick Anthony, Catholic priest and founding director of the influential Folk Research Centre, proposed that the Church become more involved with the groups. “With twenty-two parishes,” he said, “the Church [would encourage] each parish to have at least one La Rose and one La Marguerite group.”

But there are dissenting voices. The young commentator Nkrumah Lucien, blogging on the topic of “saving” the festivals, asks “what is being saved . . . who is supposedly doing the saving, and how the saving is to happen?” He argues that “the artificial freezing of these traditions in time has done more to make them irrelevant to youth in changing times,” and the flower societies have been encouraged to preserve their culture “for the psychological needs of the alienated ‘educated’ class.”

So when the Roses and Marguerites stage their ritual battles, there may be more at stake than picong and good-natured insults. Participants may feel themselves caught between older enthusiasts, who want things to stay as they are, and younger radicals who want to see the festivals evolve with the times. Either way, for another year, there will be singing and dancing in the streets, and eating and drinking in the festival halls. Vive les fleurs!