Caribbean Screenshots (March/April 2017) Film Reviews

This month’s film-watching picks

  • Site of Sites
  • Green & Yellow
  • I Am a Politician

Site of Sites

Directed by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada, 2016, 61 minutes

A pair of coconut trees frames a beach at sunrise, waves lapping against the sand. This is no clichéd Caribbean image, however: a wide, rutted ditch running into the sea points to disruptive human activity, which is reinforced by the piece of industrial equipment sitting off to the right. A man walks into the shot, up to the machine and switches it on. A puff of black smoke belches out, and the thrumming of the engine disturbs the dawn.

So opens Site of Sites, the new documentary by Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada of the Dominican Republic. It furthers the direct approach to the non-fiction form that was so effectively on display in the duo’s debut, You and Me, a portrait of the relationship between a maid and her mistress. Site of Sites continues to probe themes explored in You and Me — race, power, economics — but on a broader scale, even as it maintains that film’s equanimity and empathy.

Site of Sites is set almost entirely within the confines of an upscale housing development somewhere in the DR. Precisely framed static shots — the camera never moves — showing the (invariably) black people employed as gardeners, domestics, and labourers, are interspersed with scenes showing the (invariably) white people who employ them relaxing in swimming pools, playing golf, and having barbecues. Conversation is largely desultory; people are simply living their lives.

The cumulative result is a sobering rendering of black and white, poverty and wealth, work and play, a social dynamic little altered since it came into being centuries ago. (And, the film suggests, with little chance of being altered.) Site of Sites is exemplary of what can be done with little more than a camera in one’s hand and an idea in one’s head: politically committed and formally rigorous filmmaking of a very high order.

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Green & Yellow

Directed by Miquel Galofré, 2016, 19 minutes 

For a decade now, Barcelona-born, Trinidad-and-Tobago–based filmmaker Miquel Galofré has been making acclaimed documentaries in the Caribbean. Whether they’re about prisoners creating music (Songs of Redemption) or at-risk children discovering the transformative power of art (Art Connect), Galofré’s films are characterised by their boundless empathy for the marginalised lives they celebrate, as well as their unforced optimism.

His latest film, Green & Yellow, is a work of disarming and devastating simplicity. Shot on the streets of Port of Spain, it contains the interwoven, direct-to-camera testimonies of two homeless men, Sheldon “Sketch” Aberdeen and Shawn “Yankee” Brown, both crack cocaine users. There is no music score, and the cinematography is in stark black and white — until the closing moments, when the colours of the film’s title saturate the screen. The running time of Green & Yellow is just under twenty minutes; its power will remain with you for much longer than that.

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I Am a Politician

Directed by Javier Colón Ríos, 2016, 90 minutes

Some explanatory text at the beginning of I Am a Politician declares this satire to be “almost a work of fiction” — which, given what follows, makes it a depressing reminder that we now live in the time of President Trump. Javier Colón Ríos’s follow-up to I Am a Director, his comic debut, I Am a Politician tracks the follies of Carlos (Carlos Marchand), an ex-convict seeking to become governor of Puerto Rico.

Colón Ríos’s satire is light, sometimes even slight. Not all his gags work: for example, a joke involving Carlos “coming out” to his mother as a member of a political party different from hers feels forced. And some nuances may be lost on those not conversant with Puerto Rico’s unique political system. That said, the story of a boorish narcissist, opportunistically hopping from one political party to another, is one with which most people can no doubt identify.

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