Caribbean Beat Magazine

Screenshots (May/June 2017) | Film Reviews

This month’s film-watching picks

  • Cargo
  • The Empty Box
  • The Skyjacker’s Tale


Directed by Kareem Mortimer, 2017, 102 minutes

Kareem Mortimer, it could be said, is an auteur of the ocean, a filmmaker for whom the sea is more than just the beautiful blue element surrounding the hundreds of islands that comprise his native Bahamas. In his cry-for-compassion debut Children of God, it was a medium through which two young men explored their feelings for one another, while in Wind Jammers, his (co-directed) second film, a teenager faced down racial prejudice through her mastery of sailing.

The Caribbean Sea also plays a primal role in Mortimer’s third feature, Cargo, his most urgent and unsettling yet. It tells the intertwined tales of contrasting characters: Kevin, a white Bahamian who becomes a fisherman after he’s convicted of embezzlement and has his family deported from the United States, and Celianne, a Haitian migrant who grinds out a living as a waitress in Nassau and hopes to escape with her son to Miami. When an opportunity arises for Kevin to make money by smuggling Haitians on his boat, Celianne has a chance to realise her dream.

Acted with a grim determination by the British actor Warren Brown, Kevin is a film noir sort of protagonist, a man who — blinded by privilege — does bad things but believes he is a good person. Gessica Geneus is sympathetic as Celianne, at first a biddable young woman who allows herself to be taken in by Kevin’s bravado, until his sinister side begins to show and her agency blossoms.

Set against the two leads, Cargo’s supporting characters aren’t as memorably realised. The exception is Major, the businessman whose lucrative scheme Kevin signs up to. “I don’t deal in the slave trade,” protests Major (an entertainingly salty Craig Pinder). Yet it is a kind of contemporary slave trade — one that, ultimately, Mortimer isn’t afraid to present in all its deep-water tragedy.

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The Empty Box

Directed by Claudia Sainte-Luce, 2016, 101 minutes

Mexican Claudia Sainte-Luce’s endearing debut, The Amazing Catfish, advanced the progressive notion that people don’t need to be related to one another to be family. The Empty Box, her weightier follow-up, inverts this idea: simply because someone is of your blood, that doesn’t necessarily make them kin.

A young waitress named Jazmin (played by the director herself) lives alone in Mexico City. When the undocumented Haitian father from whom she has been estranged for years, Toussaint (a commandingly understated Jimmy Jean-Louis), is diagnosed with senile dementia, she grudgingly takes him in, and the pair must work towards some sort of accommodation, if not reconciliation.

Jazmin comes across as something of an emotional cypher, which can make it difficult to sympathise with her. Yet when Sainte-Luce flashes back to Toussaint’s childhood in Haiti — shot, like the rest of the film, in exquisitely atmospheric tones — she achieves a poetic, dreamlike resonance.

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The Skyjacker’s Tale

Directed by Jamie Castner, 2016, 76 minutes

It was a story that served as a bloody postscript to Black Power. In 1972, eight people — seven of them white — were shot and killed at a golf course in the US Virgin Islands. Five men — all Afro-Caribbean — were found guilty of murder and given life sentences. One of them, Ishmael Muslim Ali (formerly Ronald LaBeet), hijacked a commercial airliner in 1984 while being shuttled between prisons. He had the flight diverted to Cuba, from where he continues to protest his innocence.

Mixing interviews with re-enactments, veteran Canadian documentarian Jamie Castner’s tabloidesque take on the Fountain Valley massacre (as it came to be known) ambles along engagingly. However, the film’s central claim — that the defendants were tortured while awaiting trial — remains unproven after four and a half decades. Further, Castner is too enamoured of his charismatic main subject, refusing to challenge Ali on his version of those tragic events.

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