The Caribbean film industry is described as an “expanded and ever-expanding field”, according to The Routledge Companion to World Cinema. It is unique from other film industries, such as American, because despite representing many countries, each country technically has its own unique operation. Though significantly diverse due to the inclusivity of all Caribbean countries, both independent and non-independent, the film industry was practically non-existent until the 1970s. Even then, the only countries that produced films were Haiti, Jamaica, and Guadeloupe; and they only made a few. A boom occurred in the ‘80s, and since then, a lot more films have been made in the Caribbean. Nonetheless, few people view Caribbean films or are even aware of its film industry.
When I mention Caribbean films, the first thing that usually comes to mind for people is Pirates of the Caribbean.
Even growing up in The Bahamas, I never saw a Caribbean film in the cinema. Now, I recognize the lack of not just Bahamian, but Caribbean representation in the media. Growing up, Caribbean people were scarcely in the media; yet when they were, they were portrayed with exaggerated stereotypes and a badly-done Jamaican accent. If a film or TV show was being filmed on my island, it was usually a Hollywood production seeking an exotic location. I’ll admit that it is cool that some of the films were shot in my home country, but as an aspiring filmmaker, I hope that one day actual Caribbean films and filmmakers can receive the same respect and recognition that other international cinema, such as France or even South Korea, does.
A major problem that any filmmaker faces is distribution and recording the exact number of films that are produced since each country has its own industry. Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival programmer and editorial director Jonathan Ali has also said that defining Caribbean films is complicated because “the Caribbean is comprised of the entire insular region — the English, Spanish, French and Dutch-speaking Caribbean — as well as Belize in Central America and Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana in South America.”
Although the entire Caribbean can’t be covered in a single article, here’s a diverse collection of ten Caribbean films you can check out from home:
Bad Lucky Goat
The quirky comedy Bad Lucky Goat is an incredible debut feature for Colombian director Samir Oliveors. Teenage brother and sister Corn and Rita’s nonconventional coming-of-age story commences when they accidentally kill their father’s goat. This film does an excellent job at telling a fresh story and maintaining authenticity as it stars local, non-professional actors speaking the native Creole language and includes a score by local musicians.
Reinbou, also called Rainbow, is a Dominican fantasy drama about a seven-year-old boy named Ángel Maceta. He discovers a book that makes him curious for treasure and his absent father who fought in the 1965 Civil War.
My Father’s Land
The award-winning feature documentary, My Father’s Land focuses on the life of Papa Jah, a Haitian Bushman who had migrated to The Bahamas to find work. We follow him as he returns home to Haiti for the first time in forty years to visit his 103-year-old father. This moving film showcases not only the rich culture of these islands but also explores “socioeconomic complexities of immigration, culture, and identity.”
Rent My Father’s Land here.
Welcome To Warlock: The Land of the Lawless
Welcome To Warlock: The Land of the Lawless is a Trinidadian guerrilla film by Jeffrey Alleyne. He self-describes his style as “a mix between Hollywood and Nollywood. With more emphasis on how a film feels not how it looks and sounds“. This gritty gangster film focuses on taxi driver, Machine; who ends up in a gang war after a fight with his friend.
Watch Welcome To Warlock: The Land of the Lawless for free on YouTube.
Ayiti Mon Amour
This neo-realist drama is set five years after Haiti’s devastating earthquake; connecting the unique stories of three individuals: a teenager, an old fisherman, and an author’s muse. Ayiti Mon Amour received international recognition as it was screened at the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival; and was also Haiti’s first submission for the Academy Awards’ Best Foreign Language Film.
I Dream in Another Language
Screened in the World Cinema Dramatic Competition section of the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, Sueño en otro idioma or I Dream in Another Language is a Mexican drama film. Martin is eagerly trying to save a dying Indigenous language; and finds out that its two last speakers hold a grudge against one another and therefore refuse to talk. Interestingly, its plot resembles a story that was published in The Guardian, TIME Magazine, and Sydney Morning Herald.
This award-winning documentary goes to the tiny island of Carriacou in the Grenadines to tell the story of Alwyn Enoe. He’s doing all in his power to make sure that the skill of wooden boat-building doesn’t die with him.
Rent Vanishing Sail here.
Sergio & Serguéi
From award-winning Cuban director Ernesto Daranas comes Sergio and Sergei, a dramedy based on true events. Set during the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the film’s namesakes meet when Marxist philosophy professor and radio ham, Sergio, ends up in contact with Russian Cosmonaut, Sergei, who is stranded on The Mir Space Station.
A Caribbean Dream
This unique retelling of Shakespeare’s romantic-comedy A Midsummer’s Night Dream is not only set in present day, but also in the Caribbean paradise of Barbados.
Watch A Caribbean Dream on Amazon.
Sprinter is an award-winning coming-of-age sports drama that follows aspiring track-and-field athlete Akeep Sharp; who sprints in hopes for a better life and reunion with his mother. Directed and written by Jamaican filmmaker Storm Saulter, the film is based in Jamaica but “does not rely on stereotypes”. Usain Bolt makes his acting debut, Will Smith and Jada Pinkett-Smith serve as executive producers, and 95% of the crew are Jamaican.
Hopefully, the Caribbean film industry will continue to grow and stereotypes will be put to an end with the help of filmmakers and reviewers. With the increase of distribution to streaming services, we can continue to see films produced. However, before they can be made, Caribbean creatives should team up with their government and local film festivals to make it happen. Sharing honest Caribbean stories especially gives Caribbean kids characters that they can relate to; showcasing the beauty of the islands while exposing audiences around the world to an overlooked culture.
Cover Image: Bad Lucky Goat