Independent filmmakers need all the help they can get. As part of the annual Caribbean Tales Film Festival (CTFF), a market incubator program was launched five years ago to assist producers of Caribbean-themed content develop their skills in packaging and marketing their products. Participants are also offered invaluable networking opportunities with industry colleagues from Canada, the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
The incubator culminated earlier this week with participants making pitches to international funders and buyers at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) Bell Lightbox.
The emphasis this year was on series development for television and the web, which was very appealing to Melissa Gomez, who was one of the eight program participants.
The New York-based award-winning filmmaker is developing an audio-visual online series of documentary shorts – Moments: Portrait of An Island – that recounts the instants that define Caribbean people.
“It’s going to be a massive online database of poignant stories that really celebrate what makes Caribbean people unique – the spirit, diversity and vitality of the Caribbean experience and the humanity that connects us,” said Gomez, who was born in Antigua. “As a little girl, I have always been inspired by the colourful characters in Antigua, ranging from the fisherman who would tell the story of surviving a shark attack to a grandmother’s personal account of forbidden love during the colonial period. Those are the kind of stories that I want to tell that I think anybody in the wider Caribbean diaspora would find interesting.”
She said she learned a lot from her second incubator experience.
“It helped me to develop a concept for my upcoming documentary series and make connections with strategic partners who can help me bring this project to life,” said Gomez, who won the Best Pitch Award. “And in a broader sense, I am excited to be continuing to expand my network of Caribbean filmmakers. With me no longer living in the Caribbean, it’s incredibly important to me to have a community like this to bounce ideas off of, to get inspiration and to help each other in whatever way we can. Caribbean Tales is like a family to me that keeps growing every time I come back.”
Gomez, who worked with Oscar award-winning director, Alex Gibney, on his documentary feature Client 9: The Rise and Fall of Eliot Spitzer, which was shortlisted for an Oscar four years ago, starting shooting visuals in Antigua & Barbuda recently for a fundraising trailer for the series.
This is the third time Gomez is attending the nine-year CTFF, which ends on Saturday.
Her first full length documentary – Silent Music – premiered at the 2012 festival and won the Best Documentary Award. The 70-minute long film, which was in production for seven years, took Gomez on a personal journey as she investigated the silence and communication breakdown that define her Antiguan family.
Gomez’s inspiration for telling visual stories comes from growing up with deaf parents in Antigua.
In the last two years, she has been employed at Loki Films – a New-York-based production company owned and operated by academy award-nominated filmmakers, Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady.
Gomez helped with the production of Branded on ESPN which is part of the “Nine for IX” series that explores the double standard placed on female athletes to be the best players on the field and the sexiest off it and Makers, that focuses on specific fields where women have broken new ground and reshaped central American institutions.
The documentary series premieres on PBS on September 30.
“I took a break to work with other people,” said Gomez. “It’s always good to get that experience and then come back rejuvenated to work on your own content.”
The youngest of three children, Gomez spent five years in Toronto where she completed her undergraduate degree with honours in Image Arts at Ryerson University. She also produced and directed several short films, three of which was selected for the National Student Shorts Film Festival before returning to Antigua to establish and manage an independent company, Cinque Production, with her partner, Christopher Hodge.
Five years ago, she finished her Master’s in screen documentary at the University of London Goldsmiths College and produced and directed Share and Share Alike, which is a medium-length documentary that explores the relationships between three Antiguan brothers and the uniquely Caribbean way in which they fought for a sibling who was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia.
The film, which made its North American premiere at the 2009 CTFF, won the Best Film/Video Documentary Production Award at the 2010 Berlin International Black Cinema Festival and was nominated for the Best Documentary Award at the 2010 Pan African Film Festival in Culver City, California.