By RON FANFAIR
Independent filmmakers are always looking for opportunities to network and share their creative talent.
It was while scouring the internet that Zimbabwe-born Sue-Ellen Chitunya learned of the Caribbean Tales showcase and incubator which is held annually in the city to coincide with the Toronto International Film Festival.
The incubator program was created to help producers raise financing and find matching funds, connect with appropriate buyers and assist with making their products market-ready. Participants are provided with invaluable networking opportunities with industry colleagues from Canada, the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
“I applied even though I was not sure I was eligible because I am not from the Caribbean,” said Chitunya. “While it said the program is open to producers and filmmakers of Caribbean-themed content, it did go on to say that those who have content of relevance to the Caribbean and Diaspora audiences are eligible and I certainly believed I fitted into that category.”
The organizers agreed and Chitunya made her first visit to Canada last week to bring her perspective to the program and promote her first feature film, which is in production.
A House of Stone is loosely based on the life of her late grandfather, who was a freedom fighter during Zimbabwe’s War of Liberation that ended in 1979 and led to the implementation of universal suffrage and the end of White minority rule.
Filming is taking place in Zimbabwe and South Africa, which is her parents’ birthplace.
Chitunya said her passion for film began at a young age.
“I was about six years old when my uncle took me to a drive-in cinema to see Terminator II,” she recalled. “I was mesmerized by what I saw and I knew at that point that I wanted to work in film. Later on, I would use my pocket money to go to the cinema and I would get into trouble because my grandmother thought I had taken off with a boy. In Zimbabwe, that profession was sort of frowned upon as a career, but that was what I wanted to do.”
In 2002, Chitunya moved to the United States and enrolled at Georgia State University to pursue a medical career.
“I did medicine my first two years but after I took a Film Appreciation course, I made the switch even though I knew my family was not going to be happy,” said Chitunya, who interned at the Cannes Film Festival where her film, iPod Frenzy, was previewed in the festival’s short film corner. “At the end of the day, that was what I wanted to do and I have to live with the decisions I make. I love film because I believe it’s the most realistic form of art.”
Chitunya graduated from Georgia State in 2010 and two weeks ago she completed a Professional Producing program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).
In addition to Chitunya, this year’s Caribbean Tales incubator program brought together filmmakers from Canada, the Caribbean and the United States.
Virginia-based Marsha Davis relished the opportunity to hone her business plan and film pitches for her first feature film, Into his Arms, which is in the development stage. She said the Caribbean romance drama will be filmed in Hanover, Jamaica.
Davis, who was born in Jamaica and migrated to the United States 25 years ago, reflected on her journey.
“For me, it started when I was nine years old and Rambo was shown at our school,” she said. “It was so entertaining and I knew that was the field I wanted to be in.”
Frances-Anne Solomon started the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, Incubator and Worldwide Distribution after returning to Toronto 12 years ago from England where she worked with the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) as a TV drama producer and executive producer.
“As executive producer in the BBC’s drama department and the only person of colour, I was part of a group that created, produced and distributed content for the British public,” she said. “The BBC’s mandate is to inform, educate and entertain which they were doing very well. The only problem is that the content was not geared to people that looked like me…I conceived the idea for a film industry that would function in a circular way which is audience, funds, creation, production, distribution and then back to audience.”
The Trinidad & Tobago Consulate sponsored this year’s launch party at the Harbourfront Centre last week.
“Our government is committed to the film industry and we have provided incentives such as the production and expenditure rebate program that seeks to attract international filmmakers and producers to Trinidad & Tobago by providing cash rebates for expenditures accrued,” said Consul General Dr. Vidhya Gyan Tota-Maharaj. “We are proud to be associated with Caribbean Tales as they are the Diaspora’s most progressive festival group sending our talent to all corners of the globe. Caribbean Tales promotes the unique flavour of Caribbean acting, music, poetry and all that goes into filmmaking.”
A special feature of this year’s program was a 48-hour youth challenge that offered an opportunity for teams of filmmakers from the city’s challenged neighbourhoods to produce thought-provoking and engaging films that were screened during the showcase at Harbourfront.