PANAMA CITY — This year’s edition of IFF Panama was very much the Caribbean’s year, with a significant number of Caribbean titles, including projects originated in English-language speaking Caribbean countries, thus further diversifying the language mix of the regional films playing at the fest.
“My Father’s Land” by Spain’s Miquel Galofré and K. Tyler Johnston, who has joint U.S. and Bahamas citizenship, is about a Haitian man, Papa Jah, who moved to the Bahamas in 1974, aged 19 and now wants to return to his native Haiti to visit his 105-year old father, who lives on a tiny island near the mainland.
The pic mixes English, Haitian creole and Spanish and was shot in the Bahamas, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Post-production was performed in Trinidad and Tobago. The pic had its world premiere in the Trinidad and Tobago international film festival in September 2015, where it won the Amnesty International human rights award.
Johnston had previously shot four shorts, including the documentary “Five Bones” about children in the Bahamas who use whatever is at hand to build kites.
Galofré has directed a series of documentaries including “Art Connect” and 2009 sports docu “Why Do Jamaicans Run So Fast,” featuring the world’s fastest sprinter, Usain Bolt.
Johnston originally hired Galofré as d.o.p. on the project but their collaboration quickly evolved into co-directing. “We’re both visual artists and we tried to make the film as cinematic as possible,” explains Johnston. “Haiti is a beautiful, mystical place. The 2010 earthquake is part of the narrative, but not our focus. We wanted to document this special homecoming.”
The project was originally foreseen as a short but quickly evolved into a feature. The directors explain that their main goal was to capture local colors, textures and vibrancy, with music playing a strong part in the film – as is often the case in films from the Caribbean and Central America. The soundtrack includes a mixture of pop music and traditional Haitian songs. Funding included a small grant from the Bahamas Film Commission, plus private equity.
One of the key issues explored in the film is immigration – a hot topic because there has been recent pressure in the Bahamas to repatriate Haitians living there. When Papa Jah reunites with his 105-year old father, who is still in great shape, the film also explores the local traditions of drumming, dancing and paying homage to the spirits.
Johnston says that he was delighted to attend IFF Panama because it’s an exciting moment for Caribbean cinema. “Film festivals seem to have woken up to Caribbean cinema. There’s a very specific identity that spans all the diverse island nations in the zone. We’re all very different, but there’s something that links us together. You can expect to see a lot of new voices coming from this area in the near future.”
Johnston is now prepping an episodic comedy series set in the Caribbean called “The Liquid Courage Show” set in a modern art gallery located in a ghetto liquor store. He says that although it’s difficult to raise local funding, through networking in events such as IFF Panama he’s hopeful to get his next project off the ground.
Galofré is a bit more skeptical precisely because of the shortage of funding in the zone, quipping, “Caribbean cinema is a bit like a baby that’s trying to be born, but is still waiting for the midwife to show up!”