Turks & Caicos Spotlights the Environment at Inaugural Film Festival

Turks and Caicos, an archipelago of 40 islands southeast of the Bahamas, is known for picturesque white-sand beaches, a variety of marine life and the world’s third-largest barrier reef. What it didn’t have until this month is its own film festival.
For Colin Burrows, festival director of the inaugural Turks and Caicos Intl. Film Festival — which runs Nov. 15-17 —the island location spurred both the idea for the event as well as the festival’s environmental focus. “It’s a no-brainer,” Burrows says. “We’re on the frontline of climate change.”

As a part-time Turks and Caicos resident, Burrows is well-versed in the dualities of island life. “We’re very aware of the power of nature,” he says. “We’re just a small bunch of rocks, not much above sea level. The upside of that is that we have very little agriculture and thus very little pollution run-off. So we have very clean water and very beautiful reefs — we’re very conscious of our good fortune.”

The total population of the islands is about 35,000, “so we don’t have a mass cinemagoing audience to draw upon.” There isn’t even a cinema operating on the island; the last one closed two years ago, just before the previous hurricane. “But it’s a culturally vibrant place and there’s a surprisingly active group of young filmmakers.”

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The opening-night gala screening is Sundance Audience Award winner “Sea of Shadows,” a Leonardo DiCaprio-produced documentary from National Geographic about conservationists facing off against an international crime syndicate to rescue the Earth’s smallest porpoise from extinction.

But Burrows is conscious that “environ­mental film” is too often synonymous with documentary, and his programming reflects his search for climate anxiety in narrative film, the way that “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” reflected Cold War paranoia in the 1950s.

“A lot of people are fearful and paranoid about climate change,” he says. “So I’m looking for … where is that in modern cinema?”

So TCIFF will screen Jim Jarmusch’s zombie comedy “The Dead Don’t Die,” which Burrows sees as a contemporary parable about a warming planet. Jarmusch wrote to Burrows commending the fest for selecting his film. “Watching nature decline at unprecedented rates for me is terrifying and concerning, and what concerns me is the apathy,” he wrote.

The festival will also screen Irish director Neasa Hardiman’s feature debut “Sea Fever,” which doesn’t directly address
climate change. It’s about a group of fishermen off the coast of Ireland who take on a giant phosphorescent jellyfish monster.

“But the subtext is, there was something out there that you shouldn’t have messed with,” Burrows says. “It’s about man’s interaction with nature.”

Not every screening at the Turks & Caicos festival attempts to fit the environmental theme. Director F. Gary Gray will mentor young filmmakers at a workshop, and screen his hit N.W.A biopic “Straight Outta Compton.” Alan Cumming will present the 2001 cult classic “The Anniversary Party,” which he co-directed with Jennifer Jason Leigh. And screenwriter Richard Curtis will be on hand to present a screening of the Beatles-themed fantasy “Yesterday.”

Burrows says he has attended hundreds of film festivals worldwide, and as much as he loves seeing new films and going to panels, what he values most are the conversations with fellow festivalgoers. He wants TCIFF to facilitate important interactions, not just impactful films.

The goal is “to get filmmakers together with environmentalists and cool people from wildlife documentaries. I want them all in the same room, maybe lubricated with a little of our own rum. I hope that we will begin — maybe not to change Hollywood overnight, but at least to spark the conversations. We have to move
the dial.”

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