Last week, I found myself in the middle of a Caribbean oasis at Toronto's Harbourfront Centre. The Caribbean Tales Film Festival Opening Gala took place on Wednesday, and transformed the heart of the city into a mini-vacation spot. Food, music, film, and fun - the gala had it all!
For those who don't know, the Harbourfront Centre is an "innovative not-for-profit cultural organization that creates events and activities of excellence that enliven, educate and entertain a diverse public". In addition to being one of the most gorgeous spots along Toronto's waterfront, the Harbourfront Centre is a consistent supporter of arts and culture in Toronto. That being said, it was the perfect venue choice for the Caribbean Tales Film Festival, from the opening gala to all of the film screenings.
The gala kicked off in true Caribbean fashion, with a buffet of delicious West Indian food! Attendees (which included the Consul Generals of Trinidad & Tobago and Antigua & Barbuda, the Hon. Jean Augustine, and Tonya Lee Williams, among many others) milled about while partaking in some of the best jerk chicken and rice & peas I've had in a while. Working the Media Room, I got to connect with a number of local and international media representatives, and was very happy to see the immense interest in the gala and film festival at large.
Caribbean Tales Founder and Artistic Director Frances-Anne Solomon welcomed the crowd, led the audience in a birthday song for the Hon. Jean Augustine, and introduced the 48 Hour Film Challenge competitors and filmmakers. Once the official business was through, the Caribbean vibe was continued with an amazing performance by the Trinidadian/Torontonian band Kobo Town. Something was happening in every corner - interviews with filmmakers, red carpet photo shoots, couples dancing to the band, and yells of "Eh! How you goin'?" from old friends who reconnected at the gala. It was an electric hub of creativity, passion, and comradeship, and I was happy to be in the mix!
Finally, we headed from the Lakeside Terrace room to the Studio Theatre for the screening of The Story of Lovers Rock by Menelik Shabazz, a world-renowned British filmmaker. The sold-out screening was led through introductions by Tdot entertainment greats Farley Flex and Motion, with additional words from the Consul General of Trinidad and Tobago. We were treated to a a music video by reggae group No-Maddz, a hilarious short called Joyce and Herman, and trailers for all of the feature films being screened at the Caribbean Tales Film Festival. After the crowd was warmed up, we got right into Shabazz' film, which I was highly anticipating - I adore Lovers Rock music, so I was excited to learn about its origins and cultural significance.
The film was interestingly crafted - part documentary, part scripted comedy, it took us through beginnings of Lovers Rock in 1970s Britain to today. Interviews with Lovers Rock greats like Janet Kay and Maxi Priest gave us the origins of the music, which was born out of reggae and ska from Jamaica. With the immigration of Caribbeans to Britain in the '60s and '70s, young Black Brits born to Caribbean parents needed an art form to call their own - Lovers Rock became just that, which quickly blossomed into a culture and a lifestyle. The way you dressed, walked, talked, and interacted with each other was influenced by Lovers Rock, and hearing the recounts from those who lived during the time was eye-opening. Lovers Rock was respite and healing for youths who were faced with racism and identity crises on a daily basis; it was an art form in which women came to hold top ranking; and it was a musical interpretation that clearly didn't receive the recognition it deserved, as told by the film. The most interesting sentiment for me was that of the first-generation Brits who discussed the juxtaposition of not being fully Caribbean, but not being fully British either. I felt they were telling my story as a Canadian child born to Jamaican parents, and found that I could particularly identify to that part of the film. Shabazz' film gave us a thorough breakdown of the history of Lovers Rock music, and his passion for the story came through loud and clear. The length of the film made for a long night, being at the end of a work day and the gala itself, but I was happy to have been in attendance.
After a short Q&A session with Menelik Shabazz and Allan Jones from G98.7FM, we called it a night. The Harbourfront Centre was silent, save for a lone caretaker who was sweeping the halls. He looked a bit surprised to see us all filing out, so I suspected that he was unaware that just hours before, Caribbean Tales had the place bursting with Caribbean flavour. It was an excellent night, and an excellent kick-off to the Caribbean Tales Film Festival!
Thanks to Trendsetters Photography for the photos!
The Caribbean Tales Film Festival runs until September 15th! Check here for schedules and ticket info for upcoming films. If you missed the showing of The Story of Lovers Rock on Wednesday, not to worry! There will be one more screening tomorrow night at Innis Town Hall (Univ. of Toronto campus), 2 Sussex Avenue at 6:30pm! Click here for details and tickets! If you were at the gala, leave me a comment and let me know how you enjoyed it!