6-2 | Table of Con­tents | http://​dx​.doi​.org/​1​0​.​1​7​7​4​2​/​I​M​A​G​E​.​C​C​N​.​6​-​2​.11 | van Hae­sendon­ck PDF



Eds. Luis Alber­to Notario and Bruce Paddington

Explo­ran­do el Cine Caribeño is a pio­neer­ing and fas­ci­nat­ing explo­ration of Caribbean cin­e­ma, bring­ing togeth­er in one vol­ume var­i­ous essays, writ­ten in or trans­lat­ed into Span­ish, on film and doc­u­men­taries, as well as on the process of film pro­duc­tion, in the broad­er Caribbean region. Caribbean film has long been an ignored area, not only by Film Stud­ies but also with­in Caribbean Stud­ies. A fair­ly young area of visu­al cul­ture, Caribbean film and doc­u­men­taries have been strug­gling to find both a region­al (intra-Caribbean) and an inter­na­tion­al spec­ta­tor­ship. How­ev­er, the con­trib­u­tors show that this is also an area which deserves schol­ar­ly atten­tion, and that Caribbean film­mak­ers are like­ly to gain vis­i­bil­i­ty in the near future. They make the case that this is also an area which deserves schol­ar­ly atten­tion, through schol­ar­ly analy­ses of select­ed films and doc­u­men­taries pro­duced in the Caribbean. They do so by pay­ing ample atten­tion to the cul­tur­al context(s) and/or tra­di­tion in which these pro­duc­tions have emerged. All of the con­trib­u­tors have a Caribbean back­ground and are active in a fair­ly wide range of pro­fes­sions, usu­al­ly in the field of the arts. Most of them are schol­ars focus­ing on Caribbean cul­ture or art; oth­er con­trib­u­tors, such as Rigob­er­ta López (Cuba), Ana María Gar­cía (Puer­to Rico) and Arnold Antonin (Haiti) prac­tice the art of mak­ing doc­u­men­taries or film; one con­trib­u­tor (Rita Este­vanovich from the Cay­man islands) per­forms as an actress; oth­ers, still, such as Tanya Bat­son-Sav­age (Jamaica) and Joel del Río (Cuba) are both art crit­ics and journalists.

Since this is one of the first vol­umes on Caribbean film from a pan-Caribbean per­spec­tive, includ­ing the so often for­got­ten Guyanas and Dutch Antilles, the pub­li­ca­tion of the book sets a land­mark in Caribbean Stud­ies. Pub­lished by the Cuban Insti­tute for Cin­e­mato­graph­ic Arts and Indus­tries (ICAIC), the book ana­lyzes film and doc­u­men­taries pro­duced with­in and beyond the broad­er Caribbean region and Caribbean dias­po­ra, rough­ly dur­ing the sec­ond part of the 20th cen­tu­ry.  Caribbean visu­al cul­ture has rareley been approached and analysed from a broad, pan-Caribbean per­spec­tive: the essays offer an orig­i­nal focus on film-mak­ers from the dif­fer­ent lin­guis­tic parts of the Caribbean as well as a deep­er under­stand­ing of Caribbean real­i­ty through “close-ups” on films and doc­u­men­taries in four dif­fer­ent languages.

The book is struc­tured in sev­en­teen essays divid­ed in five sec­tions: the first sec­tion is titled “miradas” (“views”) and con­sists of four cross­cul­tur­al and the­o­ret­i­cal views on the broad­er Caribbean; each of the the four remain­ing sec­tions focus­es on one par­tic­u­lar lin­guis­tic area of the many “Caribbeans”: the anglo­phone, the Dutch, the fran­coph­o­ne, and the his­panophone Caribbean. As the edi­tors stress from the out­set, each con­trib­u­tor has his/her own def­i­n­i­tion of the Caribbean, thus cel­e­brat­ing the diver­si­ty of Caribbean cul­ture. They also pay atten­tion to the trans-nation­al/ter­ri­to­r­i­al, trans-lin­gual and dias­poric con­nec­tions that make it pos­si­ble to speak of a “Caribbean cul­ture” in a broad sense. As one of the major his­tor­i­cal dias­po­ras, Caribbean cul­ture can­not be con­ceived in pure­ly geo­graph­i­cal terms. Albeit in a lim­it­ed way, the book address­es impor­tant con­tri­bu­tions of Caribbean film made in dias­po­ra, for exam­ple Ana María García’s essay on Puer­to Rican film and video “Made in USA”. Nan­cy de Ran­damie tack­les the com­plex rela­tion between Suri­nam and the Dutch Antilles on the one hand, and the Nether­lands on the oth­er, where­by the lat­ter deeply influ­ence the former.

The first sec­tion, “Miradas,” dis­cuss­es how images on the Caribbean have cir­cu­lat­ed across the globe since its first visu­al rep­re­sen­ta­tions in ear­ly texts. In sharp con­trast to the stereo­types and exoti­cism of the Caribbean repro­duced time and again by for­eign stu­dios is the often dystopic image of the “real” Caribbean as rid­dled by social inequal­i­ty and polit­i­cal fragili­ty.  Since the ear­ly doc­u­men­taries to the Hol­ly­wood block­busters filmed in the region, the impo­si­tion of the image of the Caribbean as the exot­ic film loca­tion par excel­lence, as a group of fan­ta­sy islands where pirates and coconut trees abound, unfor­tu­nate­ly did not bring any his­tor­i­cal aware­ness to the spec­ta­tor: trau­mas such as slav­ery, for exam­ple, were not at all addressed, or fad­ed into the back­ground. While most films rep­re­sent­ed the Caribbean as an exot­ic scenery, often with a fas­ci­na­tion for vodou and black mag­ic (remem­ber the famous “Bond movie” Live and Let Die, 1973), an excep­tion to that rule, Bruce Padding­ton notes, is I Walked with a Zom­bie (1943): the movie estab­lish­es a crit­i­cal link between the his­to­ry of slav­ery in Haiti and the process of zomb­i­fi­ca­tion, and sketch­es a pos­i­tive por­trait of black slaves with­in Haiti’s com­plex racial landscape.

The essays in the remain­ing four sec­tions deal with very dif­fer­ent top­ics in var­i­ous lin­guis­tic areas, but also with prob­lems com­mon to film pro­duc­tion in the region. Sev­er­al con­trib­u­tors describe the lack of prop­er infra­struc­ture and funds to secure a con­sis­tent dis­tri­b­u­tion (and trans­la­tion) of Caribbean pro­duc­tions both on a region­al and inter­na­tion­al lev­el. Many pro­duc­tions, for exam­ple the award win­ning Rue Cas­es-Nègres (1983) direct­ed by Euzhan Pal­cy (Mar­tinique), were made pos­si­ble by funds and sup­port pro­vid­ed by French insti­tu­tions. Of course, the prob­lem of (post­colo­nial) depen­dence is not new. In a glob­al net­work of (trans)national depen­den­cies, how­ev­er, it has become increas­ing­ly hard to define this as a typ­i­cal (post)colonial prob­lem, giv­en that transna­tion­al net­works and inter­est are what most define film pro­duc­tion today. Anoth­er prob­lem addressed in the book is the lack of colab­o­ra­tion on intra-region­al projects, in a fast mov­ing world where transna­tion­al pro­duc­tions are increas­ing­ly com­mon. The dis­par­i­ty in access to resources (for instance, between Haiti and Trinidad and Toba­go) and the lack of com­mon efforts to cre­ate a com­mon film tra­di­tion (includ­ing a com­mon Caribbean Film board) among the dif­fer­ent parts of the Caribbean is arguably one of the major obsta­cles to be overcome.

On a more pos­i­tive note, there is a con­sen­sus among the authors that the emer­gence of new tech­nolo­gies is unmis­tak­en­ly help­ing to cre­ate new oppor­tu­ni­ties for film­mak­ers, espe­cial­ly for those on a lim­it­ed bud­get. Once an expen­sive under­tak­ing, a high qual­i­ty pro­duc­tion can now be achieved using rel­a­tive­ly low cost and more acces­si­ble tech­nolo­gies and soft­ware. This tech­no­log­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion is also pos­i­tive­ly affect­ing a minor film genre: ani­ma­tion (a genre with some tra­di­tion in Cuba, thanks to ICAIC’s Juan Padrón, and with an impor­tant poten­tial for devel­op­ment in the broad­er Caribbean). Unfor­tu­nate­ly, animation’s impor­tance is not addressed in the book.

The lack of pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished com­par­a­tive stud­ies on Caribbean film can be an obsta­cle both for aca­d­e­m­ic and non-aca­d­e­m­ic read­ers: for most read­ers, this book will be the first encounter with Caribbean film­mak­ers and film pro­duc­tion. Hence these artists and films need to be intro­duced to them, and their emer­gence needs to be con­tex­tu­al­ized. For­tu­nate­ly, the edi­tors and con­trib­u­tors of the book are clear­ly aware of this prob­lem, and it is part of the pio­neer­ing char­ac­ter of their explorato­ry project: most of the con­trib­u­tors were care­ful to include in their essays a quick his­tor­i­cal overview of key per­son­al­i­ties, influ­ences and trends in their par­tic­u­lar local tra­di­tion.  More­over, many essays are based on archival search­es and include inter­views with film mak­ers, thus lay­ing the foun­da­tion for fur­ther research in the field. Espe­cial­ly impor­tant here is, I believe, the exten­sive essay on film pro­duc­tion in the Dutch Caribbean, still an under­stud­ied area with­in Caribbean Stud­ies; but the same goes for Rita Estevanovich’s con­tri­bu­tion on the Cay­man Islands, also ter­ra incog­ni­ta for most Caribbeanists.

While the book’s main strength is to deliv­er its promise to explore film from the broad­er region, it would have been nice to see its scope extend­ed to more “con­ti­nen­tal” coun­tries, such as Pana­ma, Venezuela, Colom­bia, as well as Eng­lish Guyana. Future pub­li­ca­tions on Caribbean film might also want to approach dif­fer­ent (nation­al) pro­duc­tions from a more com­par­a­tive per­spec­tive, which will shed light on com­mon prob­lems and pos­si­bil­i­ties for colab­o­ra­tion. Also, the atten­tion giv­en to each lin­guis­tic area of the Caribbean is some­what unequal; the num­ber of pages on his­panophone Caribbean film, for instance, is about the dou­ble of the sec­tions on oth­er lin­guis­tic areas.

Final­ly, it would be great if Explo­ran­do el Cine Caribeño would be trans­lat­ed into oth­er lan­guages (such as Eng­lish and French), so that it can be read by more schol­ars with­in the Caribbean and beyond. Since many of the essays were orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten in Eng­lish and sub­se­quent­ly trans­lat­ed to Span­ish, at least an Eng­lish ver­sion of this impor­tant book is not just desir­able, but could be eas­i­ly achieved.

Copy­right Kris­t­ian van Hae­sendon­ck. This arti­cle is licensed under a Cre­ative Com­mons 3.0 License although cer­tain works ref­er­enced here­in may be sep­a­rate­ly licensed, or the author has exer­cised their right to fair deal­ing under the Cana­di­an Copy­right Act.