Meet the Women Bringing Caribbean Films to the World

In 2017, I returned to Guyana after a 20+-year-hiatus. My return was not only motivated by the need to reconnect with my Guyanese heritage, but I was also excited to attend the Timehri Film Festival. The annual film festival lasted five nights and showcased short films made by Guyanese as well as other Caribbean artists. TFF is the latest initiative from Romola Lucas and Alysia Christiani who are on a mission to take Caribbean films to the world!

Romola Lucas, Director of Timehri Film Festival

Attorney Romola Lucas is The Caribbean Film Academy’s Co-Founder in charge of programming, promotion, and distribution. For the past seven years, she has met with filmmakers whose limited resources do not allow them to distribute their films to the audiences at home and abroad. Using her considerable knowledge and experience, Lucas holds regional film series around the United States and the Caribbean in order to support these filmmakers and make the general population aware of the talent within the Caribbean diaspora.

After working with CaFA in New York, she realized that countries including Guyana, Grenada, St. Lucia, Montserrat, and Antigua have a virtually non-existent film industry. Lucas set about extending CaFA to the Caribbean and began the Timehri Film Festival. Her plan is to bring not only entertainment, but an understanding of film production and distribution to every Caribbean nation.

Her lofty goal is not a one-woman job. Lucas later partnered with Editor Alysia S. Christiani. A Guyanese descendant herself, Christiani needed little convincing to get involved. Chrisitani’s blog centers around her experiences as a Guyanese-American and provides a place for first-generations who “can relate to being the only Yankee in a family full of native born islanders” to read about themselves.

Her project management and operational skills have allowed the team to increase awareness of the mission and strategically disseminate information about upcoming projects and community outreach efforts, which for Timehri Film Festival includes workshops and screenings at local schools, prisons and detention centers.

The two recognize the need for films to be relatable and how that changes the viewing experience. ”They’re used to seeing the Other. But when they watch a Caribbean film, they’re seeing themselves. It’s almost like they’ve come home,” Lucas says. Naturally, after seeing films that resonate so deeply with them, audiences are happy to sit and engage with the discussion that happens afterward. In fact, at the Queens College of Guyana screening in Brooklyn, when asked it they wanted to leave or watch another film, the audience erupted in a resounding “Yes!”

In attendance at the afore-mentioned screening was soon-to-be award- winning writer/director Stefon Bristol. A snippet of his recent film was screened at Timehri in Guyana in May 2017. The film fostered a lively discussion as it used science-fiction to tackle racial tensions in America. “See You Yesterday” tells the story of a Black girl trying to go back in time to prevent the murder of her brother by police. An important and creative film to say the least, but Bristol says he had a hard time convincing his Guyanese mother that there was a viable (and lucrative) career in filmmaking. However, after getting buy-in from award-winning producer Spike Lee, he was able to get “See You Yesterday” produced and it is now available on Netflix. “She was a non-believer, now she’s a believer,” Bristol joked.

Lucas and Christiani are both working to bring films and an understanding of filmmaking to more Caribbean people so that future Stefon Bristols can have Caribbean films (and hopefully successful Caribbean filmmakers) as reference. The Timehri Film Festival ran from June 6th-9th, including several viewings around Georgetown, Guyana. On May 23rd, CaFA kicked off Caribbean Cinema Nights in Brooklyn. The monthly series will continue through October and include a moderated conversation with audiences and special guests.

The Caribbean Film Academy will be a featured guest at “Rant and Rave” on July 24th!