REPORT #591 January 2003

Produced by the Belize Development Trust


Film festival in Belize - no Belizean film will be at the festival. To understand why read below.

"In a largely pre-capitalist system of forced economic participation, church taxes comprised the principal device for prying money and labor out of the Indians. The private coffers of priests were some of Yucatˇn's main sources of finance and development capital, while individual clergy became formidable landowners in their own right."

"Maya commoners groaned under well-documented tax and labor burdens. Peasants paid annual church taxes, fees for incidental church services, taxes to subsidize periodic church inspections, and taxes to subsidize mandatory catechism of their children."

( - from pages xv, xvi, and xvii of YUCATAN'S MAYA PEASANTRY & THE ORIGINS OF THE CASTE WAR, by Terry Rugeley, University of Texas Press, 1996.)

To understand why no Belize film will be featured in Belize's first ever film festival later this month, you have to understand that films require scripts. (The English word "script" is derived from the Latin word "scribere", which means "to write.") Scripts are produced by writers. There are no Belizean scripts because there are no Belizean screen play writers. There are no Belizean writers to sustain a Belizean theatre, which would be a foundation for film making, because the socio-cultural atmosphere in Belize does not encourage writers.

The socio-cultural atmosphere is influenced to a substantial extent by the educational system, which is controlled by priests and clerics. The priests and clerics do not encourage freedom of the mind beyond a certain point. There are certain religious tenets which you must accept on faith alone, because the human mind does not have the capacity to process same in a rational manner. That is what the priests and clerics teach.

At the end of the day, and perhaps even at the beginning thereof, religion is a business. The priests and clerics are a professional class, who are trained and educated to provide a specific service for society. The priests and clerics are a powerful professional class, who are generally in tune and in line with the wishes of whoever happen to be the ruling oligarchy. When they are not in tune and in line with the wishes of the ruling oligarchy, then clerics can suffer the fate of clerics like Thomas ˇ Becket and Sir Thomas More, who were executed by English kings because they dared to dissent.

We pointed out in our editorial last week that the Roman Catholic Church in Belize, the most powerful force in our educational system, does not wish to discuss the Caste War in Yucatˇn, because they were a part of the ruling structure against which the Yucatecan Maya revolted.

It is more than likely that the Anglican Church in Belize likewise is reluctant to discuss the Caste War. When the Caste War began in 1847, the Anglican Church ruled British Honduras. The merchants in British Honduras sold most of the guns and ammunition used by the Maya in the southeastern Yucatˇn to fight the ruling "ladinos" or Hispanics.

The Caste War was not only a race war: the Caste War was a religious war. Maya villages and towns were ruled by ladino Roman Catholic priests,who taxed them heavily. The Maya were forced to accept the Roman religion and education because the Maya had been conquered by the Spanish military, who provided the "backative" for the priests who survived and sometimes grew wealthy by taxing the Maya.

Under the pressure of modern times, the Roman priests have come out publicly in Belize to promote and support painting and sculpture. These are "safe" arts. No painting or sculpture ever caused a revolution or civil war, the way Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin did in the United States. Writers are dangerous. They can be subversive, because they are people of ideas and imagination expressed in written words, which can be inflammatory.

Belize is a relatively educated society. We have a thriving media industry here - newspapers, radio and television. But we are a relatively philistine system. We have been educated not to think or feel beyond a certain point, because that would be dangerous. Dangerous to whom? To the priests and clerics who control our minds for and on behalf of the ruling oligarchy.

Because we have no really daring thinkers, we have no script writers. Because we have no writers, we have no theater, and we have no film. But we shall have a film festival.

This newspaper gives respect to Suzette Zayden, the Belizean organizer of the film festival, and wishes her great success in this progressive, even audacious film festival endeavour. She deserves the support of all Belizeans who support freedom of thought and freedom of expression.

When we write in a critical manner about the priests and clerics, there is a certain amount of irony. We ourselves were largely educated by the priests and nuns and clerics, as was Suzette Zayden. Like Suzette, we travelled abroad and found that there was a world out there. We knew that that world would someday come to Belize, and we tried to prepare our people for that coming as best we could, using our limited resources.

When the international film festival comes to Belize later this month, it will be a first. In the last three decades, the refugees have come. The narcotics have come. The television came. The tourists are coming. World-class gangsterism took root. Now finally we have something from the world outside which can be almost all good. Trust us. Support Suzette. To paraphrase Fagin, check out the film Festival.

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