It’s lights, camera and action tonight at the Bliss Center for the Performing Arts, as the eleventh annual Belize International Film Festival takes center stage. For the first time it is being held in the month of November, outside of its traditional summer placement to give it more prominence and an audience of younger film watchers and potential film makers. Thirty-four films in wide categories and seventeen music videos will be judged to their creative artistry and resonance, while their makers examine how Belize can pick up its reputation in a slowly developing local industry. News Five correspondent Aaron Humes has more.
Aaron Humes, Reporting
From Rob Reiner to Wil Maheia, from Guatemala to India, this weekend sees Belize get its close-up at our home-grown International Film Festival. Tonight is opening night, and the National Institute of Culture and History’s Holly Edgell says that whatever they watch, movie-goers should be in for a thought-provoking time.
Holly Edgell, Communications and Marketing Officer, N.I.C.H.
“We deal with a lot of social themes that resonate with Belize, but also resonate around the region and to a degree are universal. So we are going to see a lot of environmental themes; themes about people and place; there are some more light-hearted types of selections as well, but I think people will be very interested to see how these different filmmakers look at issues like human trafficking, protecting the environment; are sort of who we are as people in the region of the Caribbean and Latin America. It’s going to be really nice; if we have a theme, I would say that’s probably why, what we are known for.”
The two films, one short, the other a full feature, which will be featured following the opening ceremony, are prime examples of those universal themes.
“Yochi” was actually filmed in Belize and largely has a cast and crew from Belize, and was shot in Maya, English and Creole. It’s a very special film; it’s a short film about a boy who wants to protect yellow-headed parrots in the face of poaching, so we’re really very excited about that one. And the second film is a feature-length film called “Ixcanul,” which is also in Maya ‘Volcano’, and that is set in Guatemala, also in a contemporary setting in the Maya world, where a woman is fighting her parents to escape an arranged marriage.”
Of course, filmmaking is not as simple as pointing a camera and shouting, “Action!” The symposiums to be held on Friday and Saturday will discuss what happens behind the scenes and how Belize can extend its reach as a potential filmmaking haven beyond television to feature films and documentaries.
“We want to encourage local people – people who live here, people who are from here – to up our game collectively as filmmakers, music video producers, documentarians; but we also of course want to attract outside filmmakers to come in and consider Belize as a location. There is a lot of economic benefit to having a film come in here. And we have actually seen quite a bit of success on the front of television programs coming in and using Belize as a setting.”
Aaron Humes reporting, for News Five.
Final prizes including one for Best Belizean Film will be handed out on Sunday night during a closing concert. Tickets to individual films are ten dollars general admission and half that for students and senior citizens. An all-access pass is available for seventy-five dollars at the Bliss and online at Belize film festival dot com. Stay tuned to this station for the Opening Night Red Carpet Gala and Ceremony coming up immediately following this newscast.
Two days after the election of Donald Trump, I left the country. But before you jump to any conclusions, the trip was already in the works—a first-time excursion to the Belize International Film Festival, now celebrating its 11th edition. Not a bad place to find yourself in mid-November.
The Belize Fest is a small one: 11 narrative features, seven feature-length documentaries, ten narrative shorts, six short docs and, curiously, 19 music-videos (all made in Belize!). There’s a genre movie here and there—an L.A. gangsta tale, a romantic comedy from South Africa, a thriller from Trinidad and Tobago—but what distinguishes the Belize Fest is the preponderance of films about social issues. Festival director Suzette Zayden isn’t seeking after glitz and glam, but movies that have something to say about life in the 21st century. And that’s a refreshing antidote this writer needed after Tuesday’s appalling national tally took the U.S. back to the mid-20th century.
The screenings this year are being held at the historic Bliss Center for the Performing Arts and, frankly, the web-based projection system is far from state-of-the-art.* (Funders from the tech world, how about showing this fest some love?) But that doesn’t obscure the fact that the short and feature that opened the fest were both outstanding.
The nearly hour-long opening ceremony before the films began was a unique and surprising fest experience. The formalities opened with an invocation by a local minister and the audience standing up for Belize’s disarming national anthem, performed by Jenny Lovell backed up by the Garifuna Drummers. (Hey, I want the MP3!) There were also speeches by Deputy Prime Minister Patrick Faber, Film Commissioner Nigel Miguel and “guest speaker” and festival juror Sandro Halphen, a prolific Mexican producer who praised “the freshness, warmth and beauty of this place,” calling it “a treasure in your hands” with great filmmaking potential. And let’s not forget local singing star Jackie Castillo performing “Song of the People.” No, not your everyday fest opener.
Appropriately enough, the opening short, Yochi, is a Belize/USA co-production, shot in Belize by the talented American Ilana Lapid. It tells the story of a mostly mute nine-year-old Mayan boy who lovingly tends to a nest of endangered yellow-headed parrots. Young Yochi adores his older brother, Itza, but his sibling owes some debtors and is plotting to steal and sell the parrots.
In a post-film Q&A, Lapid recounted that she had been invited to Belize to make a documentary feature. But her experience is in narrative shorts, and the image in her mind of a boy protecting parrots became the genesis of the film, which speaks to endangerment issues without being preachy about it. (The end titles lay out the facts about the plight of these adorable parrots.)
In a panel discussion the next day on “The Social Impact of Films,” the engaging director stated that she “wanted to tell a story that would stand on its own,” but also one that would “create a space for dialogue in a way that is non-judgmental.” Indeed, her canniest move was to make the poaching older brother appealing and sympathetic, helped by the lucky last-minute casting of camera-friendly non-pro Evan Martinez. (Martinez was a late arrival for the premiere and hadn’t seen the film yet, and proved to be a very shy presence onstage.)
Casting nonprofessionals was Lapid’s “only choice.” “I’m not Belizean. How do I respect the culture and be honest as a storyteller? They became the storytellers as well.”
At the session, Lapid showed how she raised the $15,000 she needed for post-production on Kickstarter with a well-assembled video. The director now sees the film having a life outside festivals as an educational vehicle with social impact.
The Belize Fest’s opening feature, Ixcanul (Volcano), is a remarkable portrait of a 17-year-old Mayan girl in Guatemala who chafes against the role life has assigned her. Jayra Bustamante’s drama won the Alfred Bauer Award at the Berlin Film Festival and top prizes in Cartagena, Mumbai, Ghent, Guadalajara and the Biarritz Festival of Latin American Cinema. It’s easy to see why. Again working with indigenous nonprofessionals, Bustamante creates a thoroughly persuasive slice of life that also has an edgy frankness about sexual matters. Young Maria (Maria Mercedes Coroy) works with her parents on a coffee plantation near an active volcano and has already been pledged to an arranged marriage. But she desires something more, and is easily seduced by a boy her age who promises that you can’t get pregnant the first time. But Maria does, and her formidable but ritual-bound mother resorts to increasingly extreme measures to solve the crisis.
Bustamante favors long panoramic shots and long takes that sometimes emphasize the forces working against the naïve but questing Maria. And his work with his amateur actors in their real environments is extraordinary. This is his first feature, and a most accomplished one—and a good portent for the days ahead in charmingly laid-back Belize.
*Postscript: Projection on night #2 was much improved.
Yochi was screened at the Cayo Welcome Center to kick off the Belize International Film Festival. Daniel Velazquez did the behind the scenes video. It's worth a watch, and it was all filmed in Cayo, of course.
#518964 - 11/13/1611:48 PMRe: The Belize International Film Festival Begins
Belize Fest entry 'The Beginning of Time' is a moving portrait of impoverished elderly
Films about the very old among us are a rare thing, perhaps because of society’s bias toward youthfulness and its desire not to gaze too long on weathered faces and bodies, or perhaps because spending too much screen time with the elderly reminds us all of our inevitable mortality. The most we can usually expect is a “geezer” comedy like Grumpy Old Men or A Walk in the Woods, which find humor in people well past their prime not acting their age.
Saturday night at the Belize International Film Festival brought a film that not only respects the elderly, but is downright political about the way societies often treat them. The Beginning of Time (El Comienzo del Tiempo), by the young Mexican director Bernardo Arellano, is a lovely drama using nonprofessional actors to illustrate how sometimes the late stages of a life can consist of unimaginable and heartbreaking struggle. Strongly reminiscent of the poignant 1937 Leo McCarey classic Make Way for Tomorrow (which the director didn’t profess to know during a Q&A), it centers on a couple in their early 90s, Toño and Bertha, who suddenly find themselves in desperate straits when the failing government opts to suspend their social-security pensions. Toño goes to his local government office fully confident they will listen to reason and not deny him his usual check, but he is stonewalled by one blasé bureaucrat after another. With a stern landlord hounding them, Toño and Bertha eventually resort to selling their belongings on the street, shoplifting at the supermarket, and setting up a makeshift tamale stand.
The couple have one adult son, Jonas, they haven’t seen in years, and one day they reunite by chance when Jonas stops his car by the tamale stand and his twenty-something son, Paco, asks for directions. Jonas promises to help out, but he leaves Paco with his grandparents and never returns. Paco, a sullen slacker, isn’t much use to the couple, but ultimately their plight stirs something in him.
All the elderly characters in the film are played by nonprofessionals, and Arellano has made a particularly fortuitous discovery with 92-year-old Antonio Pérez Carbajal, who plays Toño. The director actually found his feisty, indomitable lead actor selling wares on the street. In a post-screening Q&A, Arellano said of Carbajal, “He changed my life…and the film changed him. He believes in the idea of the film.”
During the course of the movie, Toño encounters other elderly gentleman who Arellano said represented different dimensions of the senior experience: a watchmaker who waxes philosophical on time and the cosmos; a barber who writes poetry dedicated to the unattainable love of his life; and a determined political activist. This latter leads to a final scene in which Toño the character and Carbajal the actor participate in an actual protest march against the Mexican government’s treatment of the poor and aged.
During a Belize panel discussion on “The Social Impact of Films,” participant Arellano declared that “documentary and fiction are for me almost the same—you choose the parts you want to show.” His blend of fiction with nonprofessionals from the film’s milieu allows him to “work with metaphor, not just reality,” he explained, permitting him “to try to translate into fiction a universal thing—all these troubles being repeated [around] the world.” Pier Paolo Pasolini, who often used nonprofessionals, is a role model, and his Gospel Accordingto St. Matthew is one of his favorites.
In that post-screening Q&A, Arellano said he deliberately included three generations in his family story. “It’s a film about heritage,” he explained, the importance of generational connections. “Sometimes we need to grow up and leave something for others.” Jonas, the neglectful son, represents those who have led Mexico to its current crisis of economic inequality. “The middle generation doesn’t do anything,” Arellano contended. “They buy that model.” Meanwhile, “the older people are the ones working, the ones who never give up.”
As for Paco, who’s an annoying lump for a large portion of the story, his turnaround to empathy for his grandparents and finally taking some initiative represent “a little bit of hope in the film.” As a member of the audience, taking his cue from the title, astutely observed, “Time begins when you decide time begins.”
BELIZE INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL SHINES ITS SPOTLIGHT ON THE WINNERS
The 11th Edition of the Belize International Film Festival wrapped up on Sunday night with the DigiCell 4G LTE Closing Night Awards Concert presented by the Music Ambassador of Belize at the Bliss Center for Performing Arts.
Winners were announced in seven categories:
1. Best Narrative Feature SABINA K (Bosnia/USA) Director - Cristobal Krusen Special Jury Mention IXCANUL (Guatemala/Fance) Director - Jayro Bustamante
2. Best Documentary Feature HEXA: GRANDSON OF THE RULERS OF BRAZIL (Brazil) Director - Washington CarvalhoSpecial Jury Mention I AM FROM WHERE A RIVER RUNS/YO SOY DE DONDE HAY UN RIO (Nicaragua) Director - Rossana Lacayo
3. Best Short Film YOCHI (Belize/USA) Director - Ilana Lapid Special Jury Mention MANNA (Belize) Director - Daniel E. Hyde
4. Best Short Documentary WINGS OF HOPE (Belize) Directors – Carol & Richard Foster
5. Best Music Video SOCA MODE (Belize), Director - Melonie Gillett
6. Best Environmental Film VOICES OF LATIN AMERICA/VOCES DELATINOAMERICA (Argentina) Director - Ignacio Robayna
7. Most Notable Belizean Film MANNA (Belize) Director: Daniel E. Hyde
#519045 - 11/16/1612:34 AMRe: The Belize International Film Festival Begins
The 11th annual Belize International Film Festival premiered a number of films in its Short Narratives category, and among the many films created by filmmakers from many countries was Manna, a film produced by some members of the Hyde family.
The executive producer of Manna is Ronald Hyde and the film producers are Blackhorse Lowe, Colin Hyde, Daniel Edward Hyde and Jonathan Vellos (Manifest Multimedia).
Manna is based on an original script written and produced by Daniel Hyde, who teamed up with Blackhorse Lowe and Jonathan Vellos as directors of photography.
It is of note that Manna received Special Mention (Short Film Category) and won Most Notable Belizean Film.
The theme of Manna is perennial: man and nature, and is told in 12 minutes via camera shots of every movement of its principal actor, Michael “Sleepy” Meighan, a fisherman, who plays the role of a watchman on a deserted island.
Meighan’s existence is solitary. He must live in conformity with nature. So he fishes for his meals, against the backdrop of the otherness of the world he lives in. The otherness of that world is conveyed through the menacing presence of cruise ships on the harbor – an image that contrasts with the presence of Meighan, who is in a small boat on the sea.
The otherness of that world is also brought home through the sound of the KREM Radio news tune, as Meighan goes about his daily business of surviving in the midst of the elements.
If a viewer has a love of the outdoors and the manifestations of the sea and nature, Manna will be a thrilling cinematic experience, full of exquisite depictions of the coexistence of man and nature.
Then the story takes an unpredictable twist, as the day ends when Meighan stumbles upon two iceboxes latched against the swampy roots of the mangrove. He wades in and in a short while he retrieves the contents of the iceboxes.
He takes out one packet of cocaine that is wrapped in tape and examines it in the light. His facial expressions contort to ambivalence, as the short narrative comes to its powerful conclusion at a point of great momentum and uncertainty about where things could lead next, as the sounds of Nadia Cattouse music and the lyrics, “This long time, boy, I never see you, come let me hold your hand, boy” fill the air.
Any lover of nature will be riveted by Manna’s stripped-down intensity and its compelling images of nature, which loom large as Meighan moves effortlessly against its backdrop.
Amandala asked producer Daniel Hyde what exactly he was trying to convey in Manna.
Hyde explains, “For the film, I just wanted to capture the life of a seaman for one day, the sounds of nature and what is paradise, as you watch the cruise ships go by. With the right actor, it was ‘hit the cord and go.’”
Hyde went on to explain that the thrilling portion of the film was the point at which Meighan found the two ice coolers with the cocaine. At that point, said Hyde, “it happens.” It constitutes a major crossroads, and the potential entry of another world – one very different from the pure, primal one in which Meighan was hitherto living in.
Hyde said he wanted to leave that open, because for some people, they would be afraid, and for some others it would be like a major find.
“It’s a great breeding ground for major stories,” said Hyde.
Hyde disclosed, “We are working on a feature now that is a part of it. I’m trying to get my country to help me. I know that Belizeans are incredibly talented, so I am trying to get the cast together right now.”
Asked how long the movie took to make, Hyde explained that the film was shot in October 2015, and it took about a day and a half to film it.
He explained that he made two trips out to the area, because on the first occasion, “we never had a good sunrise, but the last time it was perfect. I refined it over a period of months and it was premiered at the Chicago Film Festival. It’s been well received all around the world.”
We asked Hyde what made him get into films. “I think I’ve always been an artist. I used to do poetry, but that was too subjective; a great film is undeniable. I feel it’s kind of the new novel,” he said.
Jonathan Vellos said that although he’s had many years of television production, this was his first stint at a movie.
“After 15 years of doing commercials and documentaries, when my cousin called me and told me about the concept, it was a ‘go’ immediately,” explained Vellos.
Vellos said, “It was a great experience.”
“I am definitely going to collaborate in the future with my cousin on more films. And this is my first time being a part of the film festival and submitting my own project, a music video for Ferron Hartshorn, ‘See the light.’ With it being an official selection, it makes me want to produce more music videos and even features,” Vellos explained.
“What the film festival is doing here is not just to get exposure for artists, directors and producers here, but to give them exposure internationally. And that’s where we want to go, internationally,” Vellos explained.
Belize Steps Up in International Film Festival
#519547 - 12/06/1609:33 AMRe: The Belize International Film Festival Begins
In case you missed it! Here's is the Mek Wave & Lik Road episode featuring a stimulating discussion of the festival as well as filmmaking in Belize, featuring Belize Film Commissioner Nigel P Miguel, NICH communications officer Holly Edgell, and several participants.