THERE are some things in life that bring Asha Lovelace great joy — things she will continue to nurture even if they don’t come with financial gains. Promoting the film industry in TT is one of them.
“I’m a filmmaker by profession. I studied filmmaking because I’ve always been interested in it,” Lovelace told Newsday.
She is also the founder and curator of Africa Film Trinidad and Tobago (AFTT), an annual film festival that showcases contemporary and classic films from the African continent. The festival is in its fourth year and will open today at the Central Bank auditorium in Port of Spain.
“I graduated in 2000, made my first feature-length film in 2004. But in between all of that I have lectured film production and film studies at The University of the West Indies and started AFTT. So, it’s always been some kind of film-related something.”
Lovelace did post graduate studies in Cuba, where she said she was able to discover the rest of the world, including Africa. “I felt like this was something so familiar, yet it was so new,” she said of her encounters with films from the African continent. “And what I liked was the pacing of the films, the long moments that just linger. And, if you let yourself go you can really get into those moments. And I thought that was really novel because it was a kind of direction I hadn’t really seen before.”
She said her inspiration to start the AFTT came from these films because they reflect the continent so well. “You have to look at where you live, the rhythm of the place you live in and that has to be reflected in the film. It cannot be an imitation of something that looks good but doesn’t reflect who you are and where you are,” she explained of the process.
She said the more she looked at African films the more she was drawn into them. But the need to bring Africa to the Caribbean did not arise until she was invited to Panafrican Film and Television Festival of Ouagadougou (Festival Panafricain du Cinéma et de la télévision de Ouagadougou or FESPACO), the most significant film festival on the continent.
“I was invited to be part of the jury one year and I saw how big film was over there and I realised we didn’t really have access to any of that. I know at that point we could have gotten some films downtown, but there was no real place to go and see these films and I thought it was a great loss for us.”
Stemming from her FESPACO invitation she was elected regional secretary for the Caribbean Diaspora with the Federation of Pan African Film Makers in 2013. “I’m still on that board. I was able to connect with other filmmakers on the continent, people who run festivals, which keeps me in the loop with what is happening over there, and of course, to get programming content for our festival here.”
These experiences and opportunities guided her into creating a space where African filmmakers can visit TT and possibly do collaborations and co-productions with local filmmakers. “And I see it happening already. Every film that we screen, the filmmaker wants to come. They also know that the Caribbean is an untapped market for their work.”
Additionally, Lovelace said she saw a need to introduce different influences. “I remember going to Kay Donna (drive in) and seeing the Indian movies and I used to really like Amitabh Bachchan,” she chuckled. “We do not have that same type of exposure with movies from Africa. Movie making in Africa is a big industry. Not all of the countries have these big striving industries like Nigeria or South Africa, but they’ve all been interested in making their own movies and have been doing so for years.”
She emphasised that the festival is not just for people of African descent because it is not an issue of race. “It’s just a great addition to the film festival circuit. It is a good way for TT to connect or reconnect with Africa. To see Africa in a different light. To see the stories of Africa told by Africans. A lot of the times the news that comes from Africa is just one side of it.”
She said her travels to Africa always amaze her because she had only been exposed to one side of the story. “I always had this vision that if I visited Africa I would be sold somewhere. But there is so much happening in terms of art, film, music and fashion. It’s vibrant and vast. And like in the Caribbean, there are so many different cultures, so many languages, so many similarities and differences.”
Lovelace hopes people come out and see the films. “These films will also be an inspiration to our filmmakers, in terms of how you find your own story and how you find the ways to tell your own story through this medium, on your own terms.”
Eventually, she said, she wants to see co-productions happening between filmmakers from the Caribbean and Africa. “What I would really like and actually am working on now is to get the work of some of our Caribbean filmmakers screened at festivals in Africa.” For FESPACO 2019 she will be doing a pre-selection for Caribbean films. “I think it is a really good opportunity for filmmakers. A lot of times they don’t look at Africa as film opportunities, but it is so huge and so many people go to see films there.”
But while she makes it look so easy, the mother of two said the industry too has its challenges — with funding at the top of the list. “I think funding has always been the major challenge. This project is run by a really small, dedicated team who do not do it for financial rewards. I’ve also been trying to develop some other projects for years and I think the whole keep back is funding. Why do I keep doing it? I have chosen things that have brought me great joy and this is one of them. We put a lot of work into it and I really like where it is headed and I see a lot of positive things coming out of it. I can’t let lack of funding prevent me from enjoying the things that bring me joy in life.”