THE Africa Film TT (AFTT) team has created a free virtual experience for film lovers, sharing films, hosting conversations and sharing art and music from the continent and the diaspora.
The seventh annual festival, which starts on May 25, in commemoration of World Africa Day, will not only showcase filmography, but will include exploration of work by, and interviews with filmmakers, visual artists and musicians from the continent and the diaspora.
Festival co-ordinator Melanie Jones-Powell told Newsday the team is excited amid the circumstances that have completely changed the way the festival was put on for years – before covid19.
Reminiscing, she said, "In 2019 we opened with The Burial of Kojo by Blitz the Ambassador, who directed Beyonce's album Black is King. He was here for the last physical festival in 2019.
"Last year was the first year we had to make that decision to see how we could do the festival differently. We weren't able to host showings at the Central Bank Auditorium or Little Carib Theatre as usual. We were not able to have community screenings in the Brian Lara Promenade."
Instead, the team arranged to have some past AFTT favourites broadcast on TV, which she said was beneficial, as it allowed them to reach a wider audience than in previous years.
"We are doing that again this year."
At the end of each day from May 26-30, films shown online will be made available for on-demand viewing on the AFTT website and on TV6 from June 4-7. This, she said, will allow people who may not have internet access to be part of the festival and experience the wealth of film coming from many parts of Africa and the diaspora.
Asked what new features the team has prepared for film lovers that were not part of the festival last year, Jones-Powell said, "We will have what we branded Film Talk, which will be livestream conversations with five filmmakers from South Africa, Rwanda, Angola, France and Zambia. They are all ready to talk online with us."
The talks will be hosted and moderated by members of the AFTT team, including Jones-Powell and the founder of AFTT, regional secretary for the Caribbean diaspora at Panafrican Filmmakers Association based in Burkina Faso, Asha Lovelace.
Some interviews will be a collaborative effort with the Black Consciousness Festival.
Jones-Powell added this time around, the conversations will allow for greater interaction with the filmmakers.
Another feature being introduced this year is AFTT Conversations, led by the Black Consciousness Film Festival.
"The panel discussions are targeted at youth and (the series) is called The Ears that Hear and the Eyes that
can See. It is about passing on traditions from one generation to the other and discussing how culture and tradition are communicated through storytelling and film."
She said people of all ages can look forward to hearing from people who have mastered their craft.
AFTT live entertainment segments have not been removed from the lineup.
"Last year we connected with a New York-based AfroBeats DJ and this year we have a Ghanaian female DJ based in London."
The DJs will also include Jones-Powell herself, aka DJ Honey Colada, Blasé Vangard, Yidah and a Ghanaian DJ based in the UK, Emma Korantema.
"We will be doing an Instagram takeover, online party. We plan to make it a full-on festival experience."
Leading up to the festival, the team has hosted several online events which included a conversation on the popular new platform Clubhouse.
Clubhouse is a reincarnation of chatrooms, which gained wild international popularity in the late '90s but now it is solely audio – allowing for a more fluid way of sharing ideas and connecting with people through conversation from anywhere in the world.
"We have had, and want to have more conversations about the Caribbean entertainment industry, which includes film, while building connections with creative professionals across the region, the diaspora and the continent of Africa – all while gathering an international audience."
One of the conversations which included participants from across the region, the US and the UK dissected how Caribbean people and people of the African and Caribbean diasporas are defined in the international space and areas in need of growth.
"We heard from people such as international dancehall artiste from Jamaica Red Rat, TT-based DJ Marcus Williams, TT-based musical artiste and producer Marcus Braveboy, music producer and sound engineer based in Los Angeles Kasey Phillips and TT-based musician Mical Teja.
Asked what challenges the organisers encountered by in the 2021 approach, Jones-Powell said the main challenge was making the entire festival a digital experience.
"Because we also have a more mature audience who may not be tech-savvy, we had to figure out how to make it as easily accessible as possible. On the flip side, we get to attract a younger audience."
She said while challenging, it was exciting to conjure ideas on how to get people warmed up to the idea of attending a social event on the internet as opposed to what people always knew as the being the way things were done – dressing up to gather with fellow film lovers and friends to attend an opening night event at Central Bank.
Having had films shown on TV last year, Jones-Powell said the AFTT team received an increase in feedback. "In mid-May we realised we had over 300 new subscribers to the website within a few months, which is great. These are people from TT and across the globe."
She said she expects these numbers to increase steadily, especially after this year's festival.
The AFTT team is hopeful that whenever travel restrictions put in place in response to covid19 are lifted, people will be excited to visit TT for the festival and to experience sides of TT's culture other than Carnival.
"We hope the festival will continue to help in reshaping people's ideas of Africa. We want to correct the perception that films from the continent are of poor quality and only focus on doom and gloom, war-torn lives. For example, our opening night film Mercy of the Jungle – while it is set around the Congo war, the story focuses on the personal journeys of two soldiers who got lost in a jungle and the journey of survival amid chaos."
This year's lineup will also feature animated films for the AFTT junior series.
Jones-Powell pointed out: "Despite funding being cut in half, we decided we would not want viewers to have to pay for participating – so everything will be accessible, free of cost."
The festival can be experienced on the AFTT virtual platform at its website africafilmtt.com.