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Controversy At 2012 Belize International Film Fest Awards; Get The Facts + Watch The Film At Root Of It All

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by Tambay A. Obenson
July 19, 2012 11:45 AM
4 Comments
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The 2012 Belize International Film Festival ended yesterday, with the announcement of the winning films and filmmakers - an event that apparently was met with some controversy,

In short, the award for Best Belizean Film went to a film titled Mrs Robinson, which was directed by Thomas Hines - a Belizean living in the UK; a fact that partly influence the controversy (that the filmmaker lives in the UK).

As for the rest of the story, from a report I read on Belizean news site 7NewsBelize.com, after the winners were announced, the judges reportedly opened the floor for other Belizean directors to voice their concerns about the winning selections (which I found interesting),  and with that, things were said to have gotten heated, with emotions running high amongst those who weren't announced as winners.

Specifically, the common complaint was that film that won in the Best Belizean Film award (Mrs Robinson) doesn't have "a single Belizean" actor in it, and apparently "was not shot in Belize," and "has nothing to do with Belize," all quotes from filmmakers present during the ceremony.

Some reportedly even walked out of the room upset with the decision.

From Belizean director Matthew Klinck:

"I was a little too emotional in the room but I really sincerely felt and I still feel that the film that won although I really enjoyed it was not really a Belizean film the way the judges describe it - the judging process. They say they were looking for something that was uniquely Belize, a Belizean texture, a Belizean story and all this kind of thing. It was not film in Belize, it showed no Belizean characters, there was no Belizean language such as creole. There was nothing about it that was not British. In fact the director lives in Britain as well and all the characters shown are in England and this won Best Belizean Film. I just believe so much that we need to recognize the efforts that are being made here locally to develop a film industry here for the people of Belize. I just don't see how this movie was competing against our local film makers here. No short films or featured films or even Belizean film was awarded to a Belizean."

His words echo the thoughts of others (except the winners I'm sure).

And what did the judges have to say in response? From Frances-Anne Solomon, a name that you might recognize, as we've written about some of her ventures on this site in the past (she runs CaribbeanTales Worldwide Distribution):

"I think what we decided is that we were not going to talk about the things - we are not going to say what we didn't like about xyz, so that's not helpful. What I will say is that I had issues with choosing Mrs. Robinson but I came around in the end and I am united with the other judges. The film maker is Belizean, his father is a black, mixed race man, his mother is an English woman who came here to live many years ago - his grandmother. They are - a Belizean story - the story is who - married an English person and she came back here and they raised a family here. That is a Belizean story and those are Belizean characters, they are not the only ones, Belize has huge diversity and I look forward in the coming years to see all those stories.""That particular story whether you like it or not is a uniquely and authentically Belizean tale. So that's not true ok, and whatever you think about it - the language that was used, the characters were all authentic out of this country."

And there are other reactions.

But the gist I got from reading them all - especially those from the judges - was that the other films in competition weren't up-to-par in terms of production values, acting, etc, and so the judges didn't want to award what we could term *mediocrity* and instead gave the award(s) to those films - which, unfortunately, weren't locally-produced, but were made by filmmakers trained in Europe for example, and who likely had access to resources that local Belizean filmmakers did not.

At least, that's ,my understanding based on all I read. No one seemed to want to just come right out and say that, but I simply read between the lines.

The winning film, Mrs. Robinson, is based on a true story, and is described as...

... a charming story of 83 year old Patricia Robinson who, after five decades in Belize, returned to England to live out her last years. Robinson was the British wife of a Belizean born Creole, Eugene Robinson, and the couple made their life in Belize.

Thomas Hines, the filmmaker, is Patricia's grandson, who grew up in Belize and is now living in the UK. And what's his take on the kerfuffle? Again, courtesy of 7NewsBelize.com:

I entered the film to get a chance in Belize because that's where I'm from, Canaan High School. You really can't be more Belizean than that. I didn't enter it thinking I would win, the success is a surprise. I am a bit sorry, not hurt; nor do I feel any agression toward it. I feel that it should be a natural. Everyone is saying that it's a British character, and not a Belizean actor, and it wasn't flimed in Belize. But it is. I'm a Belizean film-maker through and through. I was born and raised in Belize. The main reason for me being in the UK is to get my skills in film-making up to a level that I can come back to Belize. Just because we're white or anything like that, doesn't mean that we're not Belizean. As I said, my grandfather moved to the country of Belize, and my grandmother has been there for most her life. So, I don't see why any this even happened. People are actually complaining about it. They should look into the history of our family, and then they'll actually realize that we're Belizean from a long time ago.

I'm reaching out to Frances-Anne Solomon to provide more on this story for us, so that we have a complete picture of all that transpired, and what all this means (historically, and for the future of the festival). 

Any of our readers in or from Belize? I'd like to get your thoughts on this.

My next move is to take a close look at all the films that screened at the festival, and highlight some of them here.

Most interesting is that the film is actually a 15-minute short. And, as luck would have it, my Google search for it led me to the actual film on Vimeo, uploaded there about a month ago. So now you can watch the film yourself and see what's at the root of the controversy, and get a little bit of a history lesson.

Here ya go:

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4 Comments

  • Frances-Anne Solomon | July 24, 2012 9:41 AMReply

    Thank you for reaching out to me.

    The 3 judges: myself , Edgar Torchia (filmmaker and teacher from Panama), and Oscar Lazo (documentary director from Mexico) are all deeply committed to the development of film in the region, have huge experience and brought great thoughtfullness to this process. I was priveleged to be able to work with them and thank Suzette, the festival director and and NICH for inviting me to participate in their nation-building process.

    We had one over-riding principle that drove our selection of all the awards: Authenticity. This means we sought films that told real and truthful stories about our varied cultures. For me it was important to have integrity in this process. Our journey from colonisation (including cultural colonisation) is too serious for us to compromise. Our region is wide and diverse. In Belize as in many parts of the Caribbean there are Mayan indigenous cultures alongside African, Chinese, Indian, and European. In telling films stories, as in literature, the challenge is to get under the surface of our culture (in our region often overlaid with american and colonial artifacts) and to tease out the lived histories and experiences of the people to reveal original truthful stories that are often surprising in their simplicity.

    We discarded films that obviously drew on "borrowed" forms, that sought to emulate sensationalist genres from other cultures. One particularly virulent form right now that everyone is copying is the vampire genre, because of the american twilight franchise. it feeds into the folklore of the caribbean wherein we often see spririts for example a woman who lures men etc. Of course it is admirable to explore local folktales but often these one dimentional film constructs bear no relation to how they exist in our folklore. One of the films at the center of this controversy suffers from this - "the Curse of the Xtobai". In Beliziean culture the Xtobai is a quiet attractive dark haired woman. In the film she was portrayed as a monster with a blonde wig. This is laughable. This disregard for authenticity of our cultures cannot be supported.

    There were many other problems with the film -- which was made as part of a technical filmmaking training exercise, in 3 months, in order to be shown at the festival -- but this for us was the most glaring, and spoke to a core problem at the root of the film.

    My concern with this controversy is that the so-called "Belizean director" - Mathew Klink, who is leading the charge against the winning film is a recent Canadian expat. He directed the "Xtobai" film. First of all it is tasteless and disrespectful to raise a national controversy because your film did not win a local award in a country where you have only been resident for 9 months. The sense of entitlement of this man is outrageous, even laughable in the circumstances. He could have chosen instead to listen to the criticisms, grow from the experience, and deepen his understanding of the country and culture to which he claims now to be a part.

    In terms of the other films, many suffered from technical problems that we could not overlook. The Belizean industry is young, and people need to develop skills in filmmaking in order to be able to channel their stories.

    Finally - the winning film - is a sensitive story about an 82 year old woman who married a black man 60-odd years ago and moved to Belize to build a life with him as their professional prospects due to racism would be limited in England. At the age of 80 after the death of her husband and life partner, she decided to re-explore the country of her birth. The film is told with intimacy in an observational style by her grandson, who is currently studying film in England. Her sense of curiosity and courage, as well as her loneliness on this journey, are palpable. An interesting image is of her standing on her head - as she maintains her health with yoga. It is a quiet and surprising study of a character many of us know well. Many, many of us - myself included - have grandmothers who followed their black husbands to the Caribbean. Many of these women died in their adopted countries. This has always been a source of curiosity to me - did they not yearn to return? Their stories are inextricably part of the tapestry of our culture and deserve to be told.

    Is Mrs Robinson the only or best Belizean story that exists ? Of course not. We look forward to seeing many different stories unfurl from this rich and complex country, over time.In the meantime, the fact that Mrs Robinson is a white woman does not make her story any less Caribbean. And we cannot reward easy and cliched representations of our culture.

  • Suzette Zayden | July 20, 2012 10:12 PMReply

    I'm the director of the Belize International Film Festival and absolutely fed up with this nonsensical "controversy" generated by a sore loser who actually went on camera to say the film had no Belizean characters. While the director of the film is Belizean without a doubt, he that opened his mouth first is most definitely not a Belizean but a Canadian who recently moved to a rural area of Belize with the admirable goal of assisting Belize's film industry. His group made a film yay! We supported him and his team by opening the festival with the film but that didn't mean he automatically will win an award. Appears they thought so. The festival awards films based on merit not intent. Films have to speak for themselves and if the judges didn't think his film is not up to par, he should have accepted their decision with some dignity and not behave in the deplorable way he did screaming at the judges and then degrade the winner by calling him and his characters non-Belizeans and insinuate that we don't know what Belizean films are. When you don't know things you should check your facts before spouting off. For the record the judges (including Frances-Anne) did not decide into which category the films go. The Festival selection committee determined which films were Belizean or not. The judges just judged what was placed in front of them. The award was given to the director of the best BELIZEAN FILM not the film that shows the most BELIZEAN CONTENT. We are such a diversified country with people from so many different countries with so many different languages that it would be near impossible to classify any one film as MORE BELIZEAN as the other. And unlike Canada, there is no point system in place such as crew and cast to determine film nationality. We do it the old fashioned way, look at Belizean directors telling Belizean stories. Tom Hines is a Belizean studying film in the UK right now. There are NO FILM SCHOOLS in Belize. I too studied film abroad and at no time did I stop being a Belizean. The story may be about a lady moving to England. A BELIZEAN lady making a move. It doesn't matter whether she was moving from one street to the next, or one area of Belize to the next, or in this case from one country to the next. It is her story and she is a Belizean and her story is one of migration and old age. It is a Belizean story whether any of you or them like it or not. WHo cares if she said Belize in the 1950's was ugly. Guess what? it probably was. I'm sure there are parts in any city in the world that are ugly to its own inhabitants too.. Get real I SEE WHERE CRITICISM IS WARRANTED. Also re here leaving Belize, did you notice she took Belize with here in her suitcase. She didn't leave it. And if you like the Canadian knew anything about Belize City you would have recognized areas of Belize within the video. The bottom line is this so called controversy is being carried along by either non-Belizeans or people who don't live in Belize City where this woman and her husband lived for the past 50+ years and were they and their children were very much a part of Belizean society in Belize City.
    And a note to the writer of the blog. You read between the lines rightly...The judges didn't have much to work with this year and MRS ROBINSON was the best of the lot. . I am happy with the winner. the story was charming and he should be left in peace to enjoy his justly earned Award instead of having idiots cast aspersions on his true true Belizeaness. THE FESTIVAL WILL CONTINUE TO SEEK TO RAISE THE BAR UNTIL WE GET A PROPER BELIZEAN FILM CREATED that will stand on its own. We are a serious festival looking for serious filmmakers. We embrace Belizean filmmakers both in Belize and the diaspora and may the best man/woman win next year.

  • I see where the criticism is warranted | July 19, 2012 11:51 PMReply

    WOW! she describes belize as "quite ugly" as a country on first encounter, and the film is about her LEAVING belize. I think there is something there. If the film showed part of her living in belize, that might help.

  • Jeremy Spooner | July 19, 2012 1:41 PMReply

    So many mistakes about all this..............Thomas Hines is a Belizean firstly, his Grandmother is a Belizean................. Thomas's Father is not a black man, his Mother is not English ...............Francis - Anne Solomon get it right!!! The attacks were of a racist nature and as Thomas said............"because we're white or anything like that, doesn't mean that we're not Belizean", we white Belzeans get this crap all the time!!! You must remember Belize was British Honduras one time, it was a British Colony, it has many ties with England, many people are descended from the British in Belize, our Official Language is "English"................ I thought all the critics were out of line and racist, jealous and sore loosers................... lets move on and stop all this pettiness.

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