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: