Originally written for and published in Caribbean Beat magazine in 2008
Painting the Spectrum: A Celebration of Love
It takes a fair amount of courage to put on a film festival in the Caribbean. Resources are often limited in terms of funding, venues, and sourcing Caribbean-oriented material. Nevertheless, in the last few years, festivals have emerged in several Caribbean nations, including Jamaica, Guyana, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, St Bart’s, St Maarten and Belize.
It takes perhaps even more courage to put on a film festival in the Caribbean that’s devoted exclusively to movies which challenge established notions of sexuality and gender. It is a wonder, then, that Guyana’s Society Against Sexual Orientation Discrimination (SASOD) has managed to mount its festival, Painting the Spectrum: A Celebration of Love, annually since 2005, and has seen attendance grow each year, despite some stiff public opposition.
It returns this June for its fourth instalment, and SASOD will also curate a smaller festival as part of Carifesta X (the Caribbean Festival of Arts), which Guyana will host this August.
Vidyaratha Kissoon, one of the founders and organisers of the SASOD festival, says, “It started as a kind of whimsical challenge to provide entertainment while educating, and to see if it was possible, in a Caribbean which has a spectrum of attitudes to homosexuality.
“Films were used because they provided a gathering place for people to meet and chat. We [Kissoon and fellow organiser Stacy Gomes] have had a lot of fun in putting together an interesting programme with variety, in terms of issues covered.”
The festival is particularly interested in showing films with a Caribbean background, but includes films from around the world. They range from experimental shorts and documentaries to full-length features like the controversial Indian film Fire; the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) miniseries Fingersmith; and the high-profile Hollywood films Brokeback Mountain and Boys Don’t Cry.
The festival’s organisers select films recommended by colleagues worldwide, as well as from the catalogues of other film festivals.
Caribbean representation in the festival has included films from Guyanese-born director Michelle Mohabeer (Coconuts/Cane and Cutlass, and Child Play); Trinidadians Richard Fung (Sea of Blood) and Sean Drakes (Vale of Cashmere, and Devil’s Day); Jamaican Philip Pike (Songs of Freedom); and readings by writers including the Jamaican poet and novelist Kei Miller.
This year’s Painting the Spectrum IV—still the only festival of its kind in the English-speaking Caribbean—will play once more at Georgetown’s Sidewalk Café for 12 nights. The directors include Missy Venas, Todd Verow, Abigail Child, Heidi Arensen, and Christian Liffers.
Kissoon says another important movie that will have its Caribbean premiere at the festival is Jihad for Love, filmed in 12 countries and in nine languages by the Indian director Parvez Sharma (who is a Muslim, despite his name). Kissoon describes it as a “compassionate look at the way in which faith and sexuality are reconciled.” Another international film to be screened is The Gymnast (2006), winner of 27 awards. Directed by Ned Farr, it was praised by one reviewer for having “a rare kind of beauty and power,” and was praised for its resonant storyline and gorgeous choreography, and also for “giving visibility to two of the most underrepresented groups in the lesbian film canon: middle-aged and Asian-American women.”
Caribbean participants include Sean Drakes; Bahamian Kareem Mortimer’s film Float, about a Bahamian man struggling with his sexual identity; and Dos Patrias: Cuba y la Noche (Two Homelands: Cuba and the Night), which tells the story of five gay men and a transsexual woman living in Cuba, framed in the poetry of Cuban writer Reinaldo Arenas.
For a full schedule of films, visit www.sasod.org.gy