Caribbean Today – November 2020 Edition
BY DAWN A. DAVIS
A fitting tribute to Caribbean people who helped rebuild Britain was recently held as the inaugural Windrush Caribbean Film Festival got under way on October 17th.
In a bid never to forget the British subjects who migrated to the UK from the commonwealth Caribbean between 1948 and 1973, answering the call to help reconstruct a wounded country after World War 2, Trinidadian born Film Producer and Director Frances-Anne Solomon, British social commentator and political activist of Jamaican heritage, Patrick Vernon OBE, and other organizers, decided to host the event.
The festival offers films showcasing the challenges, achievements, and aspirations of the Caribbean Windrush generation on the heels of the 2017 Windrush scandal that revealed that the British Home Office had wrongly stepped on the legal rights, detained, and even deported many Caribbean immigrants who arrived on the Windrush.
Following protests and then recognizing its ineptitude and resultant failings, the British government took responsibility and apologized, with promises to right the wrongs. But many cases are still pending in a bottleneck exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic.
As such, Solomon and Vernon have stepped up to ensure the spotlight remains on these immigrants and pioneers.
“I think it’s really important for us as a community to recognize the lives and contributions of those pioneering spirits who gave up their homelands to come to Britain, and often they did not meet with a warm welcome, and whose lives and stories and struggles have really paved the way for the lives that we are able to lead today, and whose stories have not been told,” explained Solomon during the recent virtual launch.
Over the six days of the festival, from Oct. 17th to Nov. 8, 2020, audiences will be able to see films, engage in discussions, and participate in master classes virtually. Each screening will be coupled with Q&A with major filmmakers, activists, and actors.
Solomon also revealed that the Festival will launch the first ‘Paulette Wilson’ Windrush Award, which will be given in memory of the prominent Jamaican-born Windrush campaigner who was wrongly detained by the Home Office, and who went on to become the face of the Windrush Scandal campaign. The award will be presented to an individual who has been instrumental in advancing the narrative to achieve justice for the Windrush generation.
Addressing the need for such a festival, Vernon explained that over the past 20 to 30 years, the Caribbean contribution, in particular in Britain, has been ignored, devalued, even debased. That’s why 11 years ago, he successfully campaigned for a national Windrush Day to honor a generation, including his parents, who came from Jamaica in the 50s, worked hard and made sacrifices for Britain.
“It’s only because of the scandal that everybody is talking about Windrush; that’s not good enough,” he said. “So, creating that legacy through film and of course literature can inspire current and future filmmakers about Caribbean heritage and its intersectionality around the world.”
Solomon also acknowledged that her parents were also among the Windrush generation. She spoke poignantly about the importance of the pain and suffering of “our forefathers,” as well as the incredible contributions they made.
“They came together in the Caribbean arts movement and created a Caribbean culture that has inspired and driven the culture of the world,” said Solomon. “It was a moment when within a few years, all the African-Caribbean countries would become independent. And the hub of that independence movement was here in England. And some of the most important campaigners and leaders like George Padmore and Claudia Jones, Paul Robeson and many others – Sparrow and Kitchener – were here. It was such an explosive hub of activity, of resistance, of cultural expression that has defined the world. It all began in that colonial moment in England, where freedom clashed with empire, and many people paid the price.”
Importantly, these groundbreaking creative experts warned that the Windrush generation are ageing and passing away, which makes it more urgent to capture and tell their stories. And part of their responsibility, they said, is to remind the generations to come, that their current plight and struggles are not new.
“A lot of young people growing up now they don’t know that a lot of the things they are going through, a lot of the tensions and struggles that they have now, occurred in the past, and that many people fought for the very freedom (they have now),” said Solomon. “It’s important to know what history teaches us, that it goes in cycles, that we have to fight for it again to tell those stories, which should be urban legends. We should know the stories of our forefathers as well as we know the stories of Winston Churchill.”
Vernon added that is “our” responsibility to use “this” medium as an educational tool. He added that as a filmmaker, “you’re a griot, you’re telling a story and passing on that story to the next generation.”
“Somehow, we’ve lost that,” he said. “So, if this festival can engineer, create, and be a platform for new talent celebrating the Diaspora of the Caribbean, that’s important.”
And teaching the right lessons is critical for a healthy, positive vision of a people, added Solomon.
“One of the reasons that we wanted to create the festival was because a lot of the images that are put out there about black people in Britain, and globally, are stereotypes of who we are, because they’re created by people who are outside of our cultures,” said Solomon. “So, quite inevitably, commissioning editors will only go for images of black people that are gang-based, drugs, violence. It’s very tragic, because that’s not who we are, that’s not our history… We have this incredibly rich story to tell, that’s why we started the Windrush Film Festival.”
Caribbean-focused films and conversations continue at windrushfilmfestival.com and caribbeantales.org.