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Frances-Anne Solomon: A pioneer of Caribbean cinema
Back Stage : on 03-12-2010 (3212 reads) Posted by : Moussa Sawadogo

A renowned filmmaker who needs no introduction, Frances Anne Solomon was born in Trinidad and has spent most of her life in her own country, and in Europe and Toronto, Canada where she now resides. After studying cinema and working in television in Trinidad, she decided to pursue a career in film.

How would you describe yourself in a few words?

My parents were students in Canada in the 1950s and I grew up in different places all over the world before going back to live in Trinidad. At age 18, I went to Canada to study. Once I had finished, I went to England where I worked for the BBC for 15 years. I moved up the echelons before becoming a producer and then an executive producer. I also worked in the field of dramatic art. In 2000, I went back to Canada to set up my two companies: Leda Serena, which is my production firm, and Caribbean Tales, a multimedia company that produces educational resources based essentially on storytelling. It deals in media like audio books, websites, documentaries and theatre.

How did you come into the cinema business?

When I was young, no one thought about studying cinema. In my family, for example, my father was a lawyer and my grandfather was a doctor, so I only saw those two types of careers. When I went to Canada, I started working in the theatre as an actress and director. One thing led to another and I ended up naturally headed for cinema studies. That's how I got started in this adventure of filmmaking. When I arrived in England, I had the opportunity to work for the BBC, but before that I had worked in my country and for a television channel, and gradually I started thinking that this could be a possible career for me.

You're a producer, filmmaker and director. Is it easy for you as a woman from the Caribbean to be in this business?

In England, working in television was a way of earning a living, but later I wanted to set up my own company and that was anything but easy. Things are not any easier today but with maturity and experience, I continue to fight for my ideals. I wanted to create something that didn't exist yet and which is typically a product of the Caribbean. I wanted to tell stories from my country. At the time, that didn't exist.

At the BBC, I was the only black person in my department for 15 years and I was very impressed by this institution that produced quality programmes based mainly on education and information. I wanted to do the same thing in the Caribbean. I felt the need to do so because, when I was at school, we studied all the works of Molière, Shakespeare and so on, but we didn't study our own writers. I wanted to bring about change and to propose another way of working and most importantly, to give a place of honour to writers and other intellectuals from my country.

Things weren't easy for me in the beginning. As a woman producer and filmmaker, I was confronted with all sorts of difficulties in this business. When I was younger, the fact of being a person of mixed race may have enabled me to survive, but there are advantages and disadvantages. Men, for instance, didn't want to work with me because I'm a woman. It was hard to give myself an identity as a black filmmaker. "What can we do with a black woman" was the answer I heard from some. Mentalities have changed today, although I find that there are not many women directors.

What type of problems are you confronted with most of the time in this business?

I arrived in England in the 80s, a time when blacks were rebellious. This period was very interesting for the debate. Of course, there were barriers in the beginning. I had to deal with lots of obstacles. I worked in different departments at the BBC and each had its own obstacle. Today, with hindsight, I still wonder how I was able to stand up to them all. I had a vision of what I wanted. I wanted to tell our stories and above all prove that our stories were similar to those of others.

At one point, things seemed to be going backwards and the debates of 15 years earlier on communities were coming back to the forefront. That was exactly when I decided to work for myself. But I think that things are changing today in the Caribbean and that there are more and more opportunities in cinema, for example, with the introduction and especially the accessibility of technology that makes things possible. Since the technology is less expensive than it was a few years ago, anyone can go into the audiovisual business and convey a powerful message.
For the last two or three years, I have been seeing a sort of trend and discourse is changing. I see a revival of interest in my professional contacts: some are more inclined to work with a black woman, which is a welcome change. Maybe this is because of all the other identity issues that are becoming more and more important in our societies. I would also like to make a point of saying that everything related to immigration and identity issues is thought-provoking for each and every one of us.

You attach particular importance to storytelling and the Caribbean cultural heritage. Tell us more about that.

There are a lot of myths and legends in my country that I find interesting but that are not addressed in cinema. Then there are all the stories of immigrants, all these journeys that are very interesting in their individual and personal aspect. All this material can and must nurture all our stories, those we bring to cinema.

In 2001, you set up the company called Caribbean Tales. What is its main purpose and how does it relate to your activity as a filmmaker?

When I worked at the BBC, I saw it as a film-distributing machine and that's the task I gave myself when I set up my own company: to give Caribbeans the opportunity to create and to share our cultural wealth and heritage. I wanted to create an organisation that can offer a Caribbean aesthetic through films.

You also have a production firm, Leda Serene Films. How did that project get started?

Leda Serene is basically dedicated to cinema production, while Caribbean Tales focuses on education. But the two companies are complementary. I can illustrate that with a project I'm working on for the moment. For several years, I have been seeing that black teenagers were not finishing secondary school in Canada and that there was more and more violence at school. I put together a project, a play that talks about this violence at school. We worked with young teenagers on what was happening. Our aim was to try to identify the roots of violence. To do so, I immersed myself in Caribbean myths, both traditional and contemporary. Once this research had been done with the young people, we worked on violence and the theatre took on a therapeutic role. A set of films produced by my company resulted from this educational project.

What are your selection criteria when you produce a film?

I am particularly sensitive to the roots of violence in all types of situations: domestic violence, rape and so on. I like to be able to tell stories but also to understand how violence takes root and why it takes hold so easily.

Several of your films have won awards, such as A winter tale and Lord have mercy. How do your films relate to one another?

Apart from violence, I grew up and have lived mostly in urban areas. Often the stories I write attach importance to identity issues. Some start in England and finish in my country, or vice versa. So I am touched by everything related to journeys, moving and identity, the human aspect.

Who do you consider to be masters of cinema?

I like Martin Scorcèse for the sensitivity of his characters. I think that in life we have to talk about things with our own individual sensitivity and I find that Martin Scorcèse succeeds in bringing this out in his films. Another filmmaker I appreciate is Jane Campion. Her film The Piano corresponds exactly to this sensitivity.

Are you familiar with African cinema?

Yes, I'm interested in African cinema. What's more, I worked recently with the Senegalese filmmaker Moussa Sène Absa. I also appreciate the work of Raoul Peck, who has dealt with several African themes in his films, for example the genocide in Rwanda (Sometimes in April) or his magnificent film on the life of Patrice Emery Lumumba.

Frances Anne Salomon's filmography

Herta Beat, 2008

Tara Woods: Aka Macomere Fifi, (2008) (TV)

A Winter Tale (2007)

Literature Alive (2005-2006)

Creation Fire (2006)

Coming Home (2006) TV

Miss Lou: Then and Now (2005) TV

Fabulous Spaces (2005) TV

Lord have Mercy (2003-2004) TV

The Date (2004) TV

The Flesh is Weak (2003) TV

Tangled Web (2003) TV

Who the Cap Fits (2003) TV

Immigration Blues (2003) TV

Drop the Beat (2000) TV

Peggy Su! (1997)

Siren Spirits (1995) TV

What My Mother Told Me (1995)

Bideshi (1995)

Reunion West Indian Woman at War (1993) TV

I Is a Long Memoried Woman (1990)

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