Words by Nneka Samuel

I had the immense pleasure of attending the first annual CaribbeanLens Film Festival in Hollywood, California. The week-long Festival (June 15 – 19) featured films from Jamaica, St Vincent & the Grenadines, Aruba, St Lucia, Cuba and Grenada. One of the films I was anxious to see was Yurumein Homeland. Directed by Andrea E. Leland, this 50 minute documentary reveals the untold story of the Caribs of St. Vincent. Mostly live action interspersed with brief animated sequences, Yurumein recounts the painful past of the Caribs who, after resisting the British, were eventually imprisoned, banished and almost exterminated in their own land. Yurumein also chronicles important moments in Garifuna history (the term Garifuna referring to the descendants of intermarried Caribs and Africans).

One of the film’s main subjects is Dr. Cadrin Gill, a St. Vincent native and Los Angeles-based physician. Dr. Gill returns home for the first time in 20 years to reconnect with fellow Caribs, honor their descendants, and give birth to a renaissance of Garifuna culture. He meets with a group of Garifuna, exiled by the British to Honduras, who speak of how they preserved their language, dance, stories and culture. Their reconnection with both country and countrymen is highly emotional. Together, they embark on a pilgrimage to Balliceaux, the neighboring island to which their ancestors were banished after their defeat in the Second Carib War. It was from Balliceaux that their ancestors made their way to Honduras and they sing, dance and present offerings in honor of the lost souls and to make peace with the past. Yurumein also tackles the stereotypes and misconceptions that some St. Vincentians maintain about Garifuna – namely that they were savage cannibals and completely uncivilized people.  Today, only 2% of St. Vincent’s approximately 120,000 population identify as Carib, but many  are made to feel ashamed of their heritage and have, as a result, remained disconnected from their rich history. Importantly, Yurumein aids in the efforts being made to generate awareness of this rich heritage and to preserve the Garifuna culture for future generations. Yurumein is available for purchase and streaming here.

Vuelos Prohibidos (Forbidden Flights), the second feature film by Cuban director Rigoberto Lopez, made its U.S. debut at CaribbeanLens. Produced by the Cuban Film Institute, it stars Moroccan actress Sanaa Alaoui as Monique and Cuban singer Paulo Fernandez Gallo as Mario.  Monique is a French-Cuban woman traveling to Cuba for the first time to meet the father she never knew. Her mother now deceased, Monique’s father has only recently been made aware of her existence, and anxiously anticipates her visit. On her way to meet her father, Monique encounters Mario at the airport, a Cuban photographer who awaits the same Cuba-bound flight. They share an instant and obvious connection, one they get to further explore after their flight is cancelled due to inclement weather.

What ensues is a complicated love triangle between man, woman and country. Monique is armed with a romanticized view of Cuba, sharpened by the revolutionary lens of her late mother who visited the country and fell in love with its ideals, its promises and possibilities in her youth.  Mario knows that Cuba is a lot more complex than what Monique envisions and tries to assuage her questions, fears and concerns. Vuelos gives the viewer, who may have never stepped foot on the island, distinct and opposing views about Cuba that offer no concrete resolutions – views that are diverse and multi-layered. For Monique, despite the romantic bond she forges with Mario, her questions can only be answered in person. Vuelos presents an intimate, dialogue-rich narrative that beautifully fulfills director Rigoberto Lopez’s desire to present an honest discussion about the realities of life and living in Cuba.