When Jason Fitzroy Jeffers shows up for a late breakfast to discuss the second-annual Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival in the wake of Hurricane Irma, he's rocking some puffy bags under his eyes. It's been a rough two weeks for the festival's cofounder/director and his crew of collaborators — an array of artists, writers, and musicians — on a mission to share the culture of the Caribbean islands with the United States via Miami.
"It's very taxing. It's been a taxing experience," Jeffers says in his light Barbadian accent, though he smiles at the thought of it all.
The festival's opening night is approaching quickly, but things remain on schedule, he assures.
He's thankful the storm didn't affect the festival's guests, many of whom are flying in from islands that nearly missed a direct impact from the hurricane. "Everybody is still coming at this point. Everything is still on schedule," he says. "We just lost two weeks of production and planning." Power had been restored to Jeffers' home only the previous night, which made organizing the fest, from communicating with guests to collecting digital files for the films, a challenge.
"We have an art show, so we're also ordering materials for the artist," he says of Jamaica's Leasho Johnson. "Just every conceivable thing has been delayed."
Despite the power and communication outages, the Third Horizon crew found a way to soldier through it. "We've still been working," he says. "It's just everything's been moving very slowly."
But that doesn't mean anyone on the team slowed down. The Monday after the storm, Jeffers pulled up to a Starbucks for Wi-Fi. "I was outside the Starbucks in my car because Starbucks hadn't opened yet, but it was still generating Wi-Fi, so I'm in the car by the Starbucks for hours, just on my computer... My car was my office, so I was like, Oh, well, this festival still needs to happen."
The crew has carried on undaunted. He and his collaborators are even in the midst of editing a short film directed by the festival's creative director, Keisha Rae Witherspoon. He hopes they might have it ready for a "somewhat-secret" work-in-progress screening. "We all get our hands in a bit of everything, though," he says. "We're a small team, teeny team, like Voltron. We each pilot a cybernetic lion."
Besides presenting art, the second installment of the festival will again offer music, with Brooklyn-based DJ duo Electric Punanny performing opening night at Pérez Art Museum Miami. But the soul of the fest is cinema, from documentaries to shorts to features to sometimes something in between, such as Natalia Cabral and Oriol Estrada's Site of Sites, which "lives on the borderline of fiction and nonfiction."
There's also Sexy Durga, an Indian film directed by Sanal Kumar Sasidharan, which won the prestigious Tiger Award at the International Film Festival Rotterdam 2017. "It's a largely unscripted movie," Jeffers notes, "about this couple traveling through one night in Kerala, in India. It's like a dark, dark, crazy road trip that happens through India in the middle of the night and kinda tackles the decaying patriarchy of that country... It's a bit difficult to watch in places. It's a really intense film." Though Third Horizon is a Caribbean-centric film festival, Sexy Durga was programmed to highlight the Caribbean's connection to its "mother" countries.
Finally, once again, the fest has paired up with the Miami Film Festival for a special presentation. Bad Lucky Goat comes hot off its world premiere at South by Southwest. Representing the Colombian Caribbean, it is the debut feature of Bogotá-born director Samir Oliveros, who funded the film with barely more than $60,000 raised via Kickstarter.
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As a project dedicated to the Caribbean, Third Horizon is working to help those affected by the recent hurricanes. The festival has begun putting together a plan to aid relief efforts in the aftermath of both Hurricanes Irma and Maria, which also wreaked havoc across the Caribbean. Details of those efforts are still being worked out.
Beyond the challenge brought by recent storms, there have been sponsorship struggles that speak to the political climate since Donald Trump became president. "This whole year has been an interesting experience," Jeffers notes. "I have to be a little coy, but let's just say fundraising for a festival that celebrates diversity in Donald Trump's America has not necessarily been the easiest task. We've faced some real challenges this year. If anything, between that and the hurricane, it's only made us double down. We just have to work a little bit harder."
Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival. Thursday, September 28, through Sunday, October 1, at O Cinema Wynwood, 90 NW 29th St., Miami; 305-571-9970; ocinema.com, and Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-375-3000; pamm.org. Tickets to individual screenings cost $12, and a weekend pass costs $60 via thirdhorizonfilmfestival.com. Attendees can get free Red Stripe beer with every screening at O Cinema and during opening night at PAMM.