June is Caribbean American Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than with Third Horizon Film Festival? Dubbed "one of the coolest film festivals in the world" by Moviemaker Magazine, Third Horizon Film Festival (THFF) centers on films from the Caribbean and its diaspora.
THFF turns six this year — a mere babe in festival terms — but in its short existence, it has made an impressive impact, garnering attention from heavy hitters like Sundance and the Ford Foundation, among others. This year, the festival returns to the Little Haiti Cultural Center and Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) June 23-26 with its most extensive lineup to date. The roster includes more than 50 films, most of which are shorts, and deploys a combination of in-person and virtual screenings for maximum accessibility.
"The Caribbean consists of several countries separated by the ocean," festival director Romola Lucas tells New Times. "In most circumstances, water brings people together, but in the case of the Caribbean, it does not, because it's so prohibitively expensive to travel amongst the Caribbean countries. So these films are a way for you to travel throughout the Caribbean and its various diasporas."
Since its inception, Lucas has shared directing duties with Miami filmmaker Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, but this year Lucas, a lawyer by trade, takes the helm solo. "For years, Jason was the heart and soul of the festival, and I was the business brain," she explains. "We made a good pair. Now I'm organizing everything along with our partners." (Jeffers continues to serve the festival in other capacities, including creative direction and design.)
This year, the festival launches Third Horizon Forward, a program that "supports short films that interrogate or explore the culture, character, spirit, people or legacy of the Caribbean and its diaspora, made by filmmakers who trace their lineage to the region itself." All genres are eligible for the award, but filmmakers must be based in Miami. The program will award seven filmmakers grants of up to $7,000 for their projects in addition to access to Third Horizon resources. The inaugural recipients will be announced at this year's festival.
"Jason and I have always been passionate about mentoring and supporting Caribbean filmmakers through production, so Third Horizon Forward is something that we've wanted to do from the start," Lucas says. "It's only now that we have the finances and people power to do this."
At the heart of this year's festival is a retrospective tribute to the late Sarah Maldoror, a pioneering filmmaker of French and Guadeloupean heritage who died in 2020 at age 90 from COVID-19 complications. Maldoror made nearly 50 films in her lifetime, ten of which are included in the retrospective. With the 1973 release of Sambizanga, Maldoror became the first Black woman to make a feature film. Set in an Angolan port city, Sambizanga follows a couple's fight for freedom and equality against colonialist structures. The festival will screen a newly restored version of Sambizanga.
Maldoror's work was heavily influenced by renowned Martiniquan writer and founder of the Négritude movement Aimé Césaire — so much so that she made three films about him, one of which is set in Miami. The documentary Aimé Césaire: Le masque de mots (Aimé Césaire: The Mask of Words) was filmed at the three-day Conference on Negritude, Ethnicity and Afro Cultures in the Americas at Florida International University in 1987. Partly inspired by the Harlem Renaissance, the Négritude movement spurned colonization and its ills in favor of Black pride and community-building. Black intellectuals from around the globe came to Miami to discuss issues affecting Black people. Attendees included former Senegalese president Leopold Sedar Senghor, Nobel Prize-winning author Wole Soyinka, and Pulitzer Prize winner Alex Haley, author of Roots.
This year marks the 35th anniversary of the conference. In commemoration, Third Horizon is hosting "The Négritude Conference at 35," a panel discussion about the significance of the event that will include Sarah Maldoror's daughter, Annouchka de Andrade. Aimé Césaire: Le masque de mots will also be screened as part of the retrospective.
There's a lot to see and do at the festival, but the shorts programs are phenomenal and possibly some of the best in the nation. Each year, I find a new filmmaker to add to my list. One of my favorites, Suneil Sanzgiri, returns this year with Golden Jubilee, the third film in his series on memory, diaspora, and decoloniality. The film "takes as its starting point scenes of the filmmaker's father navigating a virtual rendering of their ancestral home in Goa, India, created using the same technologies of surveillance that mining companies use to map locations for iron ore in the region." Haitian and Canadian filmmaker Miryam Charles also returns this year with her first feature film Cette Maison, which was inspired by the tragic death of her cousin. Charles screened six of her experimental short films at THFF 2020.
Lucas urges festivalgoers not to forget the musical performances and parties. "One of our favorite bands from Trinidad and Tobago, Freetown Collective, will be performing live in Miami for the first time as part of the festival," Lucas notes. "For opening night at PAMM, we will screen the Haitian film Cette Maison, followed by a party with Haitian DJ [Sabine Blaizin] spinning Afro and Haitian house."
In other words, pull up for the cinematic excellence and stay for the celebration.
Third Horizon Film Festival. Thursday, June 23, through Sunday, June 26, at Little Haiti Cultural Complex, 212 NE 59th Ter., Miami; 305-960-2969; and Pérez Art Museum Miami, 1103 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-375-3000; thirdhorizonfilmfestival.com.