Belize International Film Festival awards stirs controversy

The Belize International Film Festival showcased 64 films over the weekend, from its traditional red carpet opening gala at the Bliss Centre in Belize City on Friday, July 13, until the last day of screenings on Monday, July 16.

However, when its international jury announced the award winners at the House of Culture on Tuesday, July 17, not everyone was happy, particularly with the judges’ choice for Best Belizean film, which went to “Mrs. Robinson”, a documentary directed by Belizean Thomas Hines.

Opening night has always showcased one of the best full-length feature films in the Festival, and this year for the first time the opening feature was a Belizean film, made by Belizeans, with Belizean actors and shot in Belize: “2012, Kurse of Di Xtabai.” 

Matthiew Klinck directed the film, which was done completely in the Kriol language. For most of the all-Belizean cast, it was their first time acting in a movie, and even the script was in many ways improvised.

But the announcement that “Mrs. Robinson” had won “Best Belizean Film” award drew a howl of protest from Klinck and most of the cast and crew of “Xtabai”.

They protested that film was more about Britain than Belize, as the modern day interviews with Mrs. Robinson were shot in Bristol in the United Kingdom. And since Mrs. Robinson was born in Britain, it smacked of neo-colonialism.

But facts are stubborn things and the film, “Mrs Robinson”, is very much Belizean. It documents the real life history of a Belizean mother, born in England, who followed her Belizean husband home to Belize after the Second World War, and who raised her three daughters in Belize.

Mr. Eugene Robinson had served in the Royal Air Force, but found that racial discrimination was hindering his career advancement in  post-war U.K., so he chose to return home to Belize. The film documents, through old family photographs, Mrs. Robinson’s arrival in Belize and her early years of raising a family in Belize in the 60’s and 70’s, through hurricanes and many other challenges that Belizeans faced in those years.

The film does include clips where director Thomas Hines  interviewed his grandmother, Mrs. Robinson, after she  returned to the U.K. to spend her final years with her grandchildren, from one of her daughters, Julie, who gone back to live  in the U.K.

Festival director Suzette Zayden said the Film Commission had chosen the celebrated international jury precisely for their impartiality to avoid accusations of bias, when it came to the awards.

The international jury included three renowned filmmakers: Trinidadian filmmaker, Frances Anne Solomon who lives in Canada; Central American filmmaker, Edgar Soberon Torchia, and Mexican filmmaker, Oscar Urrutia Lazo.

Solomon admitted she had reservations about the British flavor of “Mrs Robinson”, but she came around when she considered the film’s technical merits. In comparison, “Xtabai” was ‘amateur night’; rather like “Blair Witch Project goes to Belize”.

In the other categories, director Leticia Tonos of the Dominican Republic won the Best Feature Film award for her film “La Hija Natural” (Love Child). No argument there. It’s a  charming tale of a girl, Maria, raised by her single mother, who at 18 seeks out her biological father after her mother’s death, and encounters a cranky old soul who finds solace in a bottle.

Trinidadian Shaun Escayg’s “Fish”, which won the award for Best Short Film, would endear Belizeans who have lived the meaning of “ketch an’ kill.”

“Fish” tells the story of how two homeless cousins survived as thieves on the streets of Port of Spain. In a word, they “di ketch an’ kill”, but the pickings get slim as times get harder. Very close to home there.

Juan Reyes won the Best Music video award, in his debut at the film festival with his “Yo te quiero” (Baby it’s you). Shot on location at Caves Branch near Belmopan with professional equipment including a camera crane and microphones on booms, the video’s success was a thrill for its producers.

Guetty Felin’s “Broken Stones” and Roy T. Anderson’s “Akwantu: the Journey” shared the special jury award for Best Documentary. There was also an award for “Best Animated Film”, but since some entries were still being delivered by courier, the final judging of that category was not yet completed.The winner will be announced later.

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