PAMM’s Zooming in At the Crossroads of the Caribbean

Most (if not all) Miamians are well aware of the many wonders to be had among the million square miles of the Caribbean. Anyone who’s seen PAMM’s kaleidoscopically keen Caribbean: Crossroads of the World (and Haitian-born Miamian Edouard Duval-Carrié’s concurrent Imagined Landscapes) has had that knowledge confirmed. But the most astute observer doesn’t stop at one (or two) showings, no matter how breathtaking they may be. Rather, they seek to find just what it was that took their breath away in the first place.

To that great end, PAMM is presenting At the Crossroads: Critical Film and Video from the Caribbean, a month long series of sublime screenings which will lead you to see just what depths lurk beneath that fabled Sea within our Ocean.

Culture Designers had the Museum’s own Maria Elena Ortiz fill us in on what we’ll all be seeing.

What exactly is At the Crossroads?

At the Crossroads is a selection of videos and films that challenge conventional notions of the region through images and stories inspired by the cultural, social, and political complexities of the Caribbean. With works produced by Caribbean and international artists, this program conceptually bridges films from the 1960s to the 1980s with contemporary video art production. In an attempt to map contrasting subjectivities, At the Crossroads shows multiple realities of the “Caribbean experience” to deal with issues such as representation, migration, diaspora, plantation life, and collective histories and memories, including exceptional works from Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Martinique, Panama, Jamaica, and Trinidad and Tobago. In this sense, this program, which was produced in relation to the current exhibition Caribbean: Crossroads of the World, complements our understating of cultural production in the region.

How hard was it to narrow down the selection to 10 films (and what was the criteria)?

It was hard. When I started doing research on Caribbean film and video, I was captivated by the amount of interesting works produced in the region. I decided to show films that initiated an international discourse on Caribbean film production, such as Sugar Cane Alley (1983) – a film from Martinique that was internationally acclaimed but also narrated a Caribbean story. This film will show on July 31st. This was the main criteria for my selection: works interested in engaging with a discourse [on] film and [which] addressed a Caribbean narrative. Lastly, I was interested in presenting works from all over the Caribbean.

Russell Oneika, A Natural History, 2012

Russell Oneika, A Natural History, 2012

Which two flicks open the series (and what’s their common bond)?

Rockers (1978) and A Natural History 5 Sequence 2 (2014)are the first to flicks to be shown and [both] present narratives about Jamaica. This is the first connection: place of origin. With a significant amount of its actors being real life popular reggae artists, Rockers is a film, that along with The Harder They Come (1972), introduced reggae music to the world, therefore establishing certain cultural notions of Jamaica. A Natural History 5 Sequence 2, a work by Oneika Russell, is a representation of contemporary video art in Jamaica. Both of these works embody notions of identity and representation. Rockers is a film that helped to established an international notion of Jamaican culture, while Russell´s work shows the concerns of a younger generation.

Rockers, 1978

Won’t there also a de facto host on hand for the showing?

Yes. The first screening will be hosted by University of Miami professor, Patricia J. Saunders, who has worked intensively on notions of identity and popular culture in the Caribbean. Recently, she has been doing work on contemporary Jamaican art and culture, specifically the work of Ebony Patterson and Dancehall music in the island.

What other highlights are slated for the series?

Some of the other highlights are BIM (1974), which will be shown on July 17. This is a rare film from Trinidad that portrays the relationships between blacks, whites, and Indians in the island. That night, we are also showing a work by artist Melvin Moti entitled Stories from Suriname (2002). This work reflects on the story of 34,000 Indian laborers who, between the years of 1873 and 1916, left India to work on Dutch plantations in Suriname.

Also on July 24, we are showing a classic in Cuban film, Memories of Underdevelopment (1968). This is an amazing work by Tomás Gutiérrez Alea that tells the story of Sergio, a wealthy bourgeois aspiring writer who decides to stay in Cuba, even though his wife and friends flee to Miami. This film is paired with a video by Beatriz Santiago Muñoz, who was worked some of the most striking video work coming from Puerto Rico.

Of the 10 to be screened, is there one that especially strikes you?

I have to admit that the screening that I am most excited about is occurring on July 10th. We are showing an exceptional film by Raoul Peck, Haitian Corner (1988), and Making History (2008), a short video directed by Karen D. McKinnon and Caecilia Tripp. Both address the complexities of Caribbean identity and its diasporic nature. Haitian Corner tells the story of tells the story of a Haitian immigrant and poet in New York who becomes obsessed with finding the man who tortured him during the Duvalier Regime. Convinced that his torturer is also living in New York, this tormented individual delves into situations that complicate his personal and professional life.

Making History focuses on a conversation between cultural critic Edouard Glissant and Linton Kwesi Johnson, the first black poet to have his work published in Penguin’s Modern Classic Series. The exchange takes place in New York during the summer of 2008. Making History shows a conversation between two Caribbean intellectuals that reflect upon the struggles and successes of a constructed Caribbean identity.

The pairing will be introduced by Karen D. McKinnon.

Haitian Corner © Velvet Film 1988

Are there any additional Caribbean Crossroads tie-ins, museum-goers need to know about?

I think that something that you notice in the exhibition Caribbean: Crossroads of the World is the amount of video works included. In this sense, the exhibition already tells you that there is a history of video production in the region. However, each island is its own world, and it is important to acknowledge diversity within the region. And at times these islands are more separated that one thinks. For example, I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and although I was quite knowledgeable of the African trade business, while working on this exhibition I was captivated by the story of all the Indian laborers brought to the region to replace African labor. I was not aware of this history. In essence, this is the most important effort of the exhibition and this film/video program, putting all of us Caribbean[s] in contact, so that we can access the similarities and differences within each island´s history and cultural production.

At the Crossroads: Critical Film and Video from the Caribbean runs Thursdays, July 3rd through July 31 at PAMM 1103 Biscayne Boulevard Miami. Admission is free with museum admission.

WORDS BY John Hood

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