Ever since he began working with the Miami-based film festival and collective Third Horizon in 2016, Jonathan Ali has been finding ways of celebrating Caribbean cinema and how it captures the irreducible complexity of the region and its diaspora. He has brought his expertise to bear in a new series of films now playing on the Criterion Channel, which highlights adventurous artists who undermine the romantic and exotic tropes that have shaped mainstream images of the Caribbean and expose the centuries of violence it has endured. The lineup showcases a wide range of work, including short, poetic essay films built from archival material and features that stage a view of Caribbean modernity in a variety of modes. Viewers looking for a place to start should check out Nelson Carlo de los Santos Arias’s Cocote (2017), about a man returning home after the death of his father, and Vashti Harrison’s Field Notes (2014), a poetic account of spiritual beings in Trinidad and Tobago that questions the ethnographic gaze.
To gain a deeper understanding of Ali’s curatorial approach, I spoke with him about the challenges of cinematic representation and the need to think beyond its limits.
I want to start with the name of your festival and collective, which is also the name of the program you’ve curated on the Criterion Channel, Third Horizon. I immediately thought of concepts like Third World and Third Cinema. Could you describe what the name says about the mission that drives your work?
The name was something that Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, who is one of the founding codirectors of the festival, came up with. It actually began as an imprint for the music that Jason was making at the time. He comes from Barbados, and after migrating to Miami, he got into filmmaking and, along with a group of other Miami-based Caribbean filmmakers, turned Third Horizon into a collective. The festival was born out of that.
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