Saturday, March 24, 2012

Lignum Vitae Film Festival, Mandeville, Jamaica

        Once again I depart from my usual themes, this time to write about the Annual Symposium and Lignum Vitae Film Festival on Tuesday, April 10 (the day after Easter Monday), and Wednesday, April11, 2012, hosted by The Department of Communication Studies at Northern Caribbean University, Mandeville, Jamaica. The event is open to the public at a cost of $7000.00 and $5000.00 for students with ID which covers both days and lunch. The Lignum Vitae Film Festival carries a stand alone cost and is priced at $3000 general and $1,500 for students with ID
        In the same way as children’s books by Jamaican authors don’t hit the headlines, neither do locally produced films or their creators. All this could change with more exposure in the local media and on Facebook, Twitter and Youtube.
       This year’s Symposium and Film Festival is an event not to be missed, if last year’s is anything to go by. I quote from the Daily Gleaner, on the 2011 staging:
       "We certainly upped the ante this year, we have judges in the persons of Kim-Marie Spence, film commissioner, JAMPRO; Ransford Ricketts, CVM programme manager; Winford Williams from Onstage; Gillian McDaniel, JAMPRO; and Nicola Carara, independent film producer; high-calibre productions and an evening of excitement and the lighting of Wish Balloons- simply awesome - all set against an African-inspired décor," said Elaine Oxamendi Vicet, Department Chair for Communication Studies.
       The festival showcased student productions in the categories of short feature films, promotional videos, trailers and commercials, which were all carefully guided by Dannie Barrett, who emceed the proceedings.
The short feature films had the audience laughing, bewildered and in some instances awestruck.
       "I simply would not have missed it," said Oliver Watt, director of communications in the Ministry of Youth, Sport and Culture, representing Minister Olivia Grange.
       The judges' overall remarks on the productions were positive, and in the words of chief judge, Kim Marie Spence, "It wasn't easy making the decisions, as the films were very good. We would like to make special mention of Entreaty by TY-Production… and we would also commend Gordon Alert, film instructor at UTech, for the effort he made with the posters…"
      The winners were as follows:
Jason 'Beans' Sawyers, producer of the HIV commercial, won most of the awards, including best overall film, best edited film, best sound and lighting as well as best promo DVD.
Best Actor went to Demphsen, for his role as the pastor in the short feature film LAN Party.
Nazila Mais copped the best actress award.
Yorkwin Walters walked away with the best trailer and storyline award for his entry, Mission 339. The judges pick for the evening went to TY-Productions' Unconditional Love, which got the best short film award.

       The theme of the 2012 symposium is “Modern Media Influencing Public Policy and Opinion”. An invitation was extended to all students, faculty, administrators and staff of secondary and tertiary institutions in CARICOM and the Americas and other interested persons to submit papers which should have been received by Dec 22, 2011; and for students to submit videos in the categories Short Film, Silent Film, Documentaries, Animation and Music.

       This year's event is broken into keynote addresses, workshops and the film festival. Kay Osborne has been confirmed as one of the keynote speakers. Until recently, Ms. Osborne was the general Manager of TVJ, which she steered to unprecedented level of profitability. Prior to returning to Jamaica in 2004, she served in executive leadership positions with Fortune 500 companies all over the United States and has led strategic initiatives in more than 40 countries worldwide. She holds degrees from Northwestern University (Illinois, USA) and the Mona School of Business (UWI) and is a fine artist and playwright.

The workshops are being hosted by the best of the best, including Susan Flanagan and Slavik Anishchenko. Workshop participants will surely be excited about their opportunity.
   Susan Flanagan is the President & Executive Producer for Creative Entertainment & Media (CEM) Inc. She is an Emmy Award Winning Writer and has won several awards for her innovative work as a film and television producer. As an Executive Producer, Show Runner and Writer, she has created and produced shows for all of the major networks and many of the cable stations including CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, TLC and Discovery.
   Slavik Anishchenko, also with CEM, is an accomplished and accredited producer, animator, digital artist and film director. He visualized action sequences for Pirates of the Caribbean, Transformers and The Mummy.

I encourage everyone with an interest in Caribbean films to attend.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Island Princess in Brooklyn

Island Princess in Brooklyn, by Diane Browne, is a story about a girl who leaves her beloved Jamaica to go and live with her mother in Brooklyn. She tells of her shocks and challenges, her mistakes and triumphs, and her eventual acceptance of her new life.
   On Friday, March 16, 2012 Mr. Nicklaus Bromfield of Carlong Publishers, Ms. Pauline Shuttleworth of Sangster's Bookstore (Montego Bay, King Street Branch) and I promoted this book, which is a title in Carlong's Sand Pebble Series.
   The promotion was at St. James Parish Library before a select audience of teachers and students from Chetwood Memorial, Howard Cooke and Barracks Road Primary Schools, St. James Prep School and Haughton's Academy. In spite of the fact that the majority of the students were younger than the intended age range, they were most attentive, super-intelligent and well-spoken.
    I began with a discussion of what is meant by fiction and that, although Princess is a fictional character, the location is real. This led into my reading of the first two chapters, followed by questions. Mr. Bromfield then talked about the Sand Pebble Series, mentioning other books such as Bernie and the Captain's Ghost by Hazel Campbell and Every Little Thing Will Be All Right, also by Diane Browne. Then I read part of chapter 18, "What did I miss most?" - Princess's account of the way in which everybody in Jamaica stops what they are doing to watch important international sprint events, and her class-mates' reactions.
    The promotion came to a close with the presentation of prizes to the first students to put up their hands and give the right answers to questions. During refreshment time after the function, I was pleased that several students came to speak to me, including one eight-year-old wanting advice on how to become an author. She is already doing the right thing by writing every day and being a voracious reader!
    We authors tend to get discouraged when publishers reject our manuscripts, and upset when bookshops don't display our published books as prominently as we would like. We sometimes forget that publishing and bookselling are businesses which depend entirely on sales. They are cautious about taking risks with little known writers and titles, fearing having capital locked up for too long in books that don't sell. We have to thank Carlong Publishers and Sangsters bookstores for not only taking that risk, but also for actively promoting the books. I appeal to my readers to make their gamble pay off, by buying Island Princess in Brooklyn when looking for birthday and Christmas gifts for 10-14 year-olds. For Jamaicans abroad, it would be a genuine Jamaican gift to take back from a holiday in Jamaica, (unlike a souvenir made in China).

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Crayons Count and Home-made Playdough, Paint Brushes and Puzzles.

Rubbery Playdough cat
I congratulate Crayons Count for their initiative in seeing the need to put a learning kit in every early childhood institution across Jamaica, and in requesting donations to make this possible. Included in the learning kits are play dough, paints and paint brushes. So far, no play dough has been donated. In the meantime, teachers and parents of children aged 3-6 could use the following recipes to make their own play dough . (Not suitable for children under 2 years of age.)

Rubbery Playdough

2 cups baking soda
1 1/2 cups water
1 cup cornstarch
Mix with a fork until smooth. Boil over medium heat until thick. Spoon onto plate. (I tried this with a reduced quantity and it worked satisfactorily.)

The next recipe for a softer play dough, I used successfully at my school many years ago.
1 cup flour
1/2 cup salt
1 cup water
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons cream of tartar
Mix flour, salt and oil, and slowly add the water. Cook over medium heat, stirring until dough becomes stiff. Turn out onto wax paper and let cool. Knead the playdough with your hands until of proper consistency. Use as is, or divide into balls and add a few drops of food colouring. (Children prefer it coloured, but also like to experiment and mix the colours, ending up with a dirty-looking grey!) Store in an airtight plastic container.
          You could also use beet, calalou and carrot juices for colouring. I haven’t tried this, but think it would be best to colour the water as these colours are not as strong as food colouring.

        I tried my hand at making paint from flour and water, (another recipe off the internet), but I wouldn’t recommend it. The consistency wasn’t smooth and it has no preservative in it so will spoil quickly. It made a better glue than paint! I also tried natural colours—tea, broccoli, curry powder and bougainvillea flowers with limited success.

Home-made paint and paint brushes
        I do however strongly recommend home-made paint brushes. Children, especially little ones, destroy brushes quickly because they tend to press with them as with a pencil or crayon. I successfully used hibiscus or guinep twigs beaten at the ends, with a stone, to make brushes. You have to use twigs which are not too green and not too woody. A little experimentation will tell you which to use. You could also use sisal leaves. A word of warning—don’t use poisonous plants. Oleander and Allamanda are deadly. Another home-made brush can be made from something like a J-cloth wrapped round a stick and cut to make bristles. These are good for covering large areas with colour. They work well with liquid (poster) paints, not with paints in a paint box.

Home-made paint with food colouring

Home-made paint - not such a good idea. 
 I recommend that children be given cardboard to paint on—any kind of cardboard. Carton boxes are good. So are the pieces of cardboard they put in with clothes to keep their shape. When children paint on paper, they usually get it so wet that it disintegrates, or they make holes in it with the paintbrush.
      Lots of newspaper spread on the work area absorbs splashes, and children can dry their paintbrushes on it.

Why should children paint and play with play dough? Not because we are looking for the next Barrington Watson, but to improve their hand-eye co-ordination, to help develop their motor skills and creativity, for them to experiment with colours, textures and shapes, to talk about what they are doing and to do so in a relaxed atmosphere where there are no wrong answers. Most children enjoy painting and it will occupy their undivided attention for half an hour at least.

Also in Crayon’s Count’s learning kit are puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles can be made from pictures pasted to cardboard and cut into pieces. I was surprised that some primary school boys who’d never been exposed to puzzles had great difficulty putting together a picture cut into 4 pieces. So we could make a bunch, and increase the difficulty level by cutting them into more pieces. Good pictures can be found in old calendars, and telephone directories. Puzzles help children to learn the importance of orientation. They have learnt that objects retain their identities regardless of orientation - a chair is still a chair whichever way you look at it. In order to read and write, they must learn the importance of orientation in relation to letters. In mirror image, 'b' becomes 'd' and upside down, 'p' or 'q'.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Talking Trees

Easton Lee
Talking Trees Fiesta at 2-Seasons Guest House, on Saturday, February 25, was a showcase of Jamaican talent in writing, poetry and music—enough to keep us captivated for more than the one day programmed.

My main focus is on the Panel Discussion—Writing for Children, in keeping with my blog theme, but I couldn’t write this post without mentioning some of the other contributors. The fiesta opened with Monique Morrison’s poems, and Melanie Schwapp reading from her recently launched novel Dew Angels. They were followed by master story teller Easton Lee, who read some of his poems interspersed with vivid descriptions of his childhood, slipping with ease from standard English to patois and back.

A representative from JAMCOPY spoke to us about the importance of registering one’s creations with them.

The panel discussion followed, moderated by Suzanne Francis-Brown. First to speak was Sharon Martini, whom I’d heard sing at Mountambrin. Surprise! She’s also a writer and illustrator of children’s books, which she uses to speak about racism and equality. Her book Max and Me was inspired by a little girl at her sons’ school, who asked if she could touch Sharon’s skin. When she touched Sharon’s skin with eyes closed, she discovered that skin is skin. Read more about her at Dotty Beetle Books .
Jean Forbes, who writes for 8-12 year-olds, has worked for the Ministry of Education but regrets that the stories she has written are available only in primary schools, not prep schools. She made several points which I heartily endorse: go for self-publishing and marketing, and e-books; comics are good for boys; when we are giving a gift, give our books; and read to children. She read from her story about a little drum, with the refrain “I have the right to be me”.

Kellie Magnus, author of the Little Lion Books, spoke from the viewpoint of a publisher as well as a writer. She took up the challenge of writing for children after finding out that there were no titles by Jamaican authors on display in the bookshops. At the time she was a strategy consultant for Price Waterhouse, so did her due diligence. She was told not to print more that 3000 copies and that they would take five years to sell. She sold 5000 copies in six months! She has been energetic in marketing. She goes to a school one day a week and listens to the children. What authors submit is not what they want. Few submissions reflect life as children have it today.

Diane Browne has a long and illustrious career in writing for children. She has been published by Heinemann Caribbean, Carlong, Arawak Publications, Ministry of Education, Ginn UK, Harcourt and Friendship Press. She has received many awards including a bronze Musgrave Medal. She started writing for the same reason as Kelly and Sharon. She wanted to see black people portrayed as being ordinary people. Her early writing is for children 12 and under. Then she transitioned to time travel, to portray how ordinary people in Jamaica lived at the time of the 1907 Earthquake and Hurricane Charley (1951), but at the same time writing an exciting adventure story. Her most recent book is Island Princess in Brooklyn, a title in Carlong’s Sand Pebble series, will find empathizers among thousands of Jamaicans who made the same journey as Princess, and is a must read for all teenagers who are waiting for their mothers to send for them. You can read more on Diane's blog

Sharon Martini, Kellie Magnus, Jean Forbes, Diane Browne, and Suzanne Francis-Browne

The lessons I learnt from this panel discussion—the importance of indigenous literature, the importance of persistence, the importance of marketing, the importance of using current technology—are not new, but serve to  energize me. Perhaps most important of all—we need to work together.
The programme continued with Fern Luecke, folklorist and Christine Craig, poet, followed by the Open Mic. Then we had a sneak peek at Aston Cooke’s play Jonkanoo Jamboree. Other presenters were Roland Watson-Grant, Kalialah Enriquez, Marc Thomas, A. Igoni Barrett (from Nigeria), Fabian Thomas, Micahel Abrahams and Malachi Smith.

I would have liked time to meet and talk to the presenters. Perhaps this suggestion can be factored into what I hope will become and annual event.

Actors taking part in Jonkanoo Jamboree

You can read more in the following Gleaner Articles: Talking Trees Does Close Double and