Newport News woman brings first Caribbean film festival to Virginia’s Hampton Roads

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A report by Natalie Joseph for the Daily Press.

June is Caribbean-American Heritage Month. It was established by President George W. Bush in 2006 to acknowledge the contributions Caribbean immigrants have made to the United States.

Genice Phillips, a 29-year-old Newport News native and Caribbean American, wanted to do something special for the month’s 12th anniversary. Her father is an immigrant from Trinidad and Tobago, two “sister islands” in the Caribbean.

“I left the area and returned about three years ago and I’ve just seen such a massive change in diversity,” Phillips said. “I’ve seen it grow and now there’s so many Caribbean-owned businesses, Caribbean nonprofit organizations, and I feel like this year was a prime year.”

According to Phillips, the Virginia CaribFest and the Chesapeake Bay Reggae Festival celebrate Caribbean culture through music and dancing. She wanted her event to take a fresh approach.

Phillips, who said she grew up eating West Indian foods and listening to reggae music, found film to be the right medium to showcase diverse aspects of Caribbean life.

She founded and directed the inaugural Hampton Roads Caribbean Film Festival, which will be 1-11 p.m. Saturday at the Slover Library in Norfolk.

“This event is a way to further enrich the expanding and diverse community of Hampton Roads, celebrate the arts and generate a cultural appreciation and understanding of Caribbean life and its people through visual storytelling,” Phillips said.

She says she hopes the films will empower the Caribbean community across Virginia. Phillips invited many members of the community to learn about West Indian cultural through onscreen dialogue.

The festival’s goal, according to Phillips, is to entertain, generate discussion, educate and create an appreciation and better understanding of Caribbean people.

“People who attend will leave with a different take on Caribbean life and Caribbean people,” Phillips explained. “Some of the films that we’re showing cover the impact of Caribbean music. They also look at Caribbean people and how we’re multi-cultural, multi-lingual. Like America, the Caribbean is a melting pot.”

The festival will open with a ceremony 1-2 p.m. Saturday. It will feature documentaries, feature films, short films and question and answer sessions.

The six films showing are “Pan! Our Music Odessey,” “The Return,” “My Father’s Land,” “Kingston Crossroads,” “The Knot” and “Elza.”

To fund the festival, Phillips partnered with West Indies United, Hampton Roads’ Caribbean Cultural Center based in Norfolk. The 32-year-old organization was the first to bring Carnival, a festival of Caribbean culture and traditions, to the area.

“Here in Hampton Roads, there’s a growing Caribbean American community and we share a great part of the region’s history,” Phillips said. “We’re also invested in, and a part of, its continued growth.”

A 2015 study from The Commonwealth Institute found 9 percent of Virginia immigrants are from the Caribbean. The Virginia Caribbean-American Cultural Association Inc. said most Caribbean-Americans in Hampton Roads move to the area because of military jobs.

Want to go?

When: 1-11 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Slover Library, 235 E. Plume St., Norfolk.

Cost: General admission is $10.

More info: hrcaribfilmfest.com.

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