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2014

BLOG: SUPER EIGHT

The SWOT team emerge from the depths of Havana's legendary Hotel Capri after four days of hard work

  • BEV Mentors Mia Bays and Jay Basu lead the training in Havana, Cuba


Dec 2014 | Havana, Cuba

In April 2014 British Council supported over 20 women filmmakers from across the globe to come to London and participate in Birds Eye View's Filmonomics initiative. In December BEV delivered some follow-up training for the eight Caribbean participants from the original programme. Toni Blackford, one of two participants selected from Jamaica, reflects on her experiences.

'I love the Caribbean. For me it's home. The food, the people, the culture: there's a virtual cornucopia of experience lying in wait. This close chain of unique islands blessed by tropical climates and warm waters has a short but intense history peppered with equal parts struggle and triumph. There's so much to learn and only a fraction that can be uncovered in the anecdotes of others. This is why I gladly welcome any opportunity to explore it for myself.

In a joint effort to empower female filmmakers in the Caribbean, The British Council and Birds Eye View constructed a four day workshop in historical Havana, Cuba where participants were guided through the tricky landscape of creating and marketing projects in a densely populated and ever evolving industry.

Earlier this year, both organizations welcomed a larger and more international delegation in central London for Birds Eye View's 9th staging of their titular female-centric film festival. Though informative and engaging, we all left wanting to know more and in Havana, they delivered.

Our renowned mentors, Mia Bays and Jay Basu came to the table with no pretence, sharing their hard-earned knowledge and offering an attentive ear to the challenges we each face at home. They were open, caring and kind, leading the sessions as more of an exchange than a lecture.

The programme they crafted covered areas that were previously unexplored and allowed us to develop our own projects, shedding new light on the possibilities ahead. Of particular significance was a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis, our last exercise, where we collectively worked through the advantages and disadvantages of each other's upcoming films. At the end, everyone walked away with their breakdown on a large sheet of paper, a special souvenir of sorts, to serve as both a reminder and as inspiration.

In this smaller gathering we developed a deeper camaraderie that was strengthened over group lunches and dinners. Smalltalk during breaks played more like friendly conversation than networking and I often felt like I not only had a voice but a willing audience. For a woman working in film such support is very important; it gives you the confidence necessary to push forward, the same confidence that's often challenged by the daily grind of working in this field.

And then you have a setting like Havana. Beautiful, magnificent, culturally rich Havana, where the strength and joy of the people is palatable. During walks with fellow delegates I was captivated by the architecture: 60s style high rise buildings sitting across the road from smaller apartments and gorgeous standalone homes with an intricate aesthetic. Though some were a little more weathered than others, you could tell each had a story lingering in its walls. The same goes for the cars - because you can't truly mention Cuba and not talk about the cars! - these well-kept remnants of an imperialist past were everywhere, blazing down roadways in all their candy-coloured glory, looking like lifesize toys. Though there are obvious differences (the language, racial makeup and infrastructure for instance) to Jamaica, where I'm from, Havana felt so familiar. On leaving there was an ache, like homesickness, that plagued me. Writing this now, I'm realizing it was a cocktail of elements: our kind hosts from British Council, our supportive mentors from Birds Eye View, my talented fellow delegates and the lovely Havana itself.

Immense gratitude goes to everyone mentioned above for packaging up such an amazing programme and taking us somewhere new. The significance of this endeavour cannot be quantified and I can only hope that my work will reflect the lessons learned.'