Giving Carnival its due

Observer senior writer

Friday, October 13, 2017

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Having been to several Carnivals throughout the Caribbean, filmmaker Jessy Schuster always wanted to show people that these annual events are more than colourful fetes. She is determined to project their importance to regional integration.

Schuster, who is based in Miami, is working on a yet-titled documentary series on Caribbean Carnival. Initial screenings are scheduled for January in Guadeloupe, Miami and Trinidad; it focuses on festivities in Trinidad and Tobago and her native Guadeloupe.

The 36-year-old Schuster started work on the project 10 months ago. To date, she has covered Carnivals in Trinidad, Guadeloupe and Jamaica, as well as Miami, Toronto and Paris.

She interviewed key figures in each country, including Trinidadian soca star Kes of Kes The Band and costume designer Douglas John, also from Trinidad.

“The culture of Carnival is a common denominator among our islands, but we celebrate different ways. I am from Guadeloupe and have been celebrating Guadeloupe Carnival since I was four years-old, so when I moved to Miami 17 years ago, I was naturally attracted by the Caribbean Diaspora in the city,” she told the Jamaica Observer.

Launching her series with Trinidad and Guadeloupe seemed only natural. She considers Trinidad the colossus of Caribbean Carnival, right up there with Rio in Brazil. Guadeloupe was selected not because it is her homeland, but for its un-documented link to Trinidadian culture.

“Little did I know how linked they are historically and culturally speaking as you will see in the documentary. We basically have the same roots of Carnival, and Trinidad was culturally influenced by the French coming from Guadeloupe and Martinique in the 18th Century,” she explained.

Born in Pointe Pitre, Guadeloupe's largest city, Schuster cut her teeth as a filmmaker working with PBS in Miami. That network is responsible for some of the most riveting and acclaimed documentaries of the past 20 years, particularly those by American historian Ken Burns.

“Working for PBS so many years taught me how to focus on the human stories. I believe that everyone has a unique story to tell but the difference lies in the way we portray it,” she said. “As a woman from the Caribbean, it was essential to me to be able to tell stories from a diverse background and PBS has always been supportive of those, so I always felt encouraged by the fact that there is space for documentaries on those cultural events and issues.”

Jessy Schuster plans to visit, and document, Carnivals in St Vincent and The Grenadines and Barbados next year.




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