Reflections on the Summer Film Series at the NAGB

Film programmer and invited curator of the NAGB summer film series, Francis Litzinger, shares his love for film; from growing up in Toronto to his foray into the industry. This year, through a unique partnership, Litzinger lends his expertise to develop programming riffing off of the NAGB’s exhibitions. Through the end of August, we host five films, which delve into the backbone of classic and contemporary filmmaking.

Toronto was, and always has been, a city of movie buffs and on Sunday afternoons back in the mid-1960s, local theatres played matinees for families. For some reason my parents thought their young son would like to see some, so my first movies were old time classics, such as Charlie Chaplin movies.

My parents misjudged me, however: I did not like the movies. I loved them. From that moment and continuing to this day, I’ve been enthralled by the magic of films and therefore it should come as no surprise that a good deal of my professional life has been about the love of cinema, from buying films for television stations to programming film festivals.

When it came time for the family to move down to The Bahamas from Toronto, my first thought—after “Good riddance cold weather!”—was: how can I share my love of films with people in my new home and bring cinema that matters to The Bahamas?

Soon enough, I discovered The National Art Gallery of the Bahamas, an institution dedicated to bringing all forms of art and culture to local audiences. Besides being a beautiful space and a source of inspiring art, I soon learned that the Director, Amanda Coulson, and Chief Curator, Holly Bynoe, were intrigued and supportive of the idea of an ongoing film series.

The proposal was a simple one, absorb the island for a bit and then come back with a list of specific films that have the potential to resonate with Bahamians. Coulson and Bynoe would then match these films in such a way that they would tie-in with the exhibitions and programming currently on show at the gallery, to bring another level of meaning to the audience.  All of the films screened would, of course, be free and open to the public.

Several themes soon became apparent, and thus, the selection of films started to gel.

Do The Right Thing, by Spike Lee (1989) was, and continues to be an incendiary film about unrelenting heat, racism, and the power of miscommunication. For some, it has been mislabeled as a film that has the potential to provoke race riots.  That is erroneous and shortsighted. What the film does is inspire a dialogue and the importance of trying to understand different cultures before violence becomes a part of the conversation.

The second film in the series, Kon-Tiki, (Rønning & Sandberg, 2012) deals with exploration, the majesty of the ocean, and not letting go of a dream. Living on an island has made me keenly aware of the power of the ocean and how her strength must be respected at all times. Plus, it is a great adventure film based on a true story. The NAGB team felt the film reflected some of the themes in the current permanent exhibition nicely, “From Columbus to Junkanoo,” curated by Averia Wright and Jodi Minnis.

Coulson and Bynoe were also keen to have something that segued into the upper floor’s show “EN MAS’: Carnival, Junkanoo and Performance Art of the Caribbean” so the next pair of films were an easy choice.   Always For Pleasure, ( Les Blank, 1978) deals lovingly with a look back at the most Un-American of American cities – New Orleans. A place, much like The Bahamas that celebrates its uniqueness through music, costumes, parades and food. Mardi Gras and Junkanoo share a common heritage. The film perfectly pairs with The Heartbeat of a People, by Bahamian filmmaker Maria Govan (2000), a film that explores the spiritual and cultural impact of Junkanoo on Bahamian life.

The exhibition scheduled to be showcased over the summer in the temporary galleries, “A Sustainable Future for Exuma” held in collaboration with Harvard University Graduate School of Design, The Government of the Bahamas and The Bahamas National Trust (BNT)), deals with sustainability and the environment. Together we chose Beasts of a Southern Wild, (Benh Zeitlin, 2012), another film that divides people. Some find the film condescending to the poor, black segment of the American South and their struggles to hold on to their identity. In truth, it is a magical film, one that shows the strength of children, their imagination, and how important family is, regardless of what shape or size that family comes in.

The last film for the summer series comes from Belgium, Rosetta (Jean-Pierre Dardenne & Luc Dardenne, 1999). It highlights the universal desire of wanting a job and the power that comes along with having a sense of pride when providing for loved ones, regardless of the personal cost. The film takes place in Europe, but it could’ve just as easily been set in The Bahamas, and this was a concern we often discussed in selecting the films: finding topics that were universal. Subject matter that applied to The Bahamas and the world, to show our shared struggle and that we are, in fact, not alone in many of the problems we have to face as a society.

The best films inspire. They teach and inform, and if we are lucky, they guide us to a truth that we might not have seen. It is my hope, and that of the NAGB, that mounting a summer—and then a fall/ winter series—that we can watch some great films and have a discussion about why these films matter, and how they fit in with my new home, The Bahamas.