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Hundreds of patrons - students, teachers, members of the diplomatic community and local film industry and movie lovers - flocked the 12 screenings that marked the week-long event that ran from June 3 – 9. It was the second consecutive staging of the festival which made a return last year after an eight-year absence on the local calendar.
Cathy Lyn, an ardent festival participant who attended nine of the 10 showings in Kingston, said her big takeaway was how sharing aspects of different cultures could play a role in boosting tolerance and kindness among people. "By bringing together the EU countries and their own diversity, married with our [Jamaican] diversity, we must be able to positively change things," she said.
For his part, Dr Daniel Thomas, another participant, said the festival allowed him to 'travel' to Europe without getting on a plane or having to acquire a visa. "It's an opportunity to broaden one's perspective of the world, to see it through the eyes of another, who doesn't share your background or your mother tongue."
The experience, he said, forced connections at a deeper level that ignored differences. "In spite of the differences in culture or the miles of ocean that separate us, we all share that same spirit of humanity, which made the characters relatable, causing you to empathise with every emotion as they experienced them."
EU Ambassador Malrgorzata Wasilewska, kicked off the festival at the Spanish Court Hotel in St Andrew with a surprise announcement targeting the local film industry – the launch of a short film competition. It is aimed at building the capacity of young people 15 -24 years old to tell creative and compelling short stories through video.
She stated that the film festival was at once a celebration of European creativity and diversity; and of a partnership between Jamaica and the EU that is worth nurturing. "These types of cultural exchanges are very important for breaking down barriers and improving understanding among people of different backgrounds."
"Even before coming to Jamaica, I was exposed to the culture, creativity, values and spirit of the Jamaican people through the various art forms and many ambassadors like Marcus Garvey, Bob Marley, Jimmy Cliff, Merlene Ottey, Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser- Pryce and through films like the Harder They Come, and Cool Runnings to name a few," said Wasilewska. "As Europeans, we too are proud of our diverse mix of cultures and want to share it with Jamaicans."
Twelve movies from 12 European Union (EU) Member States were shown for free. The films tackled a variety of issues that are common across most societies like immigration, medical ethics, mortality, friendship, discrimination, love, gender equality, sports, disabilities, and diversity, among other themes.
The out of town screenings were among the major innovations of this year's festival and movie-goers. The Austrian film Stefan Zweig Farewell to Europe was shown on June 8 in St James at the Montego Bay Cultural Centre, Jamaica's second city to a full house that included Mayor Homer Davis, civic, business and other political leaders from western Jamaica. In central Jamaica, on June 6, residents of Treasure Beach, St Elizabeth were treated to Irish creativity with the movie The Drummer & the Keeper which was screened at the popular Jack Sprat Restaurant.
Ambassador Wasilewska was pleased with this year's festival even as she pledged an even bigger affair for 2020. "The highlight this year definitely was going out of the capital and that's what we have to do – engage more Jamaicans where they are and build our connections. It's working and we aim to do more."
The EU Delegation forged several partnerships to enable the successful staging of the event. They include the Spanish Court Hotel, Medical Faculty of the University of the West Indies, The Mico University College, University of Technology, Jamaica, Campion College, Jack Sprat Restaurant, Treasure Beach, and Round Hill Hotel.
Phase 3 Productions in Jamaica provided technical support throughout the week.
Films in this year’s festival came from Belgium, Germany, Ireland, France, Portugal, Sweden, Spain, Austria, Poland, Romania, Latvia, and Italy.