By Leigh-Ann Worrell
It has been the tool of uprising, a longstanding weapon of choice in the Caribbean and a symbol of strength in the face of centuries of adversity.
For Miami-based Barbadian filmmaker/writer/creative Jason Fitzroy Jeffers, the machete also represented the resilience of the people from the Caribbean: “not to say we are perfect, but we have done so much to emerge from the most horrific conditions.”
Jason has also been wielding his art to clear paths for the Caribbean to be understood in complex ways which help to dispel tired tropes of island paradise. His imprint, Third Horizon, has tasked itself with capturing the sights and sounds of the Caribbean and the so-called third-world. It mainly comprised Keisha Rae Witherspoon, Robert Sawyer, and himself. Originally used to release an album several years ago, the company’s name also reflected Jason’s belief that the ‘first world’ has derived much of its culture and resources from the ‘third world.’
“There is a certain inequity in that,” he asserted via Skype. “I believe that the stories of the so-called third world are just as, if not more relevant, than the stories we often see on TV or in the cinema. The only thing missing is the financing, distribution and framing.”
Bringing the Caribbean into full view was a task the collective executed beautifully with Papa Machete – a short film about a master of machete fencing in Haiti. The work will continue through the Third Horizon Caribbean Film Festival, showcasing cutting-edge feature and short films from the region which ran from September 29 to October 2, 2016.
The festival has been funded by a grant from the Knight Foundation and corporate sponsors. The support received was a far cry from that of Papa Machete, which came to fruition through blood, sweat, tears and determination. Jason sold furniture, gave up an apartment and borrowed money to take himself and crew to Haiti.
“Initially, I just wanted to learn [machete fencing] but thought would be good for an article in a travel magazine. Because I was working on film at the time, I decided to make a film.”
It took six months to complete Papa Machete. The team shopped it to film festivals and after several rejections, Jason received an email that changed the trajectory of his career: the film was accepted to Toronto International Film Festival for its world premiere.
“I cannot even begin to explain what that was like. [It] was such a tremendous validation of what we had known all along: [Papa Machete] was a story worth telling.”
The film also showed at Sundance last year. Third Horizon since collaborated with another collective, Borscht, and co-produced the short film Swimming in Your Skin Again.
It has been a remarkable journey to the mainstage for Jason, especially since he almost gave up on his dream of being involved in film. It was a love nurtured by the video store steps away from his childhood home in Oxnards, St James as well as trips to the Drive-In and the cinema.
“I like to joke that the three first films I ever recall seeing were Purple Rain . . . and Gandhi and Ghostbusters. I also like to joke that those three films formed my personality…,” he said with a laugh.
But as much as Jason loved film, there were few avenues to pursue in Barbados during the 80’s. He turned to music as a teen, eventually becoming a member of hip hop group Chaotic Tendencies. After leaving Harrison College, Jason studied law, Information Technology and English at the Barbados Community College before moving to Florida for journalism at Florida International University.
Jason transitioned into active journalism as the sole reporter at the Sun Post, a small newspaper on South Beach. “I worked really hard and the job did not pay well but it was like journalism boot camp. I did not like it much but I would not trade that experience for the world because it gave me discipline, which has come in handy since then.”
He moved to the Miami Herald after two years. Missing the opportunity to express himself on stage, Jason performed small gigs on the Miami music scene. However, the long hours at work and performing at night began to take a toll.
The resolve to become a full-time creative was solidified in the summer of 2004.
“I remember being on the road [for Kadooment] and thinking: I just don’t have enough joy in my life right now. . . I was half-drunk on the road and said, ‘I am going to give them two months’ notice because I can’t continue to work at this job.'”
Troubles at work made Jason’s decision much easier.
“One of the writers at the newspaper wrote an article exposing a corrupt city commissioner. The day before I [returned], the city commissioner came into the lobby of the Miami Herald and blew his brains out. When I arrived the next day, I couldn’t even go through the front entrance. I handed in my two weeks’ notice. That was my last experience as a full-time journalist.”
Jason freelanced for several publications and even ghost-wrote a New York Times bestselling book. As writing opportunities dwindled, the creative pursued film production and commercial work before its success.
Third Horizon continued to do commercial work, along with other passion projects. Jason acknowledged funding creative projects was often a difficult enterprise, but was possible with the right amount of dedication, marketability and social media savvy.
“Creatives must first understand our worth and the worth of our work. We must also know how to reach our audiences and our tribe. Finally, we must also understand how information travels and get our story out there with the people it will resonate with,” Jason advised.
The artist hoped to do his part by serving as a conduit between Miami and the Caribbean artistic communities: “I want to connect people around the region. Miami is a perfect meeting point to connect people from around the Caribbean.”