Toronto, August 2023: Vielle Case native Jael Joseph is a well-known marketing guru, media personality, and media entrepreneur in the Caribbean and Canada and soon, she will be known by another moniker- director; as she debuts,” Territory,” her documentary on Dominica’s Kalinago people, at the annual Caribbean Tales International Film Festival (CTFF) in Toronto which runs from September 6-22, 2023.
“Being part of this notable annual event is just crazy amazing for me; especially because I am representing my island and our first people. And I am really excited to showcase my directorial skills on such a large platform.”
She got her media start in radio sales and has worked with several corporate brands on island, doing voiceovers, and conceptualising marketing strategies. Jael has hosted noteable events to include the World Creole Music Festival and more recently has been connecting with her growing fan base via social media with weekly interview shows branded as “Jael Joseph Live.” She is also an experienced producer having worked with notable Canadian director and author Trey Anthony on her show “Black Girl in Love with Herself,” and Karl Kabasele and Onye Nnorom of the “Race, Health and Happiness” podcast.
The Toronto Metropolitan University (formerly Ryerson University) graduate, was inspired to create this film alongside her research paper entitled, “Territory: Commonalities between the Reclamation of the Kalinago Language and Connection to Land.” For the paper she interviewed over 25 persons and developed some of the interviews into a 10-minute podcast called “Woryijan; Kalinago women and Intersectionality.”
“I really wanted to understand the struggles of Kalinago people and how the land and language connect. My masters degree had to be impactful and advocate for change,” recalls Jael.
For the film, she assembled a small local camera crew comprising Nadja Odie Thomas (who also doubled as a writer) and Norris Francois Jr (who also doubled as editor), with assistance from Sheldon Casimir. Over the course of two weeks, they followed Anette Sanford, Samoza John, and Natasha Green, descendants of the island’s first people and representative of the community’s viewpoint. The Kalinago people live in eight hamlets across a 3,700-acre area on the island’s northeast coast. The film delves into the political struggles they face and focuses on the loss of their language and inability to use their land for economic development.
“Dominica belongs to the Kalinago people,” says Jael “for the past 120 years, they have been corralled into this specific geographic zone that is less than 2% of the physical space- an area that individually they don’t even own. I wanted to explore what that means to them economically, psychologically, etc.”
The film also featured guest appearances of Kalinago Chief Lorenzo Sanford and Hon. Cozier Frederick, parliamentary representative for the area.
They all shared their perspective on life in the Territory (or KT as it is popularly known) and how communal land ownership has impacted choices when it comes to land use. In the Kalinago Territory, no one holds title to land. Land is transferred through inheritance or sale from one resident to another, however outsiders are not allowed to purchase Kalinago land. Not having a title, then poses a challenge, as residents are unable to secure loans using the land as collateral.
During filming Jael recalls experiencing first-hand the separation between the Territory and the rest of the island.
“While filming, we had no internet, except for community WiFi and in some areas not even data. This made me feel disconnected from the rest of the world.”
“Further, I experienced first-hand their water woes and the frustration that resulted from not having regular provision of this most vital service,” she added.
This was especially hard because they were already dealing with recovering from a category 5 hurricane and were grappling with the changes brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“And this is their ‘normal’–their everyday life.” she continues. “I want to contribute to changing this around.”
Despite the hardships she witnessed, Jael, whose great-grandmother was Kalinago, says she grew closer to her Kalinago roots and holds a special place in her heart for Dominica’s indigenous people and their resilience.
“This experience made me realise my privileges as a Black person in Dominica and at the same time, it drew me closer to the community. It broke my heart to witness the socio-economic struggles of the Kalinago people. As a Dominican by birth, I want to do better.”
And she’s walking the talk, championing causes like the Kalinago Spelling Bee competition which she sponsors through her brand Black Island Girl Multimedia, and serving as a vocal advocate for other initiatives within the community.
The film will make its international debut at the CTFF on the festival’s opening night- September 6, 2023. CTFF celebrates the talents of established and emerging Caribbean and African filmmakers, presenting a multi-ethnic mix of exciting and dynamic films that showcase diverse and shared cultural stories. In its 18th staging, CTFF 2023 is being held under the theme ‘eco-survivors’, and “Territory” will join other films highlighting the impact of climate change on Caribbean Small Island States (SIDS) and Canada. Having survived colonisation and the near decimation of the Kalinago population in the Caribbean, not to mention climate change and the impact of disasters on their typically agrarian livelihoods, this theme could not be more appropriate.
At the Festival’s launch on August 9, 2023, CTFF Director Diana Webley announced that over 13 countries were represented at the event which seeks to share “accessible and relevant” stories online and in person. Titles to be screened include “The Caribbean in Me” (Puerto Rico), “Vwé Kafé” (Trinidad & Tobago), “Eden River” (Belize), “Jonkonnu Nuh Dead’ (The Bahamas), and “Port of a Prince” (Haiti).
Though this is her festival debut, Jael has created a documentary before. In 2021 she did a short doc on a non-binary trans person named Robin, called “Know Gender, No Gender; Living as an Intersex Person.”
Jael says she dedicates the film to the Kalinago community for their willingness to see this project through and her parents Aurelien and Victoria Seaman-Joseph, who demonstrated tenacity and grace in the community of Itassi City where they served as pillars until 2011. She also thanks her masters supervisors and mentors; Dr. Lila Pine, Dr. Alexandra Bal, and Professor Daniel Berlin.
“Territory” was filmed on location in the Kalinago Territory of Dominica and was funded with support from an anonymous donor as well as the proceeds of a prize won from The Creative School’s 2022 Johnny Lombardi Award for Creative Endowment. Patrons can attend the screening of Territory on September 6, 2023, at the Harbourfront Theatre in Toronto or watch online at caribbeantalesfestival.com