Known popularly in the Caribbean and Canadian landscape as a marketing guru, media personality and entrepreneur, Jael Joseph will soon be known by another moniker- director; as she debuts “Territory,” her documentary on the Dominica’s Kalinago people, at the annual Caribbean Tales International Film Festival (CTFF) in Toronto.
“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.”
Jael is a popular Facebook personality, hosting several 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 Intersectionaliity.”
“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.
“Territory” follows three residents from Dominica’s Kalinago Territory. They are descendants of the island’s first people who mostly live on 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.”
In addition to the three residents, who were representative of the community’s viewpoint, “Territory” also featured guest appearances from 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 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 and this was their everyday life.”
“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.’ she continues. “I want to contribute to changing this around.”
Despite the hardships she witnessed Jael, whose own 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 B 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 6th, 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 9th, 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 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 by Jael Joseph, camera persons Nadja Odie Thomas and Norris Francois Jr. with assistance from Sheldon Casimir and was edited by Norris Francois Jr. The documentary was funded with support from an anonymous donor as well as the proceeds of 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