New Short Documentary, “Bigger Than U.S.”, by 18 Year Old Garifuna American Filmmaker FRANCESCA CHANEY, Will Premiere at The 9th Annual Belize International Film Festival on SATURDAY July 19th 2014

 

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.  Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

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Belize City, Belize — “Bigger Than U.S.”, a new short (30 minutes) documentary directed by 18 year old Garifuna American filmmaker, Francesca Chaney will premiere at the 9th Annual Belize International Film Festival on SATURDAY July 19th 2014 in Belize City, Belize.  It is  scheduled to be shown at 3pm at the Princess Cinemas, Cinema 1.

With the Humanitarian Border Crisis concerning mostly Central American youth currently taking place at the United States/Mexico border, immigration is on the minds of many in the media and by extension, the public.  The new short documentary “Bigger Than U.S.”,  offers the opportunity to explore aspects of the immigrant experience that some may not have previously thought about.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

“Bigger Than U.S.” tells the story of three young Americans of Caribbean origin (Kwame Simpson of GUYANA, Helen Barnes of JAMAICA and Katiana Kersaint of HAITI)  and details how growing up in the United States shaped and influenced their identity.

Poster for new short documentary, "Bigger Than U.S." directed by Garifuna American filmmaker Francesca Chaney.

Poster for new short documentary, “Bigger Than U.S.” directed by Garifuna American filmmaker Francesca Chaney.

In an interview with Matthew DeMello of the Third Eye Weekly podcast, Francesca Chaney discussed her short documentary (her first).

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.  Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

When discussing how the documentary came to be, Francesca Chaney explained what led to her making this documentary during her one week spring break during her first year in college.

“All the people in the documentary are people I know personally so I decided to do a little story on them because I thought their individual stories as well as the collective nature of the whole process of coming to America and having to find your identity was a great story to tell”.  While I was born in the United States, my mom was born in Belize and her story mirrors the stories of some of the people featured in the film, because she came here at the age of 17.” — Francesca Chaney

 

Francesca Chaney went on to explain that through her mother, she felt some level of empathy toward the immigrant experience, specifically being from the Caribbean.  “Especially because a lot of my friends are either of Caribbean decent, meaning their parents came here or they were people who actually immigrated to the United States so I’ve always connected to that particular experience.” – Francesca Chaney

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.  Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Despite knowing the subjects of her new short documentary personally, Francesca learned more than she expected to.

“The whole experience (of making the documentary) was a learning process.  Because even though I know them due to going to high school with them, I never actually asked them about their experiences moving here or what they had to go through.  I learned something new each time I sat down and interviewed them for the documentary.” — Francesca Chaney

“What surprised me the most was probably just how difficult it is to adapt when you are coming from another country, because when it comes to the United States, a lot of people think that it’s the land of opportunity and the land of freedom, which it IS, however, a lot of them went through a lot of difficulty in just like getting up here.  Some of them didn’t live with their parents, or spent a long amount of time alone before getting to unite with their parents as they had to come up here on their own.  Those were interesting pieces of the documentary.  Definitely heart-touching.” — Francesca Chaney

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.  Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Francesca also has a surprising response to being asked about whether her subjects felt there was a common experience (via American pop culture) that drew them to this country or what they knew about America before they arrived.

“Kwame left when he was 15, Katiana left when she was 12, and Helen left when she was about 9, so a lot of them were in their own little bubbles in their respective countries.  Kwame mentioned that he heard that it snows here, so certain things like that are mentioned in the documentary.  A lot of them were in their own little bubbles and enjoying life in their home towns.  They weren’t really drawn to America until the actual opportunity came through.” — Francesca Chaney

Helen, Kwame and Katiana, the subjects of the "Bigger Than US" short documentary directed by Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.

Helen, Kwame and Katiana, the subjects of the “Bigger Than US” short documentary directed by Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.

 

Francesca hopes that people take away this from her documentary,

“I want them to understand that the whole experience of  moving to America plays into a bigger scheme of just understanding and connecting with different cultures.  it’s important to be aware.  A lot of people when they think of America, I don’t think they are culturally aware of how many people are in America or the different cultures that are present here.  Examples of questions I asked the youths were, ‘What kind of culture did you bring here?’   And, ‘how do you still hold on to your culture from back home?’  Because we’re presented with the idea that America is a melting pot on tv but we’re not really aware of the cultures here.   I want people to understand that America is a melting pot and to be aware of all the cultures here.” — Francesca Chaney

Here is the trailer to the new short documentary, “Bigger Than U.S.”.

Francesca also talked about her family’s reaction to her documentary being accepted into the Belize International Film Festival.

“They were really excited, they supported me and they really loved that I got into the film festival.  I submitted my film but I didn’t think I was going to get in because it was my first film and this was me just like before I even knew that I wanted to go in film.  It was me dabbling with my camera and interviewing my friends because I love asking questions.” — Francesca Chaney

Garifuna American filmmaker Francesca Chaney holding a Community Service Award from NY Assemblyman Nick Perry.  It was given to her G.A.I.N. non-profit organization.  Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

Garifuna American filmmaker Francesca Chaney holding a Community Service Award from NY Assemblyman Nick Perry. It was given to her G.A.I.N. non-profit organization. Photo courtesy of Francesca Chaney via Facebook.

 

“When I applied, the people didn’t even know that I had connection to Belize at all.  My film is representing the United States so when they emailed me and told me I got accepted, I told them that I would definitely be there to see the film because my family in Belize are going to see it as well.  so its going to be a big family event for us. ”  — Francesca Chaney

Finally, Francesca also talked about future film projects for her,

“I’ll be in Belize for a while after the Film Festival.  I’ll be working on a documentary called ‘Blacks Beyond Borders’.  It’s a documentary about the physical, cultural, and social perceptions of what it means to be Black outside the United States.”  — Francesca Chaney.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.

Garifuna American Filmmaker Francesca Chaney.

Other films screening at the 9th Annual Belize International Film Festival that may be of interest to readers of the Being Garifuna website are:

 

 

About FRANCESCA CHANEY

Francesca “Chessie” Chaney is an 18 year old Actress, Pop/R&B Singer and  Songwriter.  While her mother Emily is from Dangriga, Belize, Francesca is from Hollis, Queens, New York.  Her talent in the arts was displayed at the tender age of 2.   She is also a Humanitarian, Mentor, Youth Leader and an Advocate whose accomplishments at such a young age are noteworthy.  Francesca was one of the youths of Garifuna descent who were honored at the special New York City screening of the new,  independent film, “Garifuna In Peril” in October of 2013 in Union Square.

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She is the Founder/President/CEO of Girls Advocating and Innovating the Nation (G.A.I.N) www.everygirlmustgain.org , a non-profit organization, whose mission is to build a platform where young women are able to come together to empower each other and advocate for a cause in order to innovate the world around them.  In 2011 she started the organization solely as a mentoring program to younger girls, to build self esteem; but their mission soon transformed into a movement when they saw the need to address more issues in their communities. Through weekly discussions amongst the young ladies of GAIN, community outreach, as well as outreach abroad, and empowerment workshops for youth, they have managed to impact the lives of over 1,000 youth in New York and Belize combined.

In the spring of 2013, Francesca’s G.A.I.N. organization held a Youth Arts and Activism Empowerment Summit in Brooklyn.  Here is a link to News12 Brooklyn’s News coverage of the event.    http://brooklyn.news12.com/news/brooklyn-teens-host-arts-and-activism-summit-at-i-s-218-in-east-new-york-1.4826215

Francesca also took the mission of her organization G.A.I.N. to Belize, which put the organization on the map internationally.  While in Belize, they hosted their first annual High School Tour for Peace and garnered attention from Belize media.

It was a collaboration with Link Alley Records and this tour was a trip to Belize and consisted of motivational speeches, performances and interaction with the youth.      The overall mission of this tour was to build cross cultural relationships abroad.   According to the (G.A.I.N.) website, 1000 youths in Belize were impacted by this tour.

G.A.I.N also recently hosted their second annual “Quest Awards”, which honored youth who make positive strides in their communities through the arts, activism, and cultural contributions. They used the opportunity to make it clear that the youth culture includes many positive aspects, and while the media often choose to highlight the negative they chose to shine a spotlight on youths who are on a “Quest” towards a “Greater Good.”

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Francesca is also the Youth Advisor for the Lay The Guns Down Foundation, a Brooklyn organization which aims to raise awareness about gun violence amongst children and adults and educate them about its consequences.  Click here to see  an interview with Sandra Bookman of the ABC Public Affairs show, Here and Now in September 2012.

As noted earlier, Garifuna American Francesca Chaney is also an actress and singer.  Her songs “Crush”, “We’ll Dance All Night” were on the Tween Pop Radio Top Forty Chart for over a year.  Her collaboration with rapper Jojo  ”The Way It Goes” also made an appearance on the Top Forty Chart of Tween Pop Radio.

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Francesca sang at the Brooklyn Summit and Youth Memorial, which was held at Brooklyn Borough Hall.  She sang her latest single, “Bring the Peace Back” which she wrote and recorded for the Lay The Guns Down Foundation.

She also sang the National Anthem of The United States at New York City Comptroller John C. Liu’s 2012 Veterans Recognition.

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She also performed at the “Not In My Hood” Concert for Youth Service, the Peace Week Youth Concert and at the 2011 Torch Music Fest; where she sang her song,  “Time Will Heal”.  She also performed at The Miss Tropical Paradise Beauty Pageant, The Hava Opening, The Next Big Celebrity Concert, the Santa Clarita Business Expo and the Orange County Fair in California.

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Her acting credits include, starring in the Educational Short Film, “Broken Harmonies” which was sponsored by the City of New York and Start Strong Bronx.  She also has a song on the soundtrack, called “Stay Strong”, which has a positive message to end teen dating violence and abuse.

Francesca Chaney got the lead role in the Off-Broadway Musical, “Milk Carton Molly”.  She also performed in the Off-Broadway production of “Evergreen”, a Holiday Musical by the Prospect Theater Company.  Below is her starring role in the short film written and directed by Estella Chizhik, “Up Jump The Boogie”.

Additional Film and TV Credits for Francesca Chaney include the Nickelodeon game show Brain Surge and the Black Christian Movie, “Don’t Touch If You Ain’t Prayed 2″.

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With all these accomplishments, I am proud to be able to salute Garifuna American Francesca Chaney and extend a hearty “Buidumebei!” (“Congratulations/Success!” in the Garifuna Language) to her upon being named the winner of the Tamagotchi L.I.F.E. Hometown Hero Award.

For more information about Garifuna American Francesca “Chessie” Chaney and G.A.I.N, please click on the following links.

http://www.everygirlmustgain.org

ABOUT The Garifuna People

The Garifuna people are people of African descent (in other words, Black people) whose ancestry can be traced to Africans mixing with Carib Indians and Arawak Indians on the Eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent.  From this fusion of race and ethnicities in St. Vincent Island, a distinct culture and language arose.  They are noted for being one of the few (only?) peoples of African descent (again, in other words, Black people) in the Americas to have maintained aspects of their ancestral culture and full use of their ancestral language for everyday use over the course of hundreds of years.

After being defeated in war with the British on St. Vincent in 1796; 1004 men,  1779 women and 1,555 children for a total of 4,338 people (mostly Black Caribs, as the Garifuna people were then known) were captured and taken to Baliceaux, a small island, a rock, basically, off the coast of St. Vincent.  This took place from July 1796 through February/March 1797.  About 2,000 Garifunas died of a mysterious and very infectious fever while living on Baliceaux awaiting their fate.   1

In early March 1797, the remaining Garifunas were loaded onto the HMS Experiment and other ships.  Once they were rounded up, the convoy were taken to a Bequia, which is another island off the coast of St. Vincent. They proceeded to go to Grenada to get water, then Jamaica for refueling, then finally Roatan, Honduras, arriving on April 12th 1797.

Finding much of Roatan unliveable, the Garifuna people petitioned officials representing Spain and it’s government (which controlled much of Central America at the time) to be allowed to move to the Honduran mainland.  Upon being allowed to move to the Honduran mainland, the Garifunas settled many towns and villages along the Caribean coast of Honduras.  They also migrated to the neighboring countries of Guatemala, Belize (then known as British Honduras) and Nicaragua over the years.

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Notes:

  1. Nancie L. Gonzalez, “Sojourners of the Caribbean: Ethnogenesis and Ethnohistory of the Garifuna” pg. 21

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