Frances-Anne Solomon did not know Ulric Cross’s story but.....the request to make a film about him came from her mother.
And so she started on a quest which ultimately led to Hero. It opens the Bermuda International Film Festival on March 20.
“The story came to me through a family friend,” said Ms Solomon, an award-winning film-maker born in England to Trinidadian parents. She had a successful career with the BBC before she moved to Toronto, and launched her own company, CaribbeanTales Media Group, in 2001.
“A family friend approached my mother and said that he wanted her to make sure a film was made of Ulric — that was his way of saying, ‘Get Frances-Anne to make a film’. So I got involved to help my mom, initially.”
Early research got her interested. Mr Cross, a lawyer, left Trinidad for England in 1941 “to seek his fortune”. He enlisted in the Royal Air Force, ultimately becoming the most decorated West Indian airman of the Second World War, and then joined the Pan-African independence movement.
It put him on “a dramatically different course”, one that was completely in line with Ms Solomon’s “life mission” as a director, producer, distributor and curator — to express the “intimate voices and larger political roles” played by people from the Caribbean throughout history. Mr Cross’s tale opened the door to the “hitherto untold story of those Caribbean professionals who helped to liberate Africa from colonialism”.
“I began to realise what a big story it was,” she said. “Really, it’s about the way the whole world came together to try to support the African liberation movement in the ‘50s and ‘60s. And then when Apartheid was abolished, all over the world there was a call from South Africa for educated black people to come and help with the transformation process. It felt very much like, let’s go and create freedom in Africa. And I thought that was a very interesting story.”
As described in her director’s statement, Hero straddles the three points of the triangular trade — Europe, Africa and the Caribbean. Its aim however, isn’t to spew the “familiar narratives of slavery and victimhood” but to instead champion “heroic agency”.
“This story interweaves ‘reality’ [archive, newsreel] with ‘arti?cial’ media [dramatic recreation],” it reads. “These artistic tools are vital in order to reclaim and ?nally tell the authentic tales of our heroic Caribbean leaders, forefathers and ancestors. Since ‘real’ footage does not exist, we must reimagine the past in order to reclaim it for posterity. These appropriations of form are essential where conventional documentation does not exist.”
With so many paths to explore, the film was several years in the making.
“I began working on it in 2011 and finished it last year,” the film-maker said. “It was a very long time, partly because I’ve never seen a story like that before — one that tells the story of the Caribbean. I had to come up with a way of telling a story that was one man’s story, but also tell a second story. I had to understand the whole history of all those countries [and tell a story] that was engaging and interesting from an audience point of view, but also showed the impact and importance of this man, of this time.”
Mr Cross was 96 when he died in Trinidad on October 4, 2013.
His family is pleased that his story has been recorded for posterity. Mr Cross’s son, Richard Finch, will be here to open the festival. His 87-year-old wife, Anne, who is also portrayed in the film, saw it at a special screening in Lewes, England, where she lives.
“She liked it, she thought it was great,” Ms Solomon said. “She was pleased we had taken the time to tell Ulric’s story. It’s a story that not a lot of people know.
“At a particular point in time, there were a lot of Caribbean people who went to Africa to help with the movement. Persons from the Caribbean went to England and left England to go and help liberate Africa and all the change that that involved. It showed how one person from a small island could have a global impact.”
Born in England to Trinidadian parents, she left the BBC and moved to Canada in 2000.
“I went to university in Canada. My mother lives here, my family lives here and I wanted to move from being a producer at the BBC to owning a production company. Canada has a lot of resources for independent producers.”
With Hero complete, she’s working on a film about Denham Jolly, the Jamaican-Canadian businessman and civil rights activist who transformed “from immigrant to successful businessman and philanthropist” and another about Claudia Jones, a Trinidadian who founded Britain’s first major black newspaper and helped start the Notting Hill Carnival.
Ms Solomon will not be here for Biff. Actor Peter Williams will join Mr Finch at the opening.
“My last film was in the Bermuda International Film Festival so I was excited to be part of it again,” she said. “I am very excited Hero has been invited to open the festival.”
•Hero will open the Bermuda International Film Festival at Speciality Cinema at 6.30pm on March 20. Actor Peter Williams and Ulric Cross’s son Richard Finch will host a Q&A after the screening. Tickets, $20, are available at biff.ptix.bm