Jason Jeffers is on a mission to show that the Caribbean is more than rum, white sand beaches, turquoise seas, and good music.
The filmmaker, writer, and musician born and raised in Barbados is one of the founders of Third Horizon, a collective of Caribbean creatives based here in Miami, and the Third Horizon Film Festival, which showcases the best in film from the Caribbean and its diaspora.
He came to Miami 20 years ago to go to FIU and worked as a reporter and writer for several years, but after losing a job, he took a leap of faith and headed to Haiti to film a passion project. That’s when Third Horizon really began taking off.
We talked to Jason about giving voice to authentic stories from the Caribbean and what it took to get there.
HOW HE GOT STARTED
Six years ago, Jason was a ghostwriter for self-help and holistic health authors and managing an author’s website. But he lost that gig and his girlfriend, so he took kind of a crazy gamble after spotting a video on Reddit of two men in Haiti fencing with machetes.
“I’d always been taken with the iconography of the machete. Everyone has five machetes at home. It’s a tool, it’s a means of self defense… I always called it the excalibur of the Caribbean…. It’s whatever you need it to be. It’s always been this symbol of empowerment.
So, I see two men fencing on Reddit in my bathrobe, no job, no girlfriend, and I thought to myself, “If there’s ever a time in my life to go to Haiti and learn how to fence with a machete, it’s right now.”
So Jason booked a ticket to Haiti with friend and filmmaker Jon Kane, who directed what became a 12-minute film called Papa Machete. Jason co-wrote and co-produced it with Third Horizon co-founder Keisha Rae Witherspoon. Editor’s note: This sentence was updated after publication to give props to everyone involved with the film.
“It felt like the stupidest thing I’ve ever done in my life… Of course I couldn’t afford to go and make a short film in Haiti, but it was magic…. It was a spiritual experience that completely and utterly changed my life,” he said.
WHY THIRD HORIZON IS NEEDED
When Jason and Jon got back, they started shopping their film around on the festival circuit. For awhile it was pretty much nonstop rejection. But then the film got selected for the Toronto International Film Festival, which is a pretty big deal. Papa Machete premiered there in September 2014.
The rejection process and the half-hearted convos on the Caribbean in Q&As on the film circuit birthed the idea of Third Horizon as a festival.
“When we weren’t getting in, we kept thinking that people just don’t get why the Caribbean is important. They just see it as rum-soaked paradise and jerk chicken on the beach, these visions of paradise and exoticism. That’s there, but it’s so much more, it goes so much deeper,” Jason says.
In December 2014, they got a grant from the Knight Foundation to launch the first Third Horizon Film Festival, which they held in 2016.
WHAT HE’S MOST PROUD OF
It’s the conversations the films catalyze. “To me, that is the best and absolute most fulfilling thing about this whole experience: people being able to burrow deeper into themselves after seeing their realities and all its nuance reflected on the screen, because that’s not something we’re used to,” he says.
THE MOVIES HE RECOMMENDS IF YOU WANT TO UNDERSTAND THE CARIBBEAN BETTER
- The Stuart Hall Project – It’s about one of the fathers of cultural studies, who was one of the first people to explore ideas of representation.
- The House on Coco Road – Director Damani Baker grew up in Oakland, but his mother moved the family to Grenada, which was undergoing a peaceful Communist revolution at the time. The U.S. invaded, and this documentary is about the fallout of that.
They screened both of these films at the first Third Horizon Film Festival.
LOCAL CREATIVES HE HAS HIS EYE ON
“I’m a fan boy for the Dream Defenders. I think the Dream Defenders are doing such incredible work, such vital work and in a really engaging and creative way. The fact that they have Smoke Signals Studios, that they understand there’s a social element to everything, there’s just this really… engaging way that they encourage people to resist,” he says.
WHERE HE GOES TO FEEL INSPIRED
- The Everglades – “As much as I love this crazy carnival of a city we have here, city life wears me down. I need to be in nature.… If it’s a weekday and I can’t go the Everglades, I go to a place like Greynolds Park.”
- The library – “We also have an amazing library system. I feel like the people in this city don’t appreciate our library system as much as they should.”
- Seven Seas Karaoke – Jason calls this spot the “true mecca” of South Florida karaoke. ”I’ve completely been neglecting my musicianship. And I’m a singer. Karaoke is a really slummy way of doing it, but it gives me the fix that I need to just get on stage and belt out.”
The third Third Horizon Film Festival is this fall. You’ll find details here as the date approaches.
Editor’s note: This interview was updated after publication.